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We are in the final wait to see which schools my son will be accepted to. He is a strong candidate with good grades, SAT scores, and teacher references, interested in physics and/or nuclear engineering, strongly considering graduate school. At this point we are going to assume acceptance to all of the schools he applied to, even though MIT and Princeton are real long shots. I am looking for any anecdotes, thoughts, or information about any of the following schools that might help with the selection process:
U of Washington (Seattle)
Colorado School of Mines (offered free application and they are close)
U of Minnesota (Minneapolis/St.Paul--I think this was another free application)
U of Michigan
U of Chicago
Case Western Reserve

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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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One is the one working on fusion energy, the tokamac reactor.

Half true. Actually it's different. Tokamak's have a linear "shape" but nonlinear magnetic fields. There is another type (whose name escapes me) that has a very nonlinear physical shape but very smooth, linear fields. That is the type that Princeton is working with.

The rest of the recommendations are all true for physics, especially in academia. Be aware that as a physicist, basically as mentioned the MS and BS are pretty much worthless. The most difficult part about the PhD is that you have to find something new to work on that no one has done before. And you can increment through a very long time looking at a particular problem and come up empty, in which case the time you spent is shot. It can take far longer to get to a PhD in physics than anything else.

Also, there are many routes to take in the world of nuclear anything. Engineers, especially mechanical, materials, and electrical, are always in very high demand, far more than physicists when it comes to running the place. At the current time and for the forseeable future if job availability is important, there has not been a "recession" since 2001 for any of these three engineering degrees. At the current time I'm averaging about 1 call every 1-2 weeks for electrical engineers. This is especially true if you can sound like you know how to spell the word "power". It's not a fad unlike say computer/digital electronics. This trend has been ongoing for at least 10-15 years and has no sign of letting up. It's the "infrastructure" problem that is driving it...all the build-up in the 1960's is now going on 40-50 years old and it's time for replacement. On top of that, the safety, reliability, and efficiency requirements are driving a greater need for engineers in those areas than ever.

This experience comes from routine contact with not only folks working in the nuclear business (including my uncle) but actually visiting a couple sites. If you intend on working anywhere other than research or maybe at one of the design/engineering/manufacturing firms (that rely heavily on new construction for staffing up), the opportunities are slim.

As to going into a "dying" industry, be careful with that approach. I've made a career of working mostly in a lot of "old tech" industries. On the surface it seems like some things are "dead" but the reality is that it just means the number of established players consolidates and the opportunities expand as a result.
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I am sure there will always be jobs for nuclear engineers as long as nuclear power is around. Jobs are usually easiest to find when an industry is expanding. When an industry is in decline, employers can be very picky about who they hire. That is when an Ivy League degree has advantages.

People hired before 1980 are now retiring. If you know what the hot fields were then, those employers are likely to be hiring replacements.
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