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Bad grades outside of physics

  1. Dec 21, 2015 #1
    In short, I have great grades and research experience in physics, but my second major, music, brings my GPA way down. Also, I'm a 3rd year undergrad, and I'm wondering whether this will be a significant problem when I apply to schools next year. This is a problem that I haven't seen often or at all on PF, so I thought I'd bring it up.

    To be specific, I have a 3.95 gpa in my physics major and have finished the undergrad curriculum. I started taking grad courses this past semester (and will continue taking more), have done research for past couple summers, and just began an honors project in field theory/math. physics. So when I apply I'll have some good accomplishments to highlight.

    However, my second major is music, and when I apply I'll have an overall GPA of ~3.6 as a result really bad grades in classes like "keyboard harmony," "20th/21st century music" and music theory courses with names like "harmonic idioms of the common practice period". (Of course, there are music courses that are more like traditional liberal arts courses and I've done well in those)

    So, should students in situations similar to mine worry about this problem? I believe that my work in physics/math shows a clearly positive story of the work I'm capable of doing, but my music major grades are entirely different. I don't want to be ruled out right off the bat by admission committees who see the 3.6 and throw my app in the trash. Do I trust them and let my application run its course? Or should I take action to address this issue?

    Many thanks to whoever has insight on this!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 21, 2015 #2


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    I doubt it will impact you negatively, particularly if your high average continues through the graduate level courses.

    Where it can start to be a problem is if the other courses are really bad. If you're struggling to pass them it might suggest that you only do well in courses when you decide you want to and some people could see that as a risk. If the other courses drag your overall GPA below a 3.0, then you could run into issues of not making it through the filters.

    Getting a couple Bs in your music classes is not anything to really lose sleep over, in my opinion.
  4. Dec 21, 2015 #3
    Is it 3.6/4. If that is the case 3.6 out of 4 is still a very good GPA. I think you have nothing to worry about as long as you are not going to do graduate studies on music. What universities look at is a combination of your academic standing, work experiences, projects you've worked on etc. And most schools will look at what you got on your physics major, if let's say you are applying to a graduate studies on physics. Still, your GPA is high to meet the minimum academic requirements of most schools. If you are still worried, contact the schools you are applying to, and ask them any questions you might have.
  5. Dec 21, 2015 #4
    This is the main issue I'm worried about, and to be honest, they'd be right if they made that judgement about my work ethic. I have a finite amount of time to do work, and I choose to spend it on physics rather than other classes.

    And the real problem is that there are several C's sprinkled around too. A lot of music classes are 1 credit hour (like keyboard) and are the ones I do poorly in. So my transcript looks pretty bad at first glance even though 3.60 isn't horrid

  6. Dec 21, 2015 #5


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    3.60 is far from horrid. A 3.9 whatever is a great physics major GPA. You're worried about nothing.
  7. Dec 21, 2015 #6
    Even if you think it is a nonissue, thank you for the replies!

    I've read far too many "top 10 schools don't look at GPAs below 3.9" posts/articles/stories to go without checking whether or not my overall would jeopardize me.
    And still, I wish I could have the guarantee that admissions people can see my major-GPA separately at first contact with my application.
  8. Dec 21, 2015 #7


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    in grad math admissions we care only about math grades (and the ability to speak English). I was told the same thing as a student 50 years ago. so i would guess a grad school evaluator for a physics grad degree likely cares nothing at all about grades in music. They will probably not even look at those grades.
  9. Dec 21, 2015 #8


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    You'll find that there's a lot of misinformation on the Internet/grade inflation. Typically you'll see students claiming 4.0 GPAs and other nonsense and saying "omgz less than a 3.99 you'll never get in anywherez." If this were true there would be far fewer physics graduate students. Some of the 4.0s are probably real, most likely due to selection bias, but most are probably just Internet trolls.

    Your grades, and the accolades you posted, seem to suggest you'd be a good candidate at a great many programs-without knowing more about you.
  10. Dec 21, 2015 #9


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    Honestly, I don't think they will care at all about the music grades. They are not in any way relevant for physics grad school admissions. Even if you got a poor grade in let's say a life sciences course it may be overlooked.

    While grades are important in physics grad school admissions, they are much more forgiving than you would think.
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