Top Schools for Physics in

Top Schools for Physics

Schools / November 30, 2018

Prestige is not important, what is important is the matching of the student to the advisor. You want great students matched to great advisors. There are more opportunities for this happen at well-known places just because there are larger numbers of good students and good advisors, so you'll hear about these situations more.

In fact, there are usually about 20 great schools in most sub-fields of physics. About 5 that are good in most sub-fields and then 15 that you have to carefully tailor to the sub-field. Many of these other places don't have as many top-tiered applicants and so admissions rates go up.

If you have great opportunities for advisors in your field, then your prospects for long-term success are almost independent of other factors.

Knowing next-to-nothing about your situation, but 2 years is a huge amount of time. Most undergraduates only take 2.5 to 3.0 years of physics. Since you'll be done with your GenEd courses, you should be able to max out on physics and math courses, do research, do outside reading on your chosen sub-field, and be ready to graduate and get into a very good school by the end without delaying a year and being out of the academic stream.

Since it is summer now, you can find a research lab to work in for 13-15 months before applications. Take 2 semesters of courses (4 technical courses each) and a summer session (1 technical course) plus part of a fall (another 4 technical courses) before the GRE.

If you put off applying, there is a definite risk. But at the end of the day, any path can work. I'd advise not making a decision right now and work for a year. Make an honest evaluation of where you are in August of next year. May be you have to make contingency plans at that point.

If you think about the cost-benefit analysis. If you apply to all 20 great schools in your sub-field (places with at least 2 active potential advisors), you'll drop about $1500 to $2000 on applications. You'll almost certainly get into several. That will save you a year of your education. That sounds like a good deal to me. Realistically, you can probably apply to 10 schools (5 famous schools and 5 great schools with lesser known names) and have a great chance of getting in to one of them.