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Another what are my chances thread (astro grad).

  1. Jul 28, 2012 #1
    Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    Some details about me and my undergrad institution:
    • Senior physics undergrad at a Spanish institution recognized in the EU as the home of the most important observatories in the region, big collaborations with U of FL.
    • Rigorous program that uses a lot of grad level textbooks, will have taken a few grad courses (already took one).
    • Will be doing my senior year at a big UK institution where I'll be doing a Msc. thesis as part of my undergrad curriculum with the dept. head (possibly resulting in a good rec letter in time for applications, I hope). This will be the only research experience I'll able to get.
    • Rec letters from prominent astrophysicists with contacts in many of my desired grad schools.
    • Grades that according to World Education Services, converts to a 3.2 GPA up to my junior year (grading is fairly harsh in my country).
    • Will be taking GRE, PGRE, and TOEFL (even though I'm a US resident and have been bilingual all my life, still need to go through this for most schools).
    • Know from my registrar that a few graduates from my uni have gone to US institutions in the past: Oregon St. Uni, UMass, Caltech, U of FL(through a now-defunct exchange program)... but I have no idea of what characteristics they had.
    • Kip Thorne, Fred Close, Jocelyn Bell and a Harvard prof visited my uni in the past 3 years, if that means anything. Tons more but these are the only that I recognize.

    I've combed gradschoolshopper, AIP, graduate-schools.phds.org, pgreforums & gradcafe (to get an idea of the admitted students characteristics) several times and have compiled the following list of schools I like/feel like I have some chance of getting into:

    • U Hawaii
    • U Florida
    • U Minnesota
    • U Arizona (physics program with astro concentration, as the astro program has a 3.5 cutoff)
    • Arizona State U
    • Ohio State U
    • Case Western Reserve U
    • Dartmouth College
    • Rochester IT
    • Penn State U
    • U Boston
    • U Mass Amherst

    I would like some feedback on my chances of admission, I'd like to slim it down to 10 or 9 schools. Any reason to discard Penn, Boston or UMass? I'm thinking TAships might not cut it for the Mass. schools due to the high cost of living. I think U of FL is too competitive but I can get very personal rec letters from profs/advisers with lots of contacts in their astro department, so I'm applying anyway. Same goes for U of Az and Ohio.

    For some schools I'm considering applying to both physics and astro departments.

    According to AIP, only 1 student enrolled in Ohio's astro program in 2010 and there have been 0 enrollments in CWRU on more than one occasion, is this something to be concerned about? I think both programs are great, especially Ohio's, but are the admissions tough in these programs?

    Can't find any history on ASU's and very little on Rochester IT's enrollments/graduates, it seems both grad programs are very new (RIT's astro program started in 2008), could new programs like these be looking for students from all over the world or would they be more conservative in their admissions (ie: just sticking to domestic students)?

    Looking forward to the replies, I'd appreciate any help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 28, 2012 #2
    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    From personal experiance I wouldnt apply to more than 4 schools. I applied to 6, got into all of them, but because I applied to the ms programs most wouldnt give me funding unless I switched to PhD. Be weary of this trap. The best thing you can do is contact the department heads and ask for a phone interview. Also, if you have particular professors/projects in mind then attempt to contact them directly via email and phone.
  4. Jul 28, 2012 #3
    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    Thanks, I see where you're coming from but bear in mind I'm not a domestic student and I'm not confident my institution is well-known in the US, which I fear might hamper me a lot in admissions. I fear that there's always someone with a comparable GPA from a better-known US school with a summer REU in the application pile. I'm applying to phD programs btw, not Ms.

    I'm also considering that many schools because I'm trying to increase overlap with my significant other who is also applying, to later evaluate our options assuming we get in somewhere (her academic record is better than mine by a bit).
  5. Jul 28, 2012 #4


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    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    Do you have specific information about assistantship stipends at those schools? I'd be surprised if the stipend at any school didn't allow for basic living costs for a single person, especially if you share an apartment with another student and don't own a car. It's quite possible to live without a car in Boston; in fact, many would probably say it's easier to live without a car there!
  6. Jul 28, 2012 #5
    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    From AIP's Astronomy Roster from 2010:

    Boston U: average TA $18.8k
    UMass Amherst: $17.1k

    I'm fairly ignorant of what that really translates to in terms of living standards in the region (I'm guessing its not enough but I'll look into it) but I certainly prefer to live on my own (on-campus housing). I've shared apartments for the larger portion of my undergrad and I do not wish to prolong the experience unless its strictly necessary.

    I've looked into a lot of the other schools' housing and estimated cost of living vs average TAships, and the TAships cover everything and then some.

    What about admissions in these 2 schools, are they tough? In the same league more or less? UMass' astro page looks very outdated, BU has a lot more info.
  7. Jul 28, 2012 #6
    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    I understand. I was making a point to anyone reading this thread that if you decide to get an MS first then PhD you may get boned on funding initially. Also, one of the reasons why I suggested to only apply to 4 schools is because the applications alone cost money - sometimes over $100. I remember burning about $500 on applications fees when I applied.... I don't think you are at a disadvantage if you've done well and have good extracurricular activities to back up your resume/application.
  8. Jul 28, 2012 #7
    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    That's exactly why I made this thread. I don't really know if I've done "well" with a foreign grading system that supposedly translates to a 3.2 GPA and if you read my OP, you'll see I've had no prior research experience and won't have any other than what I'll get to do during my senior year (a msc. project as part of my undergrad curriculum), since there really aren't any summer research opportunities where I live. So I don't feel like I can assess my situation/chances objectively.

    I'm expecting to spend much more than 500$ on application and standardized exam fees, its worth it for me though, its a much better (and cheaper) option than graduate school in my own country or anywhere else in the EU.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2012
  9. Jul 28, 2012 #8
    Re: Another "what are my chances" thread (astro grad).

    Perhaps the message in my original post was not 100% clear. The primary point I was trying to convey was that developing a connection with a professor will help you more than anything on your application (aside from your GPA). The lack of professional experience (an internship or summer research program in the US) will hurt your application significantly. I misread your post thinking that you had a summer REU. You may be able to make up for this loss partially with an exceptional senior project. Again, what will get you into a program is getting to know a specific professor on a personal basis. If a professor knows you are a capable student, based on your conversations with them and the work you've presented them, you have a much better change of getting into any program. Keep in mind that contacting professors is a difficult and arduous task. You will have to email/call them multiple times.

    Maybe you could ask some of your professors who wrote you letters of recommendation to provide you a list of contacts.

    Also, I am not familiar with the physics graduate program at UFl, but when I applied there for engineering they seemed to favor students who attended as undergrads first. Also, when I talked to the secretaries on the phone they seemed like they didn't care about individual students. Not to mention they came off kind of rude
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