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Admission to MIT physics PhD

  1. Jun 21, 2015 #1
    Hi guys, wassup? I am a physics undergraduate motivated to get into top graduate programs, namely MIT. It is not its name or prestige (only a small amount!) which attracts me to it, but the experience I desire, that is, to immerse myself to an environment, surrounded by other students of diverse backgrounds of same passion that brings us to the same place, together discussing and doing research, headbutting against the wall doing problems in classes taught by professors I admired for their research or teachings. It'd be silly of course if those were my only reasons: they also have many groups doing cutting-edge research on field of my interest (quantum information).

    My aims are: a 4.0 in major GPA, 900+ PGRE, and 5 graduate courses. As of research, I have done a semester of experimental semiconductor physics, and am looking to join a group in quantum transport simulation. I am graduating in 3 years, but if I do not get accepted, I can stay for another year to do more research (this will not be a problem financially, as I will have scholarship/financial aid for 4 years).

    I am also actively involved in our chapter of SPS as an officer, and have done a lot of volunteering in high school. I will have a very "good" (whatever this means) statement of purpose essay, as I have a lot to say about my strengths, experiences, and goals.

    I am fairly confident that I could achieve my aim by hard work. But what I am scared of is that even with a 4.0 GPA, 990 PGRE, and years of research with publications, it seems that nothing can assure an acceptance into MIT, chances even lessening as years pass by (observed from the grad cafe and physicsgre.com). As such, I would like to hear advice on admission to MIT, or other top institutions; what other factors exist, what I could do to maximize my chances, etc... Any advice will be deeply appreciated.

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2015 #2
    I am slightly confused. What year are you in?

    Also, you're right, even as an exceptional student MIT admissions are crapshoot from what I hear. Have you considered doing an REU there?
  4. Jun 21, 2015 #3
    @Dishsoap: I am a rising sophomore. I am planning to apply for an REU there next summer, but I am uncertain if the research groups I am interested in are participating. Either way I will, if it means I will have a better shot at their graduate program.
  5. Jun 21, 2015 #4
    If you have a scholarship for 4 years, why graduate in 3? If you take 4 years to do your degree, you will have much more research experience and will have taken more courses, particularly if you want to take 5 graduate courses.
  6. Jun 21, 2015 #5


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    You're aiming for a 4.0, but as a rising sophomore, it is far too early to have any kind of indication as to whether or not this is a reasonable goal. You've got a lot of time left to worry about grad school. The best thing to do right now is to focus on doing as well as you possibly can in your courses, and try to get involved in research as soon as possible.
  7. Jun 21, 2015 #6
    You know there are other graduate institutions as good as, if not better than, MIT. If you are completely hell bent on attending only MIT, then you are most likely in for a big disappointment. What makes you so sure that you will get a 4.0 and 900+ PGRE? And even if you do, what if the person you are looking to work with has a full group and isn't accepting new students when you apply?

    I would suggest worrying less about your application to MIT and more about actually learning physics and developing an interest in research.
  8. Jun 21, 2015 #7


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    ^^This. MIT is a great school for physics...but it's only one of the many great schools for physics that are out there. A 4.0, 900+ PGRE, and 5 graduate classes is a lofty goal.
  9. Jun 21, 2015 #8
    Especially in three years. Taking five grad courses would mean that you're doing your undergrad in only 2 or 2.5 years. That is not reasonable.
  10. Jun 22, 2015 #9
    I have advanced myself from my university's physics curriculum enough to be considered a junior/senior, and will be taking upper division courses on classical mechanics, electromagnetism, and graduate courses on quantum mechanics next year. I am confident that I could achieve those stats because I just love studying physics, and getting good grades would be a natural consequence, as proven thus far from experience. Of course anything could go horribly wrong (especially next year), but I am asking in a circumstance in which I achieve those stats, what would be my chances.

    Yes, there are many other top institutes where I would be honored to go to, like UIUC, Caltech, and Harvard, but my aim is at MIT and I will try my best shooting for it. I would just like to have a chance of getting in, it would be very disappointing if, as jbrussell93 said, the groups simply don't have any spots for more graduate students.
  11. Jun 22, 2015 #10
    As you mentioned: GPA, PGRE, research, and letters of rec are large players. You might also consider applying for various graduate fellowships, especially the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. If you are lucky enough to get one of these, you will come in with your own money and therefore you'd be able to work with nearly anyone, even if their research group would have been otherwise full.

    Also, be sure to contact professors at each of the schools that you'll apply to. This is how you will find out if they are looking for a new student. Try and set up a phone call or Skype conversation. Better yet, try to meet these people face-to-face at national conferences if possible. I believe this step is the key to getting into your dream school... or will at least increase your chances dramatically.
  12. Jun 22, 2015 #11


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    I have three friends in the physics department at my university alone who have done exactly that and have amazing GPAs and interesting research; two of them even have double majors. It's not unreasonable. There are people who are very advanced when they enter as freshman. There's no need to assume the OP is just another brick in the wall.
  13. Jun 22, 2015 #12


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    It's possible for some...but not possible for most. Some students come in with a lot of advanced placement credit and can basically start in the upper division physics courses their freshman year. For students like this, it's not unreasonable to plan on taking 5 or so graduate level course. I'm planning on taking at least 2 graduate level courses during my undergrad, and I'm not coming in with any kind of advanced placement credit or anything like that. I'm thinking a two semester graduate level sequence on General Relativity will fit in nicely during my last year of undergrad.
  14. Jun 22, 2015 #13
    @jbrussell93: That is a helpful insight, thank you!

    @WannabeNewton: Though it does appear to be that MIT's wall consists of 4.0/990/Goldwater scholar bricks :p.
  15. Jun 22, 2015 #14


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    My best friend is doing his physics PhD at MIT and one of my other good friends is starting there in the fall. I am at another similar school. The most important things to get into grad school are research experience and letters of recommendation. Grades and the PGRE are also important but you can overcome weaknesses in those areas if the rest of you application is really outstanding (as in amazing revs and maybe a first author paper). In the past, the PGRE has been a bigger factor at MIT than most other schools Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago are much more forgiving in that area since it really does not matter nearly as much as people think. However, the situation may change at MIT as they have got rid of part 1 of the qual and now only the mechanics section of part 2 is required (you can take classes for the others) and the PGRE is mostly related to how well students do on the qual.
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