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Admissions Black physics major - grad admissions

  1. Oct 2, 2016 #1
    Hi, everyone. I really, really want to go to graduate school. My focus will be AMO and I'm aiming for a PhD. However, I've looked through a lot of forums to see how others fared when offers rolled around. I also use this as a way to set goals. The problem is: I can't find a lot of people like me - I'm an African American female at an HBCU (Historically Black College/University". It's hard to gauge what kind of schools will want me.

    Here's a small profile:

    -- GPA: 3.9/4.0 (but I know how important the PGRE is)
    -- Waiting for GRE scores
    -- Research Experience: one at a national laboratory ; one on campus ; one in the industry.
    -- one publication after presenting work at a computer simulations/differential equations conference
    -- tutor in trig, calculus, and general + upper-level physics courses
    -- I have 5 people that are excited to write recommendation letters for me - two of which will be really strong
    -- math club campus laison + SWE college chapter community service coordinator

    That's all that I can think of putting at the moment. As you can see, my resume isn't very elaborate. It's really hard to know what my chances are of getting into a great graduate program for AMO. When I go to forums to gauge my chances, I keep in mind that I am a minority and go to a predominately-Black college. How much do graduate schools care about that? How many safety schools should I have if I apply to 10 schools?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 2, 2016 #2


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    Hey neosoul.

    I'm not sure what it's like in the states [I'm from Australia] but I'd be really concerned about going to any school or institution that condones unfair discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or gender.

    If that ever happened I'd run as quickly as possible and look for an institution that focuses on merit rather than demographic.
  4. Oct 2, 2016 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    To give us a frame of reference, can you give us examples of programs that you consider to be "great" and "not great:"?
  5. Oct 2, 2016 #4

    Ben Niehoff

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    Your profile so far looks better than mine did, so I think you'll get somewhere. But I don't have a lot of insight into the selection process, so I can't guess exactly.

    Do you have an idea what sort of physics you are interested in most?
  6. Oct 2, 2016 #5
    Unfortunately the admissions process can be somewhat of a crapshoot - there are no guarantees. However, it seems to me like you have a solid chance at some top schools.

    Although I'm white, I am a female, so the diversity aspect of admissions was also something I did research into. After talking to a few professors on different admissions committees, it appears that it's quite rare for race/gender to play a role. However, in my case, I got a couple years of diversity-type fellowships (female + first-gen college student) that made a certain professor want me to work for him (because fully funded student, who doesn't want that!), and that might have been the key to my actually getting admitted. So it might help... indirectly.

    Have you checked out the physicsgre.com applicant profiles? http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=6128
  7. Oct 2, 2016 #6
    A lot might depend on the reputation of your specific university. The one I am most familiar with is Southern University in Baton Rouge. A 3.9 GPA in Physics is unlikely to get you into a top ten school without and outstanding PGRE score and letters of recommendation. And the letter of recommendation will depend on the reputation and publication record of the author. If someone was in Baton Rouge, I would recommend LSU's Physics Department much more favorably. A 3.9 GPA, mediocre PGRE score, and recommendation letters from their faculty can get students into top 10 grad schools. (I was admitted to Stanford, MIT, and Princeton with fellowships at MIT and Princeton.) I'm also AMO by the way. My undergraduate mentor's reputation in AMO opened a lot of doors for me.

    I'm not familiar with many other historically black universities, but I don't tend to think that is fundamentally an advantage or a disadvantage. Being at an R1 institution with lots of highly regarded faculty is an advantage when applying to top 10 programs. Being at a school ranked below 100 or so is a disadvantage. Usually students from lower tier undergraduate schools greatly improve their odds for getting into top 10 PhD programs by doing a great job in a MS program at an R1 school with highly regarded faculty.

  8. Oct 2, 2016 #7


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    Congratulations on aiming for the PhD in Physics.
    There are very few African American women in Physics. Most are listed here: http://www.aawip.com/ , including where they went to school and where they are now. (My wife is on this list. A student who took many of my classes when I taught at an HBCU is also on this list.)

    As @jtbell asked, what is your definition of "great"?
    Do you have specific schools in mind? (I'm not in AMO.)
    What other features are important? (for example, do you want a small entering class or a large one? Is geography important?)

    Of 10 schools, I'd apply to 3 safeties and 3 dream schools. (I'd suggest 15 instead of 10.)
    (Don't apply for a terminal masters...apply to a PhD program.)
    Do any of your letter writers work in AMO?

    Are you looking into graduate fellowships?
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