Brief Context:

I am a high school student having difficulty choosing between two undergraduate programs. My goal is to eventually work with quantum computing (computer science+physics) at the postdoctoral level. My question concerns whether undergraduate or graduate school is more influential for a given field of study.

The first university, Stanford, offers the possibility of getting a dual degree in both CS and physics, but has no serious quantum computing research. The second, Harvard, has a cutting-edge quantum computing research lab and is right next to MIT where there are other opportunities for research/classes. Harvard only offers joint degrees in two fields, not dual degrees.

I was considering attending Stanford for undergrad to get a solid foundation in both CS and physics, then applying to Harvard for grad school to do research.

Here’s my question:

How important is doing research in your specific field of interest as an undergraduate? Is it better to just take the opportunity to go to Harvard’s lab for undergrad, then look elsewhere for graduate school? Or, is it more advisable to get separate degrees in CS and physics and then apply for graduate research in Harvard's lab?

My main concern is that the lack of quantum computing research at Stanford will be a major hindrance. Will doing other unrelated research in CS or physics as an undergrad suffice just as well in the long run?

  • 3
    Status-wise, and perhaps content-wise, specifically, Harvard's cachet still beats Stanford's by a mile. The consequence is that subsequent study/jobs/whatever will be better if you have that enhanced cachet. Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 0:18
  • 9
    Also keep in mind that the acceptance rates at both of those schools are under 10%. You may want to start making backup plans as well.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 4:13
  • 4
    You haven't started studying yet, you will be surprised how your views of topics may change once you get into the details. Half way through your undergrad you may discover that what you really want is to do simulations on solid state, or theoretical bigravity, or instrumentation. If I told the first year physics student me what I am doing a PhD in, he would be extremely puzzled.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 7:44
  • 8
    Harvard's cachet still beats Stanford's by a mile — Except in computer science, where it's the other way around. And neither is particularly good for quantum computing; dependng on your particular focus, you'd be better off aiming for a postdoc at MIT or Berkeley or Caltech.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


You're still a high-school student and you may find that your interests change in university or later. Mine did, at least twice.

In any case, one's graduate research is often in a quite different area than one's undergraduate research (if any). (And then one's post PhD research may go far afield of one's thesis.) Neither school should limit your graduate options significantly. So go to the school you're most excited about.

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