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If he wants to do physics and to go for a PhD, it is very important to go to the best school he can get into. Ivy League schools are usually the best. I'm a chemist; not a physicist, but in chemistry, American Chemical Society has a Directory of Graduate Research that lets you see who is at each university, the research they do, etc. I would suspect there is an American Physics Institute with similar information.

Princeton is the home of Albert Einstein and has several advanced science institutes. One is the one working on fusion energy, the tokamac reactor.

MIT is certainly highly regarded. Rensselaer is the oldest engineering school in the country. I would think better for nuclear engineering than physics. Univ of Chicago has a great reputation especially in economics. How do they rank in physics? Case Western Reserve is OK, but I would say second tier compared to the others.

In chemistry, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Columbia are usually considered tops. The rest of the Ivy League Schools are second tier. There are some very strong state schools: Cal Tech, UCLA, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa State, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State (rather than Michigan), Minnesota, Penn State, Penn. In the midwest people usually mention Northwestern.

Personally I would avoid Washington and Colorado. If you want to work west, California is the place. If you want to work east, those original 13 colonies is the place with the best schools. If you want to work South, that is a whole nother subject.

Generally the way it works is the best jobs go to graduates from the best schools and recommended by the highest regarded faculty. So if jobs are short in any way, go to the very best school you can get into, go to a better graduate school and then post doc at a still better school and in each step work for top rated faculty in your field. It also helps to select research projects in hot fields with lots of potential.

Engineering is a bit different in that most people seem to believe a masters degree is the most you need. PhDs are for teaching and research. Nuclear engineering could be a very good field if the energy needs turn that way, but not if nuclear power plants become unacceptable. So its a risky field to study. Physics--which does the fundamental work for electronics and optics, lasers, etc, has much better potential--especially for the very best qualified students who are dedicated to being the best.
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