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Another What Are My Chances? Grad School Post

  1. Sep 18, 2008 #1
    Another "What Are My Chances?" Grad School Post

    I'm trying to get my applications done early this year, so hopefully I'm in before the deluge of questions like this. This is my second try at applying to grad school. Last time I got fairly far into the application process, but a disappointing PGRE score (59%ile) and a recommender who fell through (just couldn't be bothered, I guess) led to me reconsidering at the last minute and holding off on applying rather than going into a panic and trying to get applications together before the deadlines.

    I have since retaken the PGRE and done significantly better, as well as having taken some lab courses in an attempt to make myself a better candidate. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any relevant employment since graduation in May to bolster my weak resume and have been working in the cash office at a book store to make rent (hey, I guess a math minor is worth something after all).

    My goal in this post is mostly to get some feedback on my list of schools before I meet with my references next week and send out applications soon after. I want to make sure that I'm not overreaching and that I will at least be able to get into some of my schools. I'll also consider advice to aim higher if it comes to that, but I don't think I'm erring on the side of not being ambitious enough.

    My goal is to get myself into a MS program in condensed matter. I may eventually want to get into a Ph.D program, but I think I'll stand a better chance at getting into an MS right now (possibly transferring into a Ph.D program at a name school if I do well).

    Undergraduate Institution: Top 50 Large Private Research University
    Major: Physics; Minors: Mathematics, Philosophy; Cumulative GPA: 3.71
    Graduated from Honors Program, Dean's List 7 semesters

    GRE Scores (Q/V/A/P): 770(88%)/680(96%)/5.5(88%)/800(76%)

    Unfortunately, my research experience is limited to lab coursework, and I have no excuses for that. However, I expect to get recommendations from a full professor in whose advanced physics laboratory I received an A-, as well as from an adjunct who gave me an A in an 8 hr/week lab course entitled "Electronics for Scientists." I also have a good relationship with the associate professor who taught my modern physics course, which included a lab section. It's not much of a research resume, but I think these guys will go to bat for me in a pretty big way.

    My current list of schools:
    University of California San Diego (top choice)
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    University of Texas at Austin
    University of California Irvine
    University of California Davis
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    University of California Santa Cruz

    All top 30 schools, except for UNC and UCSC which are taking the role of safety schools. What do you think? Is this a reasonable list based on my credentials?

    I also have a practical question about going for an MS vs. a Ph.D. Is that going to hurt my chances of financial support? My high verbal GRE score, philosophy minor, and solid physics GRE seem like they would give me an edge in getting a teaching assistantship, but would being a lowly MS hurt my chances of that happening? Am I being too cautious in not applying for a Ph.D right now?

    I'd really appreciate your input on this one. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2008 #2
    Re: Another "What Are My Chances?" Grad School Post

    Definitely. There is usually much less money available to support M.S. students than Ph.D. students. Some universities don't even offer support to M.S. students!

    Most Ph.D. programs that I'm familiar with allow you to leave with an M.S. if you have made sufficient progress (usually once you pass your qualifiers). If you think you might want to get a Ph.D., I'd suggest applying for it now.

    Getting an M.S. on the way to a Ph.D. would be helpful only if it gave you an opportunity to get some research experience.
  4. Sep 18, 2008 #3
    Re: Another "What Are My Chances?" Grad School Post

    That's what I was afraid of. Do you have any feeling towards whether a Ph.D. program at a top 20 or top 30 school would be within my reach, or would you suggest aiming down a bit?
  5. Sep 18, 2008 #4
    Re: Another "What Are My Chances?" Grad School Post

    I honestly don't know. Your grades and test scores are good but not amazing, and your lack of research experience has to hurt too. On the other hand, you aren't applying to the *very* top schools... I'm afraid I avoided answering this part of your question in my first post deliberately! :smile:
  6. Sep 18, 2008 #5
    Re: Another "What Are My Chances?" Grad School Post

    Ha, yeah, it's not an easy question to answer since pretty much everyone has different stats and professional goals, and my lack of research makes me somewhat unique. I have all the earmarks of someone who could potentially be successful in a research setting, but I have yet to demonstrate it. Thank you for your advice, though.
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