Chances with a Low/mid GPA but high PGRE and research experience

In summary, Makkinje believes that an 850/3.5 GPA is competitive, research experience and skills are advantageous, and GPA inflation may hurt your application. He recommends applying to a few schools that are strong in experimental quantum optics and have a good chance of accepting you. He also advises applying to a few more schools to increase your chances of acceptance.
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PhysPaig
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Hello, and thanks so much in advance for any advice. I’m currently a third year physics undergraduate student who’s looking for what programs I should apply to for my PhD. I’m not sure I should bother applying for anything top 20 but wanted to get a second opinion on my applications competitiveness before I write that off completely.

My GPA isn’t the best it’ll be a 3.5 flat, with around a 3.6 major gpa.

My PGRE was a 850, but I’m planning on taking it again and believe I could possibly score higher.

I have 7 months of research experience working with optics equipment and some other skills last summer/fall quarter. I also have an upcoming REU this summer in experimental Quantum Optics. After this summer I have additional research experience set up with a professor that I took a class with so that will be about an additional 5mo of research, also in Quantum Optics before grad school applications are due.

I also have a few extras to add to my application. I’ve taken a grad course that I got an A- in. I worked as a physics/math tutor for 2.5 years for like 15-20hrs a week during my undergrad. I’m working on a simple physics simulation app rn that I’ll have published on the AppStore before applications are due as well. I am also a female but idk if that helps.

Im planning on applying to experimental quantum optics groups but I’m a bit discouraged by my GPA and no publications. I may get my name on something from this summer REU or the research I have set up for afterwards, but I am not counting on it.

Is this a competitive application for grad school? I’d be totally satisfied with getting into anything top 50 but if that’s not really practical I’d go with a lower rank. I love research, and I just really want to continue my education and experience through a PhD.

Thanks again for reading. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
 
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  • #2
At the risk of posting something you're probably already aware of, lots of undergraduates post their profiles, applications and acceptance/rejection information here: https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?t=181959 so, it at least gives you some kind of an idea of where you stand.

It's important to spend as much time as you can researching potential schools. You'll want to learn details, like for example, how many professors in a certain quantum optics group are actually planning to take on graduate students in the cycle you're applying in. There's no point in wasting time on an application if no one that you're interested in working with has an open spot. Even more importantly, you want to make sure that the places you're applying to are top schools for you, and not just top schools using someone else's ranking criteria.

I think it's okay to aim "high" with at least one application. Even if you don't think you'll be all that competitive, if there's a particular program or professor that really, really jives with you... apply.

And then it's important to apply to a few other schools that know you'll be happy at as well. Acceptance is a stochastic process. Applying to a few more places helps to put the odds in your favor.
 
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  • #3
So, let's look at where you are:
1650405575737.png


This is from Makkinje (2015).

The good news is an 850/3.5 has people getting into grad school. The bad news is hatb it's a good ways away from the core. I would apply to a wide range of universities. I would spend the time to find ones with a strong experimental quantum optics group, even if there is not much else. Those schools will be on fewer applicants' radar screens.

It will help if you have strong letters. It will help if your undergraduate institution is strong. And it will help if your undergraduate institution does not practice grade inflation. It will help if you get only A's from this point onward - that will help more than a better PGRE score.

Writing an app won't help. Tutoring won't help -- and may work against you ("If he's tutoring all the time, why can't he do better on the GRE?"). Getting a higher GRE score is possible, but will take a lot of time, and you may want to be using the time to do other things. You should certainly talk to your advisor and the department faculty about where you should be spending your time improving.
 
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1. Can I still get into a good graduate program with a low/mid GPA but high PGRE and research experience?

Yes, it is possible to get into a good graduate program with a low/mid GPA. Admissions committees take a holistic approach when evaluating applicants and consider factors such as research experience, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores in addition to GPA.

2. Will my research experience and high PGRE score make up for my low/mid GPA?

While research experience and a high PGRE score can certainly strengthen your application, they may not completely make up for a low/mid GPA. It is important to have a well-rounded application and to address any weaknesses in your personal statement or during interviews.

3. How important is the PGRE in the admissions process for graduate programs?

The importance of the PGRE varies among different graduate programs. Some programs place more emphasis on the PGRE while others consider it as just one aspect of the application. It is important to research the specific program you are applying to and see how they weigh the PGRE in their admissions process.

4. Can I retake the PGRE if I am not satisfied with my score?

Yes, you can retake the PGRE if you are not satisfied with your score. However, keep in mind that some graduate programs may average your scores while others may only consider your highest score. It is important to research the policies of the programs you are interested in before deciding to retake the exam.

5. Should I focus more on improving my GPA or preparing for the PGRE?

It is important to have a strong overall application, so it is recommended to focus on both improving your GPA and preparing for the PGRE. However, if you have a low/mid GPA, it may be beneficial to prioritize improving it as it is a more long-term reflection of your academic abilities. It is also important to note that a high PGRE score does not guarantee admission, so it is important to have a well-rounded application.

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