Caltech, Cornell, or Duke?

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Discus: College Search and Selection: April 2004 Archive: Caltech, Cornell, or Duke?
By Falstaff86 (Falstaff86) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 01:54 am: Edit

Hi, everybody!

As the title suggests, I've been accepted to Caltech, Cornell, and Duke. Duke will cost me $21k/year, Cornell somewhat less, and Caltech has yet to send me any kind of finaid award (should be getting it next week). As of right now, I'm leaning towards a science or engineering major, with an eye on business school. In general terms, I'm far more concerned about academic quality than quality of life; I'd live in the Siberian gulag if it gave me an awesome education :). My question to all of you (particularly graduates of these schools) is: which one should I attend? Are there occupational/grad school advantages to one over the others? How about the overall academic experience? Thanks to all of you in advance.

By Falstaff86 (Falstaff86) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 01:56 am: Edit

I neglected to mention that I have a year's worth of AP credit. Cornell and Duke will let me have sophomore standing, but Caltech will not. Is Caltech awesome enough to justify the sacrifice of the credit?

By Brunoniana (Brunoniana) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 02:03 am: Edit

If you're shooting for pure academics -- in science and engineering only -- there are no colleges or universities in the world that compare to Caltech.

But keep in mind that 99% of the students at Caltech are science and engineering majors. Have you had a chance to visit? Caltech has a very particular culture to it. If you want a more balanced school that still has great academics, I think you should go with Cornell.

By Falstaff86 (Falstaff86) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 02:05 am: Edit

No, I'm afraid I don't have the time/money to visit. Just for clarity's sake, could you describe the "peculiarity" to me? Any insights you have could help me in my search. Thank you!

By Brunoniana (Brunoniana) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 02:21 am: Edit

If you have questions about Caltech's student culture you might want to consider writing to Joe, a current student at Caltech who actively takes questions, at I don't know exactly how to describe Caltech-- for starters it is similar to MIT, but even more focused on science and engineering.

I also sense that there is a particular sense of humor there, a bit of "je ne sais quoi". Caltech is a very small school, and is very intense academically -- you have to be prepared that up to a quarter of the students who begin their freshman year at Caltech end up transferring out.

By Humbleservant (Humbleservant) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 02:30 am: Edit

If Cornell is giving you credit for your classes, I'd go there. Caltech is a very techy school(much moreso than MIT), and it's not very well known in California. Cornell probably has the best reputation for academics out of the three (breadth and depth). There is no substitute for an Ivy education

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 08:55 am: Edit

"Cornell probably has the best reputation for academics out of the three (breadth and depth). There is no substitute for an Ivy education."

I agree with others that such a statement just emphasizes your ignorance! I suppose your opinion carries more weight than the experienced academic professionals and others who supply information to US News, the Princeton Review, and Wall Street Journal, etc.

You should not be allowed to continuously post such unsubstantiated ignorance.

By Falstaff86 (Falstaff86) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 02:25 pm: Edit

Could you elaborate on what you said about Cornell? Just because something is Ivy-league doesn't mean it's right for me. What, in particular, makes it a better school? Thank you!

To all:
I guess I should elucidate my intentions a little more clearly. At this point in time, I fully intend to enroll in a good grad school (probably business/management) after my bachelor's degree. If you could give me insights as to which college would be better for this, it would be appreciated. Thanks!

By Fuzzzylogicc (Fuzzzylogicc) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 02:58 pm: Edit

I don't think that any one of these schools is necessarily better than another in getting you into a top MBA program. It's really up to how you apply yourself. That being said, Duke is prolly the most pre-professional of the three. Here's how the schools ranked according to that Wall Street Journal report on the top feeders to the best law, med and business schools:

#6 Duke

#25 Cornell

#28 Caltech

And not to sound like a rankings whore (or Duke troll) but sense you mention "best overall academic experience", Duke is ranked #3 in that category by the Princeton Review (after Yale and Princeton).

By Collegeparent (Collegeparent) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 03:23 pm: Edit

I've got to agree with Fuzzylogic about Duke. With some reservations about its prowess in engineering (a staple at Cornell), Duke seems to have the advantage here.

However, there is another thing to think about, though, which is that Cornell is amenable to dual majors in different schools. I believe you can get an engineering degree as well as a business degree from the Johnson School. It'll require further investigation on your part, but you should look into it.

By Anxious_Mom (Anxious_Mom) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 03:28 pm: Edit

where can one find the Wall Street Journal report? and what was the date of it?

By Falstaff86 (Falstaff86) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 03:36 pm: Edit

I'd like to thank all of you for such great responses. You're helping out a lot!

By Collegeparent (Collegeparent) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 03:42 pm: Edit

AnxiousMom, this is from another thread and compares two reports. I couldn't access just the WSJ report, but it's part of the following. Hope it helps:

Here is the list of this year's prestige colleges and universities from the Brody Report, the employment recruiter, based on the success rate of the schools' graduates, in order 1-50; in parentheses next to each school is its rank in the Wall Street Journal Graduate "feeder school" list:

1. Harvard (1)
2. Princeton (3)
3. Yale (2)
4. Stanford (4)
5. Dartmouth (7)
6. MIT (8)
7. Amherst (9)
8. Williams (5)
9. Columbia (11)
10. Cal Tech (28)
11. Brown (12)
12. Duke (6)
13. Penn (16)
14. Chicago (14)
15. Swarthmore (10)
16. Northwestern (21)
17. Cornell (25)
18. Johns Hopkins (24)
19. Cal Berkeley (41)
20. Bowdoin (19)
21. Georgetown (17)
22. Harvey Mudd
23. Michigan (30)
24. Wellesley (15)
25. Washington U St. Louis (47)
26. NYU
27. Notre Dame (35)
28. Carleton
29. UCLA
30. Claremont/McKenna (22)
31. Virginia (33)
32. Pomona (13)
33. Middlebury (23)
34. Vassar (32)
35. Colgate
36. Wisconsin
37. UNC
38. William & Mary
39. Vanderbilt
40. Bates (40)
41. Emory (36)
42. Smith
43. Wesleyan (27)
44. Davidson
45. Grinnell (44)
46. Rice (20)
47. Colby (46)
48. Texas - Austin
49. USC
50. Tufts (45)

Notable for what's not on the Brody list but that made the WSJ Graduate "feeder schools" list (WSJ #):

Haverford (18)
Bryn Mawr (26)
Morehouse (29)
New College of Florida (31)
West Point (34)
Annapolis (37)
Macalester (38)
Brandeis (39)
Barnard (42)
Trinity (43)
Washington & Lee (48)
Case Western (49)
Reed (50)

Also not on either list:

USAF Academy
Mt. Holyoke
Carnegie Mellon
Wake Forest
Boston College
Holy Cross
Georgia Tech
Illinois U-C

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 04:13 pm: Edit


Here is link someone had posted on another thread. Re: Wall Street Journal report

By Daphne_C (Daphne_C) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 04:30 pm: Edit

Anxiousmom -

I, for once, agree with humble. The Brody group are paid conselors that don't receive any audit reports from any colleges....they are not reputable, and I don't know of anyone that cites them. They are not endorsed or authorized by any school tha I know of.

The only rankings that you ought to see are 1)USnews and 2)NRC....both are available on the web for free, or for a small ($10) fee. These two are reputable sources, and they have been authorized by schools to survey them.

Here is a link to a copy of the NRC rankings, which are the most comprehensive available. That will tell you the specifics of each field and how the schools rank.

Cornell is an Ivy, and it's one of the best ones in terms of academics. Duke is a good school if you want to have a southern feel, and Caltech is good if you want a very small school that focuses only on math/sciences. It's a tough call, but the Ivy is probably the best choice, unless there are financial concerns, or geographic concerns.

By Raiti (Raiti) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 04:42 pm: Edit

Well, since you are international you might care if the school you are attending is well known overseas. I know Cornell and Cal Tech are way better know internationally than Duke. When I was looking at colleges to apply to, I asked people in my home country if they had heard of Duke; none of them knew about Duke. Not all knew about Cornell but a lot did. I did not think about Cal Tech since I'm not interested in engineering, and there is no way I could get in there. Everybody knew about Harvard. Since you want to go into engineering, then Cornell and Cal Tech are your best options in my opinion. However, if you decide to go to Duke you will receive an awesome education just like at Cornell or Cal Tech. You can't go wrong with those choices. Good Luck!

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 04:42 pm: Edit

The difference between Duke and Cornell has usually hinged on the student's personal preference in my experience. There are kids who felt that things were "too southern" at Duke and "too intense" at Cornell--two quotes I hear often. But most kids love either school. And you are not going to lose in reputation going to either. I think if you are interested in an intense engineering department but not as restrictive of an environment as Caltech, Cornell would be your best bet. And if you want the best engineer/math/ science training, Caltech is the place. But, honestly, you are in a win, win , win situation. Most kids would love to have any of those schools as their choices. Good luck and tell where and why when you decide.

By Raiti (Raiti) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 05:23 pm: Edit

I'm sorry I thought you were international, but I don't think you are.

By Falstaff86 (Falstaff86) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 06:03 pm: Edit

No problem. I'm not international, but you're advice still stands. :)

To all:
Thanks again for helping me out. I should have a decision made by next week, which I'll post here (assuming any of you are interested).


By Collegeparent (Collegeparent) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 06:33 pm: Edit

Daphne, a quick word about the Brody report -- it's based on their and other HR figures of opinions of schools by people who hire the graduates of those school as well as hire the recruitment company as consultants. It's about perceptions of schools outside of academe, coming from across the other side of the table as it were. And a quick word about the NRC figures -- they're over 10 years old and are rather out-dated, not reflecting changes in faculty, administration, curriculum, etc. I too would like to see more recent findings.

Until then, USN&WR remains the boilerplate, with perhaps the new Atlantic Monthly a contender when it hits its stride.

And Falstaff, I look forward to hearing what you choose. You are truly in a win-win-win situation.

By Daphne_C (Daphne_C) on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 07:10 pm: Edit

Collegeparent - the new NRC rankings are going to be released within a few months. They are only done every decade because schools don't change much within a short time. USnews is also a good measuring tape. I've heard very negative comments about the Brody report, especially since the Brody group is out there to make as much money as they can. They really shouldn't be cited, because they're not reputable. I've heard this from at least 3 different high school counselors.

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