Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Which college?

collegebound - 25-4-2006 at 19:23

I’ve been reading this forum for a little while and I see that many of you are professional chemists. I’m a high school senior going off to college next year and need a little advice. I hope you share your wisdom.

First, I am planning to major in chemistry or chemical engineering. A Ph.D doubles the median salary in the US for both jobs, so I will definitely go after one. I also heard that a degree in English or writing also helps a lot. Does anyone know anything about that?

Now that I have my acceptance letters, I have two colleges I can choose from.

College A is a very good college. It is (reasonably) high in the national rankings in chemistry and a little lower in chemical engineering. It is an in-state public school, which means it is very cheap. If I go here, I will get 4 easy years. They are even offering me some fringe benefits like priority class registration in a special program they have for their top students.

College B is a better college. It is one of those brand-name places everyone in the world has heard of, no matter where they are. It is at the top of the nation in both chemistry and chemical engineering rankings. It is a private school so it is very expensive, about $20k/year more than A, plus a higher cost of living. It is also a very hard college, meaning 4 years of all-nighters. I can handle that, but I’m not sure I want to have to go through it.

My parents have some money set aside for my education. If I got to A, I will get to use the money left over for grad school, a car, and so on. If I go to B I will have none left but at least I won’t have student loans to pay off.

How is grad school usually paid for? Do you pay out of your own pocket? I heard something about research grants, but I’m still fuzzy on that.

People say that grad school is much more important than undergrad when looking for a job. Looking at grad school placement stats from a well-known journal (I forget which one, I think the WSJ), I see that A and B have similar grad school placements. Then again, these stats are based more on law and medicine, which B focuses more on. Those are the only statistics I can find on grad school placement.

I’m lost here. Which do you guys think is a better choice? I know that I can’t go wrong with either one, but there are so many things to consider and I don’t know which ones are important.

Before I forget, what about majoring in chemistry and then getting a graduate degree in chemical engineering? It sounds like it would be hard to get into a top grad school with only pure science under my belt, but I would get more flexibility this way. Anyone have any experience here?

ordenblitz - 25-4-2006 at 19:39

Pick the one closest to Florida... the trip to spring break will be shorter!

bereal511 - 25-4-2006 at 20:48

My sister's experience in both undergrad and graduate is this: your undergraduate is not as important in determining your profession in life as your graduate schooling. If you'd rather see yourself in a relatively better position in terms of sleep and energy for the next 4 years, go for college A. If you even see a bit of doubt in choosing college B based on all your adjectives of it (expensive, hard, time consuming, etc.), it's probably better to look at college A as a better opportunity. That was my sister's advice to me last year.

Magpie - 25-4-2006 at 20:51

There's a big difference between chemistry and chemical engineering. You should investigate the curricula for these two programs so you have a feel for what they constitute. You will not lose much by not making the final decision until completion of your freshman year, however.

What do you envision yourself doing (i.e., work) after you get these degree(s)? This should heavily influence your choice of Chem vs Ch. E.

I'm skeptical of the cost/benefit ratio for the English degree. Do practice writing whenever possible, however.

You are going to have to work your ass off no matter which school you choose. Competition will be stiffer at the better school, however.

If you have any extra money left over, give it back to those who earned it. ;)

The_Davster - 26-4-2006 at 04:53

Originally posted by Magpie
There's a big difference between chemistry and chemical engineering. You should investigate the curricula for these two programs so you have a feel for what they constitute. You will not lose much by not making the final decision until completion of your freshman year, however.

The choice between chemistry and chem engineering was one I had to make as well. I am really glad I chose chemistry as I have seen some of the math and physics the engineers do, and I really doubt I would be able to get by if I had to do that. I really have all the respect in the world for those who can do that crazy math and physics.

I am fuzzy on grad school as well, but I think you get paid for research as well as being paid for TA-ing.

collegebound - 26-4-2006 at 18:47

One more thing I forgot to put this in the my first post: college B (the hard one) has a 5-year MS program. I don't know if that's worth considering in my decision. What do you guys think?

The harder college of the two is the less competitive in this case. It has a cooperative environment, not a competitive one. These are rare at the top so I probably gave away which college it is right there. Ah hell, it's the California Institute of Technology.

What kind of math do chemical engineers work with? I took a year of AP BC [college level] calculus so far and found it quite easy. Got a very high score on the practice AP exam, so I'm not the kind to be scared off by a few integrals, esp. armed with my trusty TI-89. Polar area integrals? I call those breakfast. :P

As for working my ass off, yes. A and B have different standards of this, though. A's standard = more hours a week spent studying than boozing. B's standard = 27 hours of work a day. Sleep is on your time.

Like I said before, I can handle this. I only use these adjectives because they really are accurate. If official sugar-coated tour guide info and independent college guide descriptions agree, I'd call it accurate. They also say their admissions comitee never makes a mistake, so I have good odds of surviving:D there. Still, I understand your point.

I got some clarification on grad school from a teacher. He says it's mostly free if you do research and TA work, which most people do anyways. I guess that price isn't so important after all. Still, it's a factor.

Magpie - 26-4-2006 at 19:56

When I obtained my BSChE in 1965 it could be done in 4 years by staying in lock-step with the program. Now I understand 5 years is the rule? Most of us did it in 4 years by working our asses off. I can't imagine getting an MS in ChE in 5 years if 5 years is now standard for the BS.

Also there was only one ChE program in my day. Now I understand there are several options: chemical processing, biochemical, computer science, etc, all within the BSChE.

No one I knew in ChE did anywhere near that kind of boozing and I only attended a little ol' state university. I liked to do some drinking in high school but virtually gave it up in college - no money & no time for it.

It sounds like you are good in math and that will serve you well in Chem or ChE. Take a look at some quantum mechanics and you will gain a new respect for the math required of some chemists. For ChE calculus is a regular occurence with occaisional higher math requirements such as differential equations. Knowing math mechanics is important but much more important is understanding how to model the problem mathematically.

I recommend pulling up the catalogue of classes for the curricula you are considering using the college websites. If you don't have a feel for what the classes mean go to a university library (or a college bookstore) and peruse some textbooks.

(BTW I didn't do any of this. I was just fascinated by large chemical plants and wanted to know how they worked.)

If you have been accepted by Cal Tech I assume prima facie that you have the preparation and aptitude for these fields of study. You just have to decide how hard you want to work. Remember, you get out of it what you put into it.

BetaBee - 27-4-2006 at 12:40

After being in college and working in the industry, I would say go to the college that gives you the most flexability. If you are diligent, you will shine at any school. Another thing, one thing that is constant in college, and the near term afterward, is change. I went in wanting to be a chemist, then went to art history, now i'm doing molecular biology and work at a local biotech and am starting my own glass blowing business. Shit happens, as previously said, it is what you make of it. I've seen people from podunk universities go into VERY prestigious programs. Also, as i'm going to a state school right now, i find it easier to shine above the rest, so there's my two cents and then some......

Fleaker - 27-4-2006 at 18:34

Truth be told, this is a difficult question to consider for many scholars who have worked tenaciously for acceptance into a great school. It is my personal opinion that where you go for your undergraduate is not as important as where you get your masters and respective doctorate. However, I've heard from people that have been in both scenarios (same as you: some went to a Harvard or a Princeton, others went to a Purdue for undergrad.), some claim that going to a top name school gives you the edge in getting selected for a highly competitive/prestigious masters program at another school. Still, I know people that went to say, a state school, but then ended up going to a top name school to do their advanced degrees anyways. To distill the essence of it for you (again, my opinion/understanding), is that if you distinguish yourself in a small to medium state or private school (while saving money) then you can easily attend an even better school. Much depends on your grades and test scores, also, a good portion is how well liked/supported/respected you are by your professors. If they see your dedication and knowledge reflected in high marks and independent study, you in turn will see it when you go to grad school. Always remember that your intelligence is by no means unique, plenty of people score near perfects on their SAT: better to be the big fish in the small pond.

Oh, as an aside: I do love my Ti-89 calculator too! I've had it for about 6 years and it has served me well; in fact, I'll never buy another type of calculator again. I particularly like graphing (x,y,z) on it :) Saved my butt on several occasions late at night when I remembered with disdain that I don't have Excel on my laptop but needed to integrate GC/MS results. Mathematically speaking, I'm lazy. I'm familiar with BC calculus which, if I remember correctly, is the harder version, and if you can pull out a 5 on your test, then you'll be fine.

Ultimately, it's not where you go at first, it's where you end up and the perseverance you possess. Since you've done well enough to get accepted into the colleges, then feel confident that you can handle the work load, just remember, they will have high expectations (although that depends on professors again :P).

As a chemical engineer (depending what you aim to do in it) you will work with calculus (integrals and differentials in all their myriad varieties), but you'll still work with calculus as a chemist too! Again, you'll be fine with that since you obviously like math. Just remember as BetaBee pointed out, you may plan on being a chemist at first, but don't be suprised if you end up something a neurosurgeon (16 year investment :D but it's a good one) or maybe a sanitation engineer. Who knows where you'll end up? Just another facet to the mystery that is life.

[Edited on 28-4-2006 by Fleaker]

collegebound - 29-4-2006 at 21:29

Near-perfect SATs? Nope. I was actually at the lower end of the spectrum here. Okay, but not <i>that</i> good.

Turns out I was wrong about the 5-year MS program. It is 4 years, but I think it can also be done in 5. Some programs have it, some don't. But a 4 year MS at that :o

After talking to an undergrad at Caltech I feel less terrified of going there. Some of the harder courses I took in high school should have prepared me. And trust me, I took some hard classes.

Caltech will give me more flexibility. The honors program at the other place is only for people majoring in the hard sciences, so if I take chemical engineering or the like, I loose my status and become no better than the average [drunken] student.

B isn't a small state school. It is a large state school with 14k undergrads. Could I distinguish myself in a place that big?

The_Davster - 29-4-2006 at 21:54

Originally posted by collegebound
Could I distinguish myself in a place that big?

It's possible, I've got a madscientist reputation coming along quite well, and I am in a rather large university:).

I don't know if it is like this everywhere, but in all of my calculus courses no sort of calculator is allowed.

12AX7 - 30-4-2006 at 09:48

Originally posted by rogue chemist
I don't know if it is like this everywhere, but in all of my calculus courses no sort of calculator is allowed.

Exactly the way it should be (and is, in all math courses I've taken to date :) ). How can you expect to get an instinctive grasp of the subject when you use a calculator that just gives you the answers?



zoombafu - 19-7-2012 at 14:54

Seeing as there already was a thread that mentioned cal tech, i figured id keep the forums cleaner by just adding on to this post.
Im looking at Cal Tech, UC Berkley, and Stanford for a degree in chemical engineering. Ultimately I want a doctorate/phd and would like to work as a research chemist developing pharmaceuticals or something similar to that. Has anyone on this forum had any experience with these schools? (Or suggestions for others)

Dr.Bob - 24-7-2012 at 11:14

Nice bump, you necromantic.

All three of Cal Tech, UC Berkley, and Stanford are great schools. A BS from any should get you into a good graduate program.

I would not get an English degree for any reason, most people I know with one are bar tenders or dishwashers. Yes, there are exceptions, but even famous writers mostly die poor. There families get all the money. But taking lots of English and writing classes as a science or engineering major is a very good idea. Up until recently, science majors seemed to have an edge on the best jobs, but in the last few years, many science majors are unemployed, but most engineers I know are doing just fine, many making more than ever. It seems that the tough math classes keep out more people, leading to a REAL shortage of engineers, unlike the imaginary shortage of scientists that the government keeps talking about.

I got a good BS in chemistry and then made the mistake of getting a graduate degree from a middle of the road, larger public university. That allowed me to get a decent job, but if you want to succeed with no obstacles, the better the graduate school and adviser, the better the jobs/post docs that you can get into. If you had a chem adviser in the top 20 or so, like a Corey, Evans, Sharpless, Wender, etc, you will be welcomed anywhere. If you work for Dr. Smith at Univ. of nowhere, many companies will not even look at your resume. Trust me, I worked for one and was on the hiring committee. Many of the graduate level professionals are very elitist and won't even consider someone from a school that their adviser does not consider a peer. In science, a MS is not worth much by itself, only a PhD will get you into the best jobs. In engineering, a MS used to be more valuable, but PhDs are becoming more common, so MS degrees are losing there appeal there as well.

If you can get some computer science experience, that will help both science and engineering areas. There are many people I know in jobs that combine them both.

But ultimately, it depends what you want to do. If you want to cure cancer, that might mean chemistry or biochem. If you want to build a giant biofuel plant, Chem Eng. is better. If you want to make money, skip both and get a finance degree and get a bonus for losing billions... or go into marketing/law/lying.

Another great area right now is getting a PharmD, which is like a PhD for pharmacists. If I had that degree, I could get jobs at 5 places tomorrow, all of which pay double what I make now. And some schools let you get a BS and a PharmD on only 5 years, which is a great deal. If I had it to do over again, I would go that route in a heartbeat, as they can get jobs in research, healthcare, business, or almost anywhere. But you have to really like drugs for that line of work. (not just doing them, BTW).

Hope that helps.

zoombafu - 24-7-2012 at 15:58

Dr. Bob,

Another school I'm looking at is the University of Wisconsin Madison. I've heard from a few sources that it is another great college for chem engineering. Any thoughts on it?

Dr.Bob - 25-7-2012 at 09:16

Never been there, but it is the center of the chemistry geek world, being the home of Alpha Chi Sigma, the chemistry fraternity. They have a good undergrad program, and are well know to grad school, as well as being a reasonably good one. If you like cold weather, it will be a great school. It would have the positive feature that your parents are much less likely to drop in unexpectedly during the winter. (nothing worse than the parents showing up when you are passed out in dorm after a party...)

But if I had the choice of UW-M, Stanford, Berkley or Caltech, I would almost certainly opt for Stanford or Caltech. They are both great schools. Sanford has a beautiful campus, but everything around it is pricy, in terms of living expenses. I'm not Caltech is any better for cost, but they certainly have more pollution there. Both have excellent weather and access to beach, surfing, and Cal. girls. (Google "Beach Boys"...)

zoombafu - 25-7-2012 at 10:02

Well I would be used to the cold weather seeing as I live in Wisconsin :p (although right now its like 105!!!)

[Edited on 25-7-2012 by zoombafu]

Magpie - 25-7-2012 at 12:04

I don't know how the University of Wisconsin stands today but if you would have asked me back when I was getting my BSChE in the '60s I would have said that it was the center of the ChE universe. Professors Hougen, Watson, & Ragatz wrote "Chemical Process Principles," (vols, I, II, & III), a very good text book series, IMO. Hougen & Ragatz were at U of W. The standard text, "Transport Phenomena," was also written by U of W professors, Bird, Stewart, & Lightfoot.

I would suspect that the U of W girls could also stack up well against any "Cal girls." ;)

polymerizer87 - 26-7-2012 at 08:20

UNC Chapel Hill! the best and the brightest

simba - 27-7-2012 at 16:29

Would be nice to hear more from the poster...he has probably already got his degree by now.

AJKOER - 4-8-2012 at 17:55

OK, some factors you may not have considered.

First, some brand name schools in high demand will overbook the 1st year and eliminate even great students.

Second, this is not an issue for public schools (no overbooking), but the grading can be tough.

I would check out the actual number of students enrolled who succeeded in graduating.

Also, if you are a minority (African American or from the Near East), I would strongly advise you visit the school. I know of an African American who was offered a deal too good to be normal who discovered on visiting the school what an incredibly racist environment (in Minnesota, complete strangers would hurdle invectives at black students).

Mildronate - 5-8-2012 at 11:46

Quote: Originally posted by zoombafu  
Seeing as there already was a thread that mentioned cal tech, i figured id keep the forums cleaner by just adding on to this post.
Im looking at Cal Tech, UC Berkley, and Stanford for a degree in chemical engineering. Ultimately I want a doctorate/phd and would like to work as a research chemist developing pharmaceuticals or something similar to that. Has anyone on this forum had any experience with these schools? (Or suggestions for others)

Its idiotism not using calculator i university you learning higer mathematic not 2+2 and how can you calculate logarithms wihtout it do you use table or slide rule for it :D.

AJKOER - 16-8-2012 at 12:05

Some more points not stressed but important:

> A school with a high brand name is important even if you decide to work in a different field!

> Education and credentials alone are not the keys to success. Good looks are very important in getting hired for both guys and girls so do consider leaving money for that noise/breast job, contact lens, good teeth/smile and even elevator shoes. Also, certainly do remember to display (hide) your good (bad) "assets". I have my guesses as to why, but I will let others speak from their experience.

> Personality is also very important.

> Manage your credit well. A poor credit score could be a problem.

You may laugh about this advice, but in time you will learn.

Good luck.

zoombafu - 21-8-2012 at 20:02

thanks for you input ajkoer

zed - 12-9-2012 at 13:54

All things being equal, I favor a small highly-regarded college. Nothing beats
one-on-one discussions with your professors.