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Am I a fool? (hint: the answer is yes)

  1. Feb 25, 2009 #1
    Key question, incase you don't want to read any further:

    How can I, from humble beginnings and a non-traditional path get into a top tier grad school in astrophysics?

    So, I don't know if people have read my previous post, but allow me to lay down the framework before asking my big question.

    Here are all the factors in the past that come into play.

    1. Didn't do very well in High School, Bish student overall.(5 years ago)
    2. Dropped out of first college with very low grades ~ 1.8 gpa
    3. Going to school now at "fourth tier" public university for physics.

    Here's what I want:

    To go to a top grad school in astrophysics, I'm talking Harvard, Colombia, MIT, Berkley or similar.

    I have 2 and half years of mostly physics and math until I graduate so plenty of time to earn the grades, I plan on getting involved in research as soon as possible, probably by this time next year if not sooner. I already have a budding relationship with my physics professor, who happens to be the department chair. I will also apply for a bunch of REU's the next couple summers, how hard is it usually to get in? What else can I do to differentiate myself above the crowd, especially coming from such humble beginnings. Is there a chance I can pull this off? Or will I end up having to do my Ph.d. at University of North Dakota- Blutesburg if I even get accepted to a Ph.d. at all?

    This might look similar to my last post but I am asking a more specific question and specifically want advise on how to handle my next 2.5 years most effectively to accomplish my goal.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2009 #2


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    There's no reason you can't aim for "the best."

    Personally, I still can't figure out the general obsession with 'top' grad schools. What would make more sense to me is to aim to get into a school that's doing specific research that you're interested in. Of course, at your stage of the game, if you don't know excatly what that is, there's no reason not to aim for "the top."

    To address your specific questions:
    1. High school won't factor into the equation.
    2. Grad schools will request to see all post-secondary transcripts. Having dropped out isn't great, but it doesn't seal your fate. If you can demonstrate over the next 2.5 years of undergrad that you're serious and generate a good showing in senior level physics courses, your "ancient history" will matter less and less.
    3. I would contact the departments you're interested in and check to make sure that the courses you're taking will qualify you for admission, but likely they will.

    It sounds like you have the right goals for someone in your position. If it were me personally, I would work on specifics. If you want to get involved in research, start reading up on the opportunities available to you so that when it comes time to apply you're not looking for "a summer research project," rather, you want to get involved in specific project X (perhaps with Y and Z contingencies), for specific reasons.
  4. Feb 25, 2009 #3
    Choppy, Im dubious of that, I know of a few specific REU's I want to get into but I am kind of thinking I'll just carpet bomb the REU market to make sure I get something, how difficult/competative are REU's?
  5. Feb 26, 2009 #4
    To get into REUs, you must at least know a good chunk of E&M, maybe quantum mechanics and some other things. If you have these under your belt, it's not hard to get into some programs (specially with good GPA). Otherwise, it'll depend heavily on your luck. Try to ask some professor for research over the summer at your school, it'll be easier.
  6. Feb 26, 2009 #5
    My school has no cool research, plus I think I just got a B+ on my physics test. I think suicide is the only option now.
  7. Feb 26, 2009 #6


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    Even if you're saying this tongue-in-cheek, suicide is never the only option.

    "Cool" research is a matter of perspective. Chances are, no one is going to offer an undergraduate a place on a Nobel prize winning research team - regardless of his or her marks or academic pedigree. What matters at the undergraduate level is developing skills that you can use later on when you're pursuing ideas of your own.

    I once knew a guy who spent a summer typing up his notes from one of our courses that didn't have an adequate textbook. He was able to publish it before the fall - just as something they called "courseware" - but still, he got some money out of it, and it got him something significant he could add to his CV.
  8. Feb 26, 2009 #7
    Get straight A's in physics and math, stellar recommendations from faculty, and a physics GRE of at least 800. If you could start a publication history, that would be great too.

    Note: I did all of these things, and was rejected by UT Austin (a top 5 school).
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