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Chances of grad school with terrible freshman grades?

  1. May 10, 2011 #1
    I think I'm in a pretty rough situation.

    I struggle with depression off and on, and it's put me in a really bad place academically over the past two years. First, I'd like to say that I've been doing much better lately. I had straight As last quarter and will probably get As this quarter. I've been under a lot of stress lately, but have managed to handle it a lot better than I used to, without completely shutting down. I won't go into a lot of personal detail, but I feel like I've really turned a corner. I'm just scared that it's too late.

    Last year, and my first quarter this year, I'm afraid I really screwed up any chance I had of getting into grad school for physics. In the course of four quarters, I got 5 Fs and a C. Everything else has been mostly As with a couple of Bs.

    This has completely ruined my chances at a high gpa. I think I'll be very lucky if I end up with a 3.0. Is there any chance a graduate school would accept me with these grades, if I do very well for the next few years? I'm only just starting my physics major since I took a long time deciding, so all of my physics-related grades should be unaffected.
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  3. May 10, 2011 #2


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    Did you seek counceling already? Depression is a very manageable disorder with the right medicines and therapy. It's certainly not too late yet...

    Maybe retake the classes? Basically, if I see a transcript with a very, very bad first year, and then a straight A student in the upper-division courses, then I wouldn't have a doubt. Explain your situation to them, I'm sure they understand.

    Just, try your best and make sure that this situation does not happen again. Get some research done and maybe some publications, get a decent GPA, etc. Maybe retake some of the classes?

    So you have no F's on physics grades?? Even better! Nothing to worry about!!
  4. May 10, 2011 #3
    The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to visit your student health center and get on some antidepressants (or whatever you need). These meds are long-term meds; they'll be most effective if you continue to take them, even if you don't feel any depressive symptoms.

    Also, is stress your trigger for depression? For me, chronic stress and untreated anxiety can make me incredibly depressed; once I figured this out, I worked to reduce the stress and anxiety in my life...and I haven't had any depression since.
  5. May 10, 2011 #4
    Thanks for your concern guys. My problem for awhile was not taking depression seriously (ie: psss, I don't have depression, I'm just depressed and lazy right now. I'll get over it) But I assure you that I'm being very careful now and am much more aware of myself. Like I said, I've been doing much better lately. I'm ready to move on now, I'm just concerned that this mistake will be the iron ball around my ankle when it comes to grad school.
  6. May 10, 2011 #5
    You should be applaud for even being in the quarter system! It must be brutal.
  7. May 10, 2011 #6
    If you have just one horrendously bad quarter and bounce back, then you still have some hope of getting into graduate school. However, the thing that you have to worry about is that whatever led to the bad quarter will be ongoing.

    I think it would be best if you just do whatever you need to in order to get yourself in good shape. If you can do that then graduate school will take care of itself. One thing that you should consider is that if you take some time off, and then come back and finish your degree with decent grades, then it's not going to kill your application.

    However, if you go on without resolving whatever issues caused the bad quarter, then its going to cause continuing problems.

    One bit of standard advice is before you ask whether any graduate school will accept you, you have to figure out if you really want to go to graduate school.
  8. May 10, 2011 #7


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    Do retake the classes if at all possible; even if they weren't in physics, some grad programs aren't even allowed to consider you as an applicant if your total GPA is under 3.0.
  9. May 10, 2011 #8
    One other thing that you can look into is if your school has an academic forgiveness policy. There are schools that will remove a bad semester from your record if you've done well otherwise.

    In any case, your main focus should be to get yourself into a good shape, and if that happens everything else will work itself out.
  10. May 11, 2011 #9


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    Eh, retaking the courses isn't necessary. I got horrible freshman physics grades, but my much higher grades in upper-division electromagnetism and classical mechanics will do more than enough to avenge my horrible freshman grades. My only concern, really, is that I need good LORs and PGRE scores so that they won't throw my app into the dustbin before looking at it.

    My physics GPA for all courses *after* freshman year (when I was 16) will be around 3.79. But add my 16-year old idiot freshman year in, and wow, the difference is astounding. =/

    Which schools have these policies? It's too bad that my large state school would never put such a policy in. :(
    Last edited: May 11, 2011
  11. May 11, 2011 #10
    It is if you don't feel you've earned the prerequisite material to move on. (Although perhaps that's less likely in a quarter system where the introductory sequences in math, etc, are split into more courses and cover less material per course.)

    Also: even though admissions committees look at transcripts to access whether there was a "crash" term, better grades in courses in the major versus general education credits, improvement in upper-level courses, etc.... a low GPA (under a 3.5 or 3.25, or 3.0... depending on the institution) can determine your admission via requirements of thee graduate school (NOT the program itself, but the body that governs all programs at the institution). It's possible for a graduate program to petition the governing body for an admission... but that rarely occurs (in my limited experience on a committee, for two-three years, it never occurred).

    So DO look into retaking courses and course forgiveness programs. Even some large state schools have course forgiveness policies in place. (I think the institution where I teach has one that limits the number of courses.)

    And also DO, as others note, be sure to take care of the underlying issues to prevent another crash.
  12. May 11, 2011 #11
    It's useful to know why graduate schools are often sticklers for GPA whereas physics departments aren't. The problem is that GPA is one of the things that US News and World Reports uses to rank law and medical schools so the worry of the graduate school is that if too many people get admitted with low GPA's, that this will pull down the school's general rankings.

    see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/business/law-school-grants.html

    On the other hand if you get academic forgiveness from your undergrad school, then everyone is happy.
  13. May 11, 2011 #12


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    Perhaps. All I'm saying is that even though I completely ****ed up my freshman physics, there was significantly enough overlap/review in upper-division electromagnetism/stat mech such that I could catch up on the things I missed in my freshman year
  14. May 13, 2011 #13
    First off, you be lucky to actually find a grad school with requirement less than a 3.0 GPA, and accepts Failed requisite classes. Fortunately for you, your life is not over, because there is a way out, and that is to retake all your D's + Fs class and replace it with all As. All this can be completed in 1 semester, preferably over the summer if you want to take advantage of the accelerated programs.

    Good Luck!
  15. May 13, 2011 #14
    Very true. When you're applying to grad school, you're applying to both the university graduate college (which oversees all grad programs in the school) as well as to a specific department (e.g., physics). Most graduate colleges won't admit anyone with a 3.0 GPA; likewise, they won't admit anyone without a bachelor's degree from an accredited school, etc.

    So, your particular grad program might overlook low grades in non-physics, non-math courses, but if you're overall GPA isn't 3.0, the grad college will care.
  16. May 15, 2011 #15
    Can things really be this bad for the OP?

    Since the OP is starting, the bulk of his physics major is still ahead. If he manages to ace all of the coursework, he would have a better record than most physics majors. At my school, every physics major aces freshman physics. It's in quantum mechanics and the second courses in mechanics and electromagnetism where people get their B's and C+'s. Plus, it is unknown if OP failed any physics classes.

    Anyway, shouldn't GPA matter less when applying to graduate school? If OP can get a high physics GPA and recommendations attesting to his ability to do physics, why would a graduate school care about a rough start?

    I had my share of goof ups in high school, which led to a low GPA. But many of the colleges I applied to were remarkably understanding and accepted me anyway although my GPA was in the bottom quartile or even bottom 10% of admitted students' GPAs. I would think that grad school should be even more understanding if you can get them what they need. Even if GPA is used for law and med schools, there are enough schools with neither such as many of the 'tech' universities. It's scary to think that a depressive episode in college can end somebody's future.
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