Chances of getting into graduate school

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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hey guys,

What do you think are my chances of getting into graduate school (either in AMO, condensed matter, or optics)?

I go to the University of Toronto and am in the Physics Specialist program. I used to be in the Mathematics and Physics Specialist program but switched out after my junior year, which is why I'm still in school for a 5th year to complete extra physics courses.

CGPA: 3.25 (1st year: 3.11; 2nd year: 3.24; 3rd year: 3.01; 4th year: 3.56)

My Physics/Astronomy GPA is 3.46 (class average: 2.42) but my Math GPA is only 2.44 which really pulls down my average. Mind you, the math courses I took were all theoretical pure mathematics for mathematicians rather than the math courses that (non-math&physics) physics majors are expected to take but I don't know if the graduate admissions committees will consider that or just think that I can't do calculus. I guess I decided too late that I wasn't a mathematician.

I also took many general education courses that I did really great in, like economics (got an A+) and many languages (Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian)

Research experience:
I did research at the University of Waterloo in computing Raman/IR frequencies of carbon-based molecules, a research-for-credit course at my university to design an imaging system, and further design work and laboratory help at the University of Southern California. None of these are full-blown REUs, I just asked professors I was interested in whether they needed some undergraduate help.

I've also tutored high school and freshman college students in math, French, and English for the past couple of years, at a professional tutoring company.

GRE scores:
Verbal: 600
Quantitative: 800
Writing: 4.5
Subject: don't know yet, I just wrote it today, I'm expecting 750-825.

Which American schools do you think are in my range? Keep in mind that I will be an international student in the U.S., being a Canadian. Should I explain in my personal statement how I switched out of Math & Physics into pure Physics because my math wasn't good enough?

Thanks guys for reading my thread,
Vince
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
1,306
19
You have solid research experience, a solid GPA, and solid test scores. I'd say you have a good chance at many of the top schools. Only problem is you're an international student, so you might have a slight disadvantage there, but I am not sure. I'd recommend contacting a few graduate programs you're interested in to see what they say.
 
  • #3
148
1
Thanks for your answer.

I've been getting mixed responses from graduate departments about whether they discriminate against international students or not. Stony Brook and Maryland told me they don't, but UT Austin and Colorado-Boulder say they do on their website, and judging from the admissions stats on the UC's, it looks like they do as well.

Then I've heard that some schools don't penalize Canadians as much for being international, i.e. an 800 on the GRE is an 800, and not 800 minus an international "correction factor"

Thanks for reassuring me about my GPA, it seems like everyone who posts on these message boards has 3.7 or higher.

Do you think I should mention and try to explain my poor performance on my math courses? Because a 2.4 Math GPA looks really crappy.

I'm thinking of applying to the following schools:
UC Santa Barbara
College of William & Mary
Purdue
IU Bloomington
UC Santa Cruz
U Virginia
U Oregon
USC
UC Davis
Yale

Which ones do you think I have a chance at? I'm really hoping for Santa Barbara or Yale but I'd be happy as long as I got into one with a good stipend since Canadian students aren't allowed to work.
 
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  • #4
1,306
19
Thanks for your answer.

I've been getting mixed responses from graduate departments about whether they discriminate against international students or not. Stony Brook and Maryland told me they don't, but UT Austin and Colorado-Boulder say they do on their website, and judging from the admissions stats on the UC's, it looks like they do as well.

Then I've heard that some schools don't penalize Canadians as much for being international, i.e. an 800 on the GRE is an 800, and not 800 minus an international "correction factor"

Thanks for reassuring me about my GPA, it seems like everyone who posts on these message boards has 3.7 or higher.

Do you think I should mention and try to explain my poor performance on my math courses? Because a 2.4 Math GPA looks really crappy.

I'm thinking of applying to the following schools:
UC Santa Barbara
College of William & Mary
Purdue
IU Bloomington
UC Santa Cruz
U Virginia
U Oregon
USC
UC Davis
Yale

Which ones do you think I have a chance at? I'm really hoping for Santa Barbara or Yale but I'd be happy as long as I got into one with a good stipend since Canadian students aren't allowed to work.

Well, GPA is generally a poor indicator of performance since the meaning of your GPA depends on the ugrad school you went to. You say that the average physics/astronomy gpa is a ~2.4, yet you have ~3.4. Not bad, IMO. Again, I recommend you contact some of the grad programs and ask them what they think.
 
  • #5
ZapperZ
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I'm thinking of applying to the following schools:
UC Santa Barbara
College of William & Mary
Purdue
IU Bloomington
UC Santa Cruz
U Virginia
U Oregon
USC
UC Davis
Yale
I would say that you have a very good mix of schools here that you are applying to. Since you are considering the upper Midwest as a possible region, you may want to include these schools as well:

U. of Iowa
Iowa State
U. of Wisconsin

For "backup" purposes, I would include U. of Illinois at Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology. These are "smaller" schools that you have an excellent chance at getting into and possibly getting assistantships at the very beginning (the others, you may have to fight for it), but they are also situated close to major US Nat'l Laboratories and have rather good range of research areas.

Zz.
 
  • #6
148
1
I was considering adding U Iowa, Iowa State, and UT Austin to my choices but I didn't want to burden my professors with writing 13 reference letters. Do you think I should drop one or more of my options listed above to apply for one of those?

Also, one of my professors recently let me know that I received an acknowledgment in one of their published papers. Does this mean anything? Is it worth mentioning in my statement of purpose or should I wait until I get "authorship" before mentioning?
 
  • #7
486
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I was considering adding U Iowa, Iowa State, and UT Austin to my choices but I didn't want to burden my professors with writing 13 reference letters. Do you think I should drop one or more of my options listed above to apply for one of those?

Also, one of my professors recently let me know that I received an acknowledgment in one of their published papers. Does this mean anything? Is it worth mentioning in my statement of purpose or should I wait until I get "authorship" before mentioning?
Just find one more professor to write you recommandation. My prof did wrote 13 of them for me.
 
  • #8
692
0
Don't they just copy and paste them all anyway?
 
  • #9
cristo
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
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Is it worth mentioning in my statement of purpose or should I wait until I get "authorship" before mentioning?
Course you should mention it! At the very least it'll not affect your application, but at the most, it could sway the decision from another student to you.
 
  • #10
148
1
According to AIP statistics, UC Santa Barbara only admits 20% international students, while Stanford admits 44%. Do you think that it might actually be easier, as a non-American, to get into Stanford than Santa Barbara? I'm thinking of replacing one of the UCs I picked (UCSB, UCSC, and UCDavis) with Stanford because it is private and perhaps doesn't mind intl students as much.
 
  • #11
According to AIP statistics, UC Santa Barbara only admits 20% international students, while Stanford admits 44%. Do you think that it might actually be easier, as a non-American, to get into Stanford than Santa Barbara? I'm thinking of replacing one of the UCs I picked (UCSB, UCSC, and UCDavis) with Stanford because it is private and perhaps doesn't mind intl students as much.
Could you provide a link to where you find these numbers, i.e. international vs. domestic admissions? gradschoolshopper.com does not contain this info.
 
  • #13
I see, so you're basing it on the ratio of foreign to total. This is useful information, thanks.
 
  • #14
1,831
202
I've been getting mixed responses from graduate departments about whether they discriminate against international students or not.
In my opinion doesn't matter much. They all would rather have national students, and they're all starved enough for labor that they'll accept international ones. I'm sure there are exceptions, and I'm certain there aren't many exceptions.
 
  • #15
148
1
It does matter if you're an international student and a discriminating department sees your 3.8 GPA + 950 GRE score as mediocre just because you didn't choose the right place to be born.

Explain to me how UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz only have 10% and 12% international students respectively.
 
  • #16
188
0
It does matter if you're an international student and a discriminating department sees your 3.8 GPA + 950 GRE score as mediocre just because you didn't choose the right place to be born.

Explain to me how UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz only have 10% and 12% international students respectively.
Perhaps less international students apply to these 'lesser-known' UC schools? It seems that the majority of the time, international applicants are concerned more about places like MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, etc. (not always, of course). Also, wouldn't one expect public universities to accept more applicants from their state, or at least country?
 
  • #17
445
3
Hey guys,

What do you think are my chances of getting into graduate school (either in AMO, condensed matter, or optics)?

I go to the University of Toronto and am in the Physics Specialist program. I used to be in the Mathematics and Physics Specialist program but switched out after my junior year, which is why I'm still in school for a 5th year to complete extra physics courses.

CGPA: 3.25 (1st year: 3.11; 2nd year: 3.24; 3rd year: 3.01; 4th year: 3.56)

My Physics/Astronomy GPA is 3.46 (class average: 2.42) but my Math GPA is only 2.44 which really pulls down my average. Mind you, the math courses I took were all theoretical pure mathematics for mathematicians rather than the math courses that (non-math&physics) physics majors are expected to take but I don't know if the graduate admissions committees will consider that or just think that I can't do calculus. I guess I decided too late that I wasn't a mathematician.

I also took many general education courses that I did really great in, like economics (got an A+) and many languages (Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian)

Research experience:
I did research at the University of Waterloo in computing Raman/IR frequencies of carbon-based molecules, a research-for-credit course at my university to design an imaging system, and further design work and laboratory help at the University of Southern California. None of these are full-blown REUs, I just asked professors I was interested in whether they needed some undergraduate help.

I've also tutored high school and freshman college students in math, French, and English for the past couple of years, at a professional tutoring company.

GRE scores:
Verbal: 600
Quantitative: 800
Writing: 4.5
Subject: don't know yet, I just wrote it today, I'm expecting 750-825.

Which American schools do you think are in my range? Keep in mind that I will be an international student in the U.S., being a Canadian. Should I explain in my personal statement how I switched out of Math & Physics into pure Physics because my math wasn't good enough?

Thanks guys for reading my thread,
Vince
Which maths did you take? Anything beyond MAT257?

And why American schools?
 
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  • #18
148
1
Perhaps less international students apply to these 'lesser-known' UC schools? It seems that the majority of the time, international applicants are concerned more about places like MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, etc. (not always, of course).
I was thinking that too, but considering that all the lesser-known Ph.D. programs in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas have a higher proportion of international students than all of the UCs except Berkeley and Riverside, I'm thinking there's discrimination going on.

Also, wouldn't one expect public universities to accept more applicants from their state, or at least country?
That's what I am suspecting, so I'm wondering whether I should apply to more private schools, and whether it may be easier for me to get into a school like Stanford than UC Santa Cruz or UC Davis because I'm international (from Canada). However there are some state schools with higher intl cohorts than some private schools, e.g. IU Bloomington has a lot of intl students.

Howers said:
Which maths did you take? Anything beyond MAT257?
MAT157 - Analysis I
MAT247 - Linear Algebra II
MAT257 - Analysis II
MAT267 - Advanced Ordinary Differential Equations
MAT357 - Real Analysis I
MAT354 - Complex Analysis I
APM351 - Partial Differential Equations for Mathematical Physics
MAT1300Y - Graduate Topology: dropped it because I was afraid I wouldn't pass

And why American schools?
 
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  • #19
1,831
202
Vincebs, you did not catch my meaning. My point was that most schools don't actually discriminate against international students, whether they claim to or not, because they need the students too badly. If you were competing with national ones it would be an issue. But there aren't national ones, so its not.

As I said, there will be exceptions. However, I'm looking at the UC Davis list of graduate students in the physics department, and there's no way that they are only 10% international. I do not believe you have a good source of information there.

In any case, there should be a sizable number of very good schools available to you in which this won't be an issue.

As an aside, when people ask me where my office is, I jokingly tell them to go to the grad student room (there are about 15 offices there) and look for the white guy. Almost always, I'm it. :biggrin:
 
  • #20
148
1
Confirmed: UC schools do discriminate

I queried a professor at a UC school and got back an e-mail that stated:

However, foreign students are very expensive because
of the tuition, so your file would need to be excellent.
Not having the 990 GRE score necessary to compete with the Chinese, I think I'll drop the UCs and try for Stanford.
 
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  • #21
445
3
Why American schools? Doesnt UT have a physics program?
 
  • #22
148
1
Are there any international students here that have gotten into U.S. graduate schools without a perfect GRE score? If so, what are your stats like? (GRE V, Q, subject, undergrad GPA, research experience). Were you able to get a stipend and TAship that covered tuition and living expenses?

Why American schools? Doesnt UT have a physics program?
Of course U of T has a graduate physics program, I assume that was rhetorical. Why do people bother applying anywhere when in most cases, their undergraduate department already has a graduate program? Here are some possible reasons why people may apply to more than one program:

- they like a particular research group in that department
- they have heard good things about the faculty members
- school has a good reputation
- graduate students are really friendly
- friendly campus/city
- family in the area
- good funding for graduate students
- they have residency in the school's state and can qualify for subsidized tuition
- they have held an REU at that school and their prof has promised to endorse their grad application
- etc.

There are too many reasons to list. Are you planning on only applying to U of T? You should always consider more than one option, even if you have a first choice.
 
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  • #23
148
1
For "backup" purposes, I would include U. of Illinois at Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology. These are "smaller" schools that you have an excellent chance at getting into and possibly getting assistantships at the very beginning (the others, you may have to fight for it), but they are also situated close to major US Nat'l Laboratories and have rather good range of research areas.

Zz.
Do you think my "safeties" are too high? I am thinking of adding a top 100 private school to increase my chances as an international student.
 
  • #24
329
0
I think you're worrying a bit to much. My sister and I are nationals from Nicaragua, but I came to the United States before high school. My sister stayed. She did her undergraduate at a national university, and now is doing a Masters at USC. By no means is any undergraduate university in our home country even close to the reputations of UT, but she managed. As far I can tell, her GPA was around 3.86, GRE subject around 820 and i'm not sure about her general.
 
  • #25
cristo
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
8,107
73
Confirmed: UC schools do discriminate

I queried a professor at a UC school and got back an e-mail that stated (...)
Are you asking to, as an international student, go somewhere and not pay fees? In that case, of course they're going to discriminate, since it's cheaper for the university to have national students! But, that's not discrimination, that's just common sense. If you can pay for everything yourself, then there will be no discrimination. However, discrimination here is, in my opinion, not a bad thing. I'm sure a country's governments would prefer to pay for universities full of national students, than lots of international students.
 

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