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Applying to grad school in theoretical physics

  1. Oct 29, 2006 #1


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    I'm currently a senior, and I'm starting to apply to grad schools (I know it's late). Right now I'm picking what schools to apply to. But there's too many. I was hoping I could get some suggestions on what schools would be best for me.

    So my situation is: I'm interested in theoretical physics. String theory, I guess, if that's all there is. I'm really more math oriented than experimental physics oriented, and I've even considered just doing pure math. But for now, I want to stick to physics.

    I'm also wondering what schools I'd have a shot at, and which would be safety schools. I have near a 4.0 GPA at Cornell, I did research in fiber optics over the summer that I'm still doing, along with a little side research project in astrophysics. (I'm not really interested in either of these topics, but I wasn't able to find anything closer to what I want to do). That's about it as far as what I've done.

    My advisor reccomended Columbia and Princeton. I was also thinking Stanford, Caltech, and maybe MIT. But these don't sound like safety schools. I also heard one of the UC schools has a really good program, but I can't remember which it is (maybe the one with John Baez, riverside I think?).

    I would really appreciate any help on this. I need to get a move on, but I'm kind of stuck at this stage. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 29, 2006 #2
    Is it considered late to apply to grad schools right now? Are you graduating in May 07? I am, and I haven't started applying yet. I haven't even taken my GRE's yet. I just can't find the time to study. I also have to start studying for the FE exam.:bugeye: :surprised
  4. Oct 29, 2006 #3
    That was my first reaction too and I'm in the same boat as you're.
  5. Oct 29, 2006 #4


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    It's late to start. The applications are due around the beginning of December, and you need to start asking for reccomendations, taking tests, etc. Supposedly you're supposed to take the GRE in the spring or over the summer before your senior year. I don't know who makes these rules though.
  6. Oct 30, 2006 #5


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    Any ideas? I really need some help. The most important thing right now for me is to find some decent safety schools, since I'd be happy to go to any of the schools I listed above, and I'll probably apply to most of them, but I really don't know if I have a shot at them.
  7. Oct 30, 2006 #6
    Uh, you really need to get moving. The three grad schools to which I am applying have application deadlines in mid-December. In fact, if you took the GRE today, you still might not have time to submit your scores.
  8. Oct 30, 2006 #7


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    Since you're in NY, I'd suggest these as "safety schools", although to many, they are really quite high-ranked:

    1. SUNY-Stony Brook
    2. City Colleges of NY
    3. U. of Connecticut (this is a terrific school that many do not know about)
    4. Rutgers (especially if you want to do theoretical condensed matter physics, this is the "center of the universe" as far as dynamical mean field theory goes)
    5. Johns Hopkins (although I consider this school as good as any Ivy League schools)
    6. Boston University (remember, Sheldon Glashow moved there from Harvard)

  9. Oct 30, 2006 #8

    Dr Transport

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    SUNY-Buffalo has a program that is decent also if you're looking for a NY school...
  10. Oct 30, 2006 #9
    That's so early. :rolleyes: I'm not sure if I want to go to grad school right away, or have my job pay for it. Lots of companies offer compensation for grad school. I barely have any time to decide.

    Also, I can't find time to study for the GRE's during the semester. These deadlines are a load of crap.
  11. Oct 31, 2006 #10
    Well, if I were you, I'd do the applications now, and make a decision later. I think you need to register for the GRE about a week in advance, and allow two to three weeks for the schools to receive your scores. Therefore, you'll probably have to take the GRE cold.

    Honestly, it probably won't make that much of a difference, though. As a EE major, you'll do just fine on the math portion, which doesn't even cover trigonometry, let alone calculus. Looking at the average scores for MIT, Stanford, and Illinois, I get the distinct impression that the verbal section doesn't matter very much to engineering schools, given the high incidence of international students. (All three have verbal averages in the mid to low 500s.) You'll probably want to bone up on the analytical writing section, though, because it's important that you be able to coherently express your ideas.

    As a whole, the general GRE is really poor at helping the engineering departments to make a decision. Since pretty much everyone gets an 800 on math, that section is completely worthless. Likewise, the verbal score means very little, since there is so much nationality-dependent variation. Really, all that's left is the analytical writing section. In fact, I suspect this is why MIT's EECS department doesn't even require the GRE for their application.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2006
  12. Oct 31, 2006 #11
    I'm certainly no expert, but it seems to me you'd have a better than average shot at any program you care to apply to, given your accomplishments to date.
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