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Chances of getting into good grad schools

  1. Feb 28, 2013 #1
    I'm just curious what everyone thinks. I've got an overall GPA of 3.2, but in physics it's more like 3.5. 750 PGRE score and I'll bet my letters of recommendation were strong, although I didn't see them. I had some undergrad research in the math department, and also some in the physics department, but no publications to speak of. I didn't get into Penn State, but was wondering what my chances of UCLA would be. Any thoughts?
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  3. Feb 28, 2013 #2


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    It's a bit of a lottery, to be honest. I can't remember my exact PGRE score, but it was maybe around 70th percentile. I also had some undergrad physics research, but no publications at the time. I only applied to the top schools in the US, and I only got into one of them.

    This is not to say that your chances are necessarily low - I don't know all the factors that went into the admission decisions. Maybe it was a not-too-stellar PGRE score, maybe it was because I only applied to top-tier schools and there were a lot of better candidates that year, maybe being a non-US student was a factor. This is why I say it's a lottery - it might turn out that you get similar results, but it could also be that you applied to a different range of schools and you get into more. (In case you're wondering, it's also been five years since I applied to grad school). It's also been five years since I applied to grad school.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2013
  4. Mar 5, 2013 #3
    Suppose that there is a 50% chance to be rejected from a school, then if you apply to two schools, the chance of rejection is down to 25%.

    Assume that the chances to be rejected are 100 minus the rank of school (e.g. if the school ranks # 17, then there is a 83% chance to be rejected).

    With this in mind, suppose one applies to:

    2 schools ranking 10
    2 schools ranking 20
    2 schools ranking 30
    2 schools ranking 70 (safety)

    then the chances of being rejected from all are down to 0.9*0.9*0.8*0.8*0.7*0.7*0.3*0.3 = 2.3 % chances of being rejected (i.e. about 98% chance of being admitted somewhere).

    This is how I looked at when I applied and I did get somewhere fairly good! Of course, someone with better grades, test scores, top undergrad U, etc., will have different expectations.
  5. Mar 5, 2013 #4
    Attempts to quantify your chances these days are really crapshoots. There is no good hidden variable theory for the selection process. ;)

    I've spoken with 3 departments and a famous summer research program and they all say this year they've received an abnormally high number of qualified applicants and they don't have funding for everyone they'd like to take in. Some people have things other than sheer numbers in their app that stand out, like relevant research experience that caught the eye of someone on the admissions panel (it was my case, which got me on the waitlist of my top choice, but I was rejected everywhere else I'm afraid).

    Unfortunately I think there's a big glut of qualified applicants if you check the results at physicsgreforums. A lot of people with impressive records are getting rejected everywhere or nearly everywhere, then again some people with fairly average records get several admissions in top schools, it's really all over the place. The crappy labor market prospects might have something to do with the increased number in people applying to graduate school, and I think admissions committees are probably having a tough time in picking people out.

    I think a lot of people are in for a disappointment. :S
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2013
  6. Mar 5, 2013 #5
    Your life won't end if you go to a top 20, 30, 50, or even 70 school you know; physics grad schools tend to be competant places and you'd be surprised how good the faculty can be at No Name University. You'll get out what you put in, and whether you go to Fancy U or No Name you'll still most likely end up outside physics.
  7. Mar 6, 2013 #6
    Although there are no guarantees, you have to agree that the more places you apply to the more likely you will get somewhere. A reasonable number is 8 school. Of course given that you satisfy the basic requirements: BA/BS in physics, 3.0 or higher, etc.
  8. Mar 6, 2013 #7
    Potentially more likely would be more correct. Here are some examples of people with strong credentials who applied to over 10 schools and got rejected everywhere:

    You will also find people with worse credentials that get accepted into good schools on that site.
  9. Mar 6, 2013 #8
    They could have had major issues with their applications. A poorly written, generic letter, maybe poorly written recommendations. And I would note that the first student basically applied to ONLY the top schools in his field without regard to a 'safety' school, and the second candidate got a MS in Physics focusing in condensed matter - why would astronomy programs really want him (ie: his letter should probably state strongly why he wants to do astronomy after 2 years of CM grad research)?
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2013
  10. Mar 6, 2013 #9
    You can try to pinpoint reasons(he had 1.5yrs of astronomy research, that's more than what other people have and get into those schools) but there's really nothing certain and you'll find lots of examples like those... some even more unexpected. My senior advisor had student who got into Princeton, Caltech and Harvard, so you can guess his credentials were really strong, but was rejected at UCSB. There's no way of telling what is going through one single committee's mind let alone what other options they have on the table.

    Or maybe (as I've heard it from 3 places already) it's just that there are so many highly qualified applicants, they are going to have to disappoint some and use criteria that isn't entirely meritocratic-based.
  11. Mar 6, 2013 #10

  12. Mar 6, 2013 #11
    Before I begin I would like to say that I'm biased in that I had a successful application season.

    I wouldn't say that. I'd say there was only one head scratch-er (Qfields), and I'd argue that the the seemingly random results that certain people are getting are due to the parts of the applications that we don't see on physicsgre. The fact that there are people getting accepted or rejected everywhere is a direct counterexample to a claim of randomness. If it were truly not being based on merit that you would expect much less "clean sweeps". There's obviously some fundamental part of their application that was impressive or repulsive to admissions committees, whether it was in the physics gre score, transcript, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, or even just the goodness of fit for that students interest at a particular university

    Note: International applicants are a completely different ball game.
  13. Mar 6, 2013 #12


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    Hm, I just noticed I said it's "been five years since I applied to grad school" twice there. I think I meant to write something else in place of one of those statements, but I don't remember what it was now!

    It can also be availability of positions, too. I think the year I applied maybe 2 people got into Yale? Yale was particularly mean that year, as they also sent out rejection emails twice. =P
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