21st Century Einsteins

Schools where the periodic table is the cliche freshman dorm poster

By Explore Editor

California Institute of Technology

There's a good reason why a movie based on Caltech students was called Real Genius. After all, the average Caltech student can discuss Stephen Hawkings' books, recite pi to ten decimals, and talk about Schroedinger's cat-for fun. "Caltech is consistently ranked as one of the top ten universities, and easily one of the best places to study engineering, science, and math. If you are unfamiliar with Caltech, academically speaking, we are MIT on the west coast, and professionals are aware of this and treat us accordingly," explains Ryan, a freshman. Marybeth, a physics major, discusses the perks of academic life at Caltech: "Students collaborate on homework and there is no competition, which is wonderful. No spiting, no envy. We are smart enough to realize that there's no point. Everyone does their best. The work is so hard it simply cannot be completed alone."


Case Western Reserve University

A typical day on campus consists of going to class, studying, playing computer games or hanging out with friends, perhaps an extracurricular activity, and then logging in more study time before hitting the sack. Especially for pre-meds and engineers, the workload at Case will pile on if students don't stay on top of it. Students welcome the work and, it seems, prefer to stay in and keep to themselves anyway. "Math professors are incredibly smart, but can be difficult to learn from. Case's classes are generally difficult, but not impossible. Education, at least in engineering, prepares you excellently for the real thing," says Kevin, an engineering sophomore. Some students burn out, however, and decide that they need something else out of college besides studying, classes, and more studying. Krista, a freshman, admits, "My first semester here was dedicated to being pre-med, but Case changed my mind immediately. Speaking from one semester of experience, the science and math curriculums here are rigorous. I absolutely hated it because I had so much homework and studying to do."


Cornell University

With arguably the best science programs in the Ivy League, Cornell attracts bright young scientific minds who desire both a career-driven and well-rounded education. "A lot of intro classes in engineering are pretty large and anonymous, but as I start taking smaller specialized classes I have more professors who I know and get along with well. I think my classes are very, very challenging and it's much harder for me to maintain a good GPA then it was in high school," claims Melanie, a sophomore. Departments like biology, physics, and engineering are widely considered some of the toughest at any school, and, as would be expected, these courses at Cornell are no joke. Shawn, a sophomore, admits, "Honestly, after surviving 4 grueling semesters as a physical science major here, I can appreciate why the Cornell name seems to vet candidates- Cornell will push you to your limits, academically and emotionally, and you (as a typical Cornellian) will react by pushing yourself even harder."


Dartmouth College

If each Ivy League school has its own unique personality, and Dartmouth is the 'eccentric living alone in a log cabin' of the bunch. That's not to say that students at Dartmouth are the oddballs of the Ivy League (that's Brown), but the isolation of being in Hanover, NH in the middle of February means that students are focusing almost all of their attention on academics. Students seem to enjoy the serenity of the White Mountains though, and enjoy academic life at their school. Frances, a senior, says, "The Chemistry dept is FANTASTIC. The profs are hilarious and so smart and so quirky and wonderful. People here study a lot, especially for major classes." According to Molly, a sophomore, "Profs in general aren't there to screw you over, nor are they handing out A's."


Georgia Institute of Technology

Low passing rates, enormous amounts of work, impossible exams, and sometimes indecipherable professors are just a few of the obstacles students endure to graduate and secure a job with top companies that recruit from Georgia Tech. "Students study all of the time. I would say I spend at least 20 hours a week studying," says Nicki, an engineering major. Those who do survive Georgia Tech's grueling academics will graduate with one of the country's most admired tech degrees and position themselves well for a successful (and lucrative!) career. Jesse, an electrical engineering student, explains, "In most cases, a lot of the GT guys get jobs in the back end doing some cool stuff (like making jets and 400 KM cars)."


Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins is renowned for its science and international studies programs. Academics are grueling and students will tell you that breezing through any class is rarely an option. One engineering sophomore says, "Students study all the time. There are easier majors that don't require it, however with any math/science/engineering/pre-med degree, to get straight b's, I'd say 2 hours a day MINIMUM." Since John Hopkins typically attracts the best and brightest, some freshmen who were able to coast through high school have a hard time adjusting to the workload. "The academics are tough, and you really have to manage your time. If you're the type of student who never had to study in high school, start studying right from the get-go," warns Jerry, a freshman.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT is the Harvard of science, and the two schools also happen to be neighbors. The students at MIT are the best and brightest young scientists from around the world and the school's rigorous academics reflect that. "It's hard. Really bloody hard. You'll be studying 24/7 here. Within your major you'll be well known to your professors and TAs in and out of the classroom. It's a great education and definitely prepares you for either a job or continuing higher education," says Lisa, a sophomore. Despite the challenges, students at MIT are proud to be a part of such an exclusive and driven community, and find encouragement in their peers and professors. Gina, a sophomore, explains, "There is no better place than MIT for math and science. I love most all of my engineering classes. Most of the professors are friendly and accessible. Everyone here wants to see you succeed so you can always find someone to help you out if you're having some trouble in a class (which is bound to happen more than once)."


Princeton University

Princeton students work hard. Courses tend to emphasize depth over breadth, requiring students to critically evaluate information on narrowly-focused topics and do a lot of hands-on lab work. "The professors in upper level classes will know you and take time to answer your questions and see how you're doing. Independent work is a major focus and is worth the time and effort it takes. My department is molecular biology which tends to be a magnet for pre-meds. This can make things a bit more competitive but the classes are interesting and the professors are brilliant," says Jody, a biology major. The benefit of such demanding, focused work is the level of commitment that each professor devotes to the course. "A lot of professors put an amazing amount of thought into course design. They write new textbooks, totally rearrange the standard course into something more logical, and respond to questions 25 hrs a day within 5 minutes," says Judy, a senior.


Stanford University

Stanford is perennially ranked as one of the best universities in the nation, but unlike its eastern counterparts, the campus is lined with palm trees instead of ivy. The biology and engineering departments at Stanford are both extremely well-regarded and popular, and students wishing to earn a degree in one of those fields better find a comfortable chair in the library. "The academics at Stanford definitely live up to the standards you would expect from a top university. The science and humanities classes all ask a lot from a person, especially as the quarter system is fast-paced," says one freshman. The professors at Stanford are some of the best in their field and students often have the chance to interact with them outside of class, despite large class sizes. Tate, a senior, says, "When I took Math 51, a multivariable calculus class, there were perhaps 300 other students in the class. However, the Professors and TA's had a lot of experience teaching the course because of its size and the frequency it was offered. They had extensive office hours so any motivated student who wanted face time with the professor could easily get it. In fact, Professors in large classes often complain because no one comes to see them during office hours!"


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI is a small private university that attracts some of the brightest young science and engineering student s in the nation. "WPI has excellent name recognition as well as an excellent reputation in science and engineering industries. In other words, the people who matter (the ones who hire college grads) DO know about WPI, and they hold it in very high esteem (some even prefer to hire WPI grads than MIT grads)," explains one sophomore mathematics major. Students who graduate from WPI may have plenty of high-paying professional options awaiting them, but they have to survive the school's rigorous academics first. Morgan, a junior, says, "Because of the exceptional amount of class hours that we have over other universities, engendered by our 7 week terms rather than the normal semesters, there is a lot of student teacher interaction and class participation, as well as many lab hours within most majors."


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