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Becoming a Physics major and Personal Chances at Graduate Admission

  1. Jul 7, 2012 #1
    I am an upcoming sophomore at Boston College and feel that I should change my major to physics. I have a strong interest in the subject and after much deliberation feel that I should make the switch. However, I want you guys to look at the following circumstances:

    In my freshmen year, I did not study hard or provide myself with the proper motivation to do well. I poorly in my science classes (which composed of two biology class, general chemistry, and mathematics) and got a 2.5 GPA as a result. My non science classes were all B's and A's that year. Before anyone says anything, I want to clear a few things. First off, by no extension of the word or meaning, I am good at mathematics and decent-good at chemistry (I have always done well in them). 100%, I am sure that, had I actually given those subjects their deserved amount of studying, I would have done well. Biology is memorization at this level, so obviously that could have been remedied. I know that what I have just said is not a delusion of mine.

    Now, on to Physics. I did not take any physics classes my freshmen year. I have taken physics up to the honors level in high school and felt it was extremely easy and enjoyable (Details of the curriculum can be found here: http://www.blsphysics.com/ [Broken]), while my highschool is known for having a rather difficult physics program. Furthermore, I have watched many of the MIT physics videos that deal with topics beyond my “Beyond Intro Phyics” highschool class and can understand them without much difficulty. I am aware that this will most likely not be the case in upper level physics courses, but I am determined to work hard to excel in these courses. This will also be the case with any additional math courses.

    Do you guys think I can reverse my bad first year and succeed in Physics? Will those initial bad grades prevent me from getting into a good graduate school program, even if I do amazing on all of my physics classes? On that topic, what do physics graduate schools look for in a applicant?

    Thank you all for your help. I really appreciate it. Any advice for me in general as a new physics major are also welcome.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2012 #2

    What they look for depends on which area you want to do and which types of skills you have (experimental vs. theoretical). Theoretical research at the grad level requires a much higher GPA than experimental research, from the admission statistics, and yes, they do distinguish between different subfields in admission.
  4. Jul 8, 2012 #3
    It's possible. I think, however, that the big question is whether you really want to go into physics. You may take a few courses and figure out that you hate physics.

    No. But there is an *if* there.
  5. Jul 8, 2012 #4
    Take physics I and II and see if you like it. If not, you'll still be a better person for it.
  6. Jul 8, 2012 #5


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    Can you quantify this much higher? I ask because I want to go into the former and will be starting college soon so I want to make sure I keep a target.
  7. Jul 8, 2012 #6
    Not really. Applying to grad school in physics is not like applying to, say, medical or law school. Many different things go into a physics grad application, such as the overall undergraduate GPA, physics GPA, general GRE score, physics GRE score, letters of recommendation, your statement of purpose, undergrad research (such as an REU, or if you worked with any faculty at your home institution), any publications you have authored, grants received, and the list goes on. Each graduate program will weigh each of these things differently than the next program. So it is really not possible to tell exactly where you could get in, or what exactly it takes to get in at a given institution. In general, though, physics grad programs do not care about extra curriculars, so if you are planning on doing something like student government to strengthen your app, skip it and do undergrad research instead.

    At this point your "target" for college should just be to do the best you can possibly can in all of your classes. It also wouldn't hurt to befriend a professor who is doing research that you find interesting, and ask if you can work for him (even for free).
  8. Jul 9, 2012 #7


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    I was asking about his statement that theoretical research requires higher GPA than experimental research. But thanks for your comment nonetheless.
  9. Jul 9, 2012 #8
    Just going from acceptance profiles at physicsGRE.com.

    Most of the people who listed theoretical interests and were accepted have GPAs above 3.7. Experimentalists sometimes got away with much lower GPAs of 3.0-3.5.

    This also makes sense from funding: each graduate student costs the same, but there's less money going to theory in terms of research funding, and they're likely to produce less profit for the university in terms of hauling in grants than experimentalists.
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