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Please help me choose a university for Physics/Natural Sciences

(32 Posts)
ClarasZoo Wed 05-Sep-18 14:12:19

My son is thinking of studying physics/natural sciences. He is predicted to get good grades. We live in the south. He has visited Cambridge and loved it. In particular he liked - accommodation on site, one to ones with tutors, nice "feel" to the town centre/studenty, the flexibility to change about with the subjects. What other universities would be similar (not Oxford)? I have no clue and I only ever visited one years ago and can't remember much about it! Obviously Cambridge would be nice but there must be other places not so competitive that would be similar. How do I go about helping him choose? Do you visit all of the possible choices? Help!!

OP’s posts: |
TheThirdOfHerName Wed 05-Sep-18 15:20:48

DS2 wants to study Physics.

His shortlist includes Oxford, Warwick, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bath and Southampton.

the flexibility to change about with the subjects
If this is important to him, he should look at Natural Sciences rather than Physics courses.

TheThirdOfHerName Wed 05-Sep-18 15:21:54

We're visiting three this year and will visit some more next year.

ClarasZoo Wed 05-Sep-18 15:54:00

Very useful - thank you! So visit some at the beginning of year 12 and some at the beginning of year 13. Is this what most people do? We are just starting year 11, so maybe I am panicking a year early?

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eatinglesschocolate Wed 05-Sep-18 16:52:47

We did one at beginning year 12 then A LOT of narrowing down choices before hitting the shortlist at the start of summer. She now has 3 she likes. The remaining 2 will be wild cards and visited if she gets an offer.

MarchingFrogs Wed 05-Sep-18 17:48:39

So visit some at the beginning of year 12 and some at the beginning of year 13

He'll be a bit pushed to get to many open days between the beginning of year 13 and the deadline for submission of his UCAS form (15th October, but the school will want it to be ready for submission a bit before that, so that the reference can be added). However, he can submit the form with just Cambridge on it, or Cambridge and any others that he is absolutely sure about and leave the rest (up to a total of 5) to be added at any time up to 15th January.

Lancaster has a very flexible NatSci course, which can include a year abroad (many courses at most if not all universities offer this).. Obviously it's not a member of the Russell Group, though, which I believe is an issue for some applicants and/or their schools

fatbottomgirl67 Wed 05-Sep-18 21:30:45

My dd1 applied for physics at Oxford warwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Durham. She really liked Oxford Manchester and Birmingham. They all had a vibrant feel. She found Durham "Odd" and Warwick a bit liked a giant boarding school. Its all very personal. Look at as many as you can face visiting and see what fits your needs

ErrolTheDragon Wed 05-Sep-18 22:12:39

I'm not sure there's anywhere quite like Cambridge (other than oxford) in terms of the colleges and supervision system. Other unis with excellent physics courses will have a different feel eg Manchester is in the middle of a big city; Birmingham is on a really nice red brick campus in a leafy suburb with a handy local train into town. (It's a much nicer location than many people envision for Brum). I don't think anyone has mentioned the London ones eg imperial - London itself is somewhat 'marmite' I think (DD ruled it out, some people love it).

If you've got the time (and money!) I reckon it's well worth going to the open days for the likely contenders. They're held towards the end of the summer term and the start of the autumn term so you can spread them out - DD went to a couple at the end of yr 11 (partly to check a couple of different subjects), more at the end of yr 12 and then a couple at the start of yr 13.

amirrorimage Wed 05-Sep-18 22:31:18

My DC ended up by doing physics but certainly considered and applied to some places for Natural Sciences.
TBH he is still quite young to be deciding on his degree but Natural Sciences will keep most science subjects at most university open. However some universities may offer natural sciences but actually be stronger in biological sciences than physics. If possible a subject related university based course in the summer of year 12 gives a taster at a least one university (DC did a Headstart and also the SPC residential course). IMO if he wants to do open days, the end of year 12 is the best time. He can also use interviews and offer days to firm his choices. If he likes the look of a smaller, aesthetic town such as Cambridge then as well as some of the choices mentioned above such as Durham let him consider Bath and Lancaster. St Andrews can provide a modular science degree and always seems to score highly for student satisfaction as well as other parameters; its location could be viewed as quite restrictive though.

ClarasZoo Thu 06-Sep-18 09:42:20

Thank you so much for these replies. This is my first child going to or thinking of university so it's very helpful to hear the views of people ahead of me in the timetable! I will suggest he looks at the ones mentioned and try and get him to sign up for subject open days at a couple. Interesting that no one mentioned York- I was thinking that might have a Cambridge vibe?

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thejeangenie36 Thu 06-Sep-18 09:47:23

York in no way has a Cambridge vibe. It has colleges, but they don't play anywhere like the same academic role that Cambridge's play. (More like residential communities, as at Durham).

I have personal knowledge of the Natural Sciences degree at York and it is very good - students seem to really love it and there's a good community feel as they have their own space (which your DS may not get in other Nat Sci programmes).

Lepetitpiggy Thu 06-Sep-18 09:55:04

My ds is about to start Physics at Exeter. He looked at UCL, Sussex and Imperial ( which might as well be Cambridge!) He was most impressed with the course at Exeter (because it is 5 hours away from us too probably!) and I agreed. It all depends too what you want from a University. Exeter is a reasonably small city and seemed to have a good 'feel'.

ClarasZoo Thu 06-Sep-18 10:17:54

Right I will add Exeter and York into the mix as well then! In my day you got a UCCA brochure and ticked off the ones you liked from the photos. I don't remember researching the course or anything about the place I ended up at, only went to the open day for my first choice but it all worked out well. These days the internet has made it harder/easier in equal measures!

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ErrolTheDragon Thu 06-Sep-18 10:36:01

You're right about that, Clara!

* Imperial ( which might as well be Cambridge!)*
In terms of the entry requirements and academic rigour; but utterly different environments. Also the teaching style - Cambridge supervisions are brilliant for those whom they suit but maybe not ideal all. I've heard - don't know how true - that some superbright but perhaps more introverted stem types will be rejected by Cambridge and go to Imperial. (Imperial may, of course, not give offers to everyone who might get a Cambridge or oxford offer)

Lepetitpiggy Thu 06-Sep-18 12:19:12

I meant only in terms of entry requirements. Obviously I know Cambridge is completely different!

Needmoresleep Thu 06-Sep-18 12:28:10

Errol, I would agree. One cousin was bitterly disappointed not to be offered a Cambridge place onlly to discover he was the only one in his Imperial tutor group not to have at least 4A*s.

Imperial suited him, as LSE suited DS taking a very mathematical economics degree. Indeed both are now taking PhDs and world ranked institutions. We know a large number of scientists who appeared strong Cambridge applicants who ended up at Imperial instead. Cambridge clearly know what they are looking for, but plenty who dont get a place go on to have few regrets.

But again Imperial and other London Universities are not for everyone. Wonderfully international, great research, well respected, lots of options and chances to pursue interests, London and all it has to offer on the doorstep, but no colleges, May Balls or punting.

Lepetitpiggy Thu 06-Sep-18 12:30:41

The main issue ds had with UCL was that he felt it had a 'corporate' feel. And of course, London costs!

Needmoresleep Thu 06-Sep-18 13:05:58

Horses for courses. It suited DS and others that you can be very focussed on your subject, course, subject societies etc and not have to bother with much else. A friend at Cambridge ended up feeling quite isolated in his first year as he was essentially labelled the nerdy one at the end of the corridor.

In terms of cost, the gap between London halls and those at some Universities oitside London are not as big as you might expect. Plus there is a huge student community in London, and lots of stuff you can do for free.

ErrolTheDragon Thu 06-Sep-18 13:16:14

We're really fortunate in the U.K. to have a mix of excellent universities in diverse environments so there should be somewhere that suits everyone both academically and in terms of 'lifestyle'.

brokenharbour Thu 06-Sep-18 13:47:58

Not read the full thread but I did physics at St Andrews initially. You choose 6 modules in the first year so it's very flexible, I did maths, chemistry, classics and English too! So plenty of scope to learn about other things if you want to. Mind you that was 20 years ago, not sure if it's the same now.

Lepetitpiggy Thu 06-Sep-18 15:06:25

Very true needmoresleep

amirrorimage Thu 06-Sep-18 18:17:06

York is one of the universities that does a Natural Sciences course but has a stronger reputation in biological sciences than physics.

I think most at Imperial will have tried Oxbridge and not got in for whatever reason, Imperial probably benefits from the Oxbridge cap on offers to international applicants
IMO the obvious advantage with Oxbridge is much more hand holding for learning concepts and problem solving through the tutorial system. It is a bit more like school in that the tutors generally care and keep an eye out on how you are doing. Possibly Universities like St Andrews also do that well.
However universities like Imperial will by default impart to students the lesson of doing things for themselves rather than for approval or because they are worried about looking stupid in a tutorial.

My DC has loved London and has had a very busy university extracurricular club time through Imperial. London has also allowed keeping up with friends at other London universities.

Needmoresleep Thu 06-Sep-18 19:03:56

"I think most at Imperial will have tried Oxbridge and not got in for whatever reason"

I simply do not think this is true.

1. Imperial offers more specialisation from the start. Even those DC we knew who did not get Cambridge , often saw a big silver lining in not having to go through NatSci.

2. A lot of London students have always stayed in London for University. In my day Jewish students often chose to stay at home. Now the same applies to many students with South Asian backgrounds, and strange as it may seem, students with European backgrounds (French, Italian etc). The rest of Europe does not have the same tradition of going away as the British do.

3. Many EU/International students prefer to be in a big cosmopolitan city.

4. The punting, May Ball type student lifestyle can put many off, as can the idea that it is so hard and such a faff to apply to Oxbridge.

The different English/non English attitudes were very noticeable when DS was offered LSE but not Cambridge. Condolences or congratulations. Internationally places like Imperial seem to be considered as prestigious as Oxbridge. Plenty of DCs friends went to Oxbridge and plenty stayed in London and there is no evidence that one group have enjoyed their University experience more than another, or have had additional career advantages. For DS' subject London is generally accepted as the stronger department and certainly no doors have been closed as a result of not going to Cambridge. Indeed the wealth of opportunity he had were extraordinary, with similar happening to his friend who went to Imperial and who got very involved in a subject society.

Sorry for that rant, but as Errol says:

We're really fortunate in the U.K. to have a mix of excellent universities in diverse environments so there should be somewhere that suits everyone both academically and in terms of 'lifestyle'.

I find it depressing that despite the huge opportunities there is still a MN assumption that Oxbridge is always the best option, and by implication other options are somehow lesser.

ErrolTheDragon Thu 06-Sep-18 19:38:56

I'd agree with that, needs. My DD is doing engineering, not physics, but many of the same considerations apply. She was somewhat conflicted whether to apply to Cambridge because it's General Engineering but she knows she wants to specialise in EEE. She'd ruled out Imperial because she was sure she'd find living in London stressful so she was balancing Cambridge against Southampton EEE. If it had been Cambridge gen eng versus imperial EEE she might well have tipped the other way.

amirrorimage Thu 06-Sep-18 19:58:07

Needmoresleep Oxbridge includes the single sciences offered at Oxford so the choice for natural sciences is a diffferent one to whether to go for Oxbridge or not. The exception is engineering in which both Oxford and Cambridge offer a general degree.

My DC's impression (from a wide social group including mainly international students) is that most Imperial physics student had tried Oxbridge. Something that slips out in conversations about interview experiences. However that is only one year of students
Perhaps I am mistaken but few I think would say no to the idea of being able to choose between Oxbridge and another high ranking university, especially if they generally like a challenge. Plus Oxbridgr is cheaper as a student
However that it is not to say that Oxbridge would be every-one's final choice or what was best suited to them or has the monopoly on the best talent for staff and students. That is of course not true.

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