Why I chose University of Virginia- over Stanford, Duke, Cornell....

I will be posting several student letters that I have collected over the years from students that I have worked with who have written to current students:

Past student here attended UVa for Physics and is currently in Medical School at George Washington University:

I am glad to hear you are working with Prab – definitely a smart move.  He helped me out during my college search and application process and only great things resulted, so if I may offer you a general piece of advice, it is to listen closely to Prab.
As for why I chose UVa over Stanford, Duke, Cornell and some University of California schools –
In terms of quality of education, I should mention that I was actually advised to make UVa my choice by pretty much every single university professor in physics or a related field (at schools other than UVa I might add), and industry scientist that I spoke to prior to making my choice:

-          I met a University of California graduate school recruiter during my internship at Sandia National Laboratories who was a Stanford graduate.  He explained to me that Stanford is a place you want to go for graduate school, and that I need a real education during undergrad.  I said I was also thinking about UVa, and he says “now that would be the choice to make!”

-          I visited the University of Arizona during one summer and met a physics professor there.  He was the lead for a study to find out which top 10 or so universities had the best undergraduate physics programs in terms of how well the university actually teaches the students.  In no particular order, UVa was on that list.
And so it went on.  I came to understand that there is a big difference between quality of teaching and “top 10 schools according to US News”, in a search for a good program.  As a side note though, UVa is ranked 2nd in US News’ top public schools.  Though UVa may not strike the typical high school student in India as a dream school, it is very well sought after, and highly respected as a world-class institution in the United States.  I have numerous, numerous friends who have turned down schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and pretty much every Ivy League school in the United States to accept a place at UVa.  Both for financial reasons, and otherwise, which I will get to.
In general, UVa is known to be very strong in a wide array of departments, which I feel is especially important in the American education system.  As you may have learned, undergraduates have various basic area requirements that are independent of your major within a college.  That is, in general, you will have writing requirements, humanities requirements, science requirements, language requirements etc. whether you are a politics major or a physics major, so you had better hope science isn’t the only thing the school is good at teaching.  How good do you think a technical school will be at teaching history?  Furthermore, the American college system allows for you to change your mind easily (which happens A LOT), or even double major in a completely different field.   My roommate is an Economics major who discovered a love for Art History here.  He will be double majoring, with Art History as his ‘hobby major’.
One very important reason I chose UVa was the offer I received to join the Echols Scholars Program, which exempts me from all area requirements and gives me priority registration over all other students.  That is a crazy good deal, let me tell you.  In fact, this was a huge factor in my choosing UVa.  I never have to worry about not getting a place in a class, and have been given the privilege to entirely design my education (with my advisors of course) outside of the physics and math majors.
One thing I greatly, greatly appreciate here, is the Honor System, which a huge part of UVa culture.  Basically, all students are bound to not lie, cheat, or steal – a system that was created and run entirely by the student body itself.  Take home exams are commonplace; professors leave the room during exams (and no one speaks!); your word is trusted.  I could go on, but I greatly appreciate the privileges the Honor System gives us.  Student governance is huge here.  Even the University Judicial System is student run.
This e-mail is getting to be some pretty lengthy reading material, so I’ll go easy on you and jot down a few more points and would be more than happy to elaborate on anything that particularly strikes you anywhere in this e-mail, just let me know.

UVa is ranked #1 for fitness (facilities included) in the nation; UVa has an immensely wide array of student clubs and organizations opportunities.  I think of how I wish I had more time to go to this event, and join that club too on a daily basis; UVa has a fantastically well developed system for studying abroad (which you would already be doing I guess) and for just traveling and doing service abroad; UVa has an incredibly rich history – there is so much tradition here and so many amazing benefits to this.
Anyway, just let me know if there is anything above that you would like me to explain further, I would be happy to tell you more (as I have much more to say).  Just let me close my stressing how important it is to find the best fit for you in terms of student life and quality of teaching.  I am sure Prab has talked to you about this, but think about it – you are in college for 4 years and it would definitely nice to be happy during that time.  I have friends who picked the school they thought would be the best choice based on which school they felt had the “best reputation”.  My friend at Johns Hopkins for pre-med is unhappy, my friend at Cambridge (even though it’s in the UK, it still illustrates the same point) is unhappy.  Unhappiness is bad for college, as you may guess.