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College Help

  1. Sep 3, 2009 #1
    Not sure if this question belongs here, but i have a question about getting into one of the following, UCSB, UCSD, UCB, or cal tech. My first choice would be UCSB.

    I am currently and mechanical engineering major at sdsu. My cumulative GPA is 3.21, I am in tau beta pi (the honors society), am on the deans lists, and have co-authored a research paper which was published in “Scripta Materialia”. I have not yet taken the GRE. I would like to apply to UCSB’s material science masters program. I fear that my GPA being only 3.2 will prevent me from getting into UCSB. What do you think my chances are of getting into UCSB

    Thank you for your help
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2009 #2
    Personally, at this point (with no GRE scores yet) I already think your GPA is fairly low to be strongly competitive... although UCSB's graduate school has a "official" cutoff of 3.0, the http://www.materials.ucsb.edu/admissions.php" [Broken].... I'd tend to think strong applicants would be above this. Sometimes terminal MS programs are a bit less rigorous in their admissions, but in many cases this is when the MS program is a stand-alone program (without a Ph.D. offered)... and in this case there is a Ph.D. (so I worry the MS degree is a consolation prize for someone deciding not to complete the Ph. D. midway through, or someone not finding a compatible Ph.D. mentor).

    Sorry to be a bearer of a less-than-optimistic opinion.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Sep 3, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the advice. Thank you for being completely honest. Do you think I have a chance if I can do well on my GRE's. Do you have any other recommendations on UC schools that have a good materials program that i might be able to get into. I think my GPA, being only 3.21 will hinder me from getting into a UC. The things i have going for me are; a member of tau beta pi, I have had co-authored a paper which was published in a material science journal.

    Another quesiton: If i have more than 3 letters of recommendation should i send them all in, or just the 3 that are asked for.

    Thank you very much for your time.
  5. Sep 4, 2009 #4
    I'm not sure about recommending programs to you -- first since I'm in physics (although I did materials science type work in condensed matter and optics) and second, especially those in California... since I'm not in the region and also didn't have any schooling there), hopefully someone else can cover that ground... and they'll be better able to make recommendations once those GRE scores come in.

    I will, however, comment on your letters of recommendation question, and add a bit about your personal statement... since I think this relates directly to your choice of who you ask to write your letters of recommendation.

    Your personal statement should mostly focus on your prior research experience, and wrapped up by a few sentences about what you want to do the the future (both while at the institution of choice, and after graduation with the degree). Be specific and use action words. Don't be concern if you use terminology that the committee members might not be familiar with... for example:
    At [institution y] under the direction of [proffesor z], I designed and built a system that I used to create samples of periodically-poled lithium tantalate from unpoled subtrates. The samples were used for frequency conversion processes to generate light in the range of 800nm to 1.5 microns, a region of the optical spectrum useful for chemical sensing and communication. I characterized the samples for optical threshold, efficiency and maximum output in a quasi-monolithic optical parametric oscillator configuration, using a Nd: Yag laser as the optical pump. I demonstrated better efficiency and high eneregy output than observed in other systems, and the work resulted in a publication in the Journal of Optics B...
    Upon graduation, I intend to [seek employment in what industry? start a small company doing what? work for what government or military lab?]... and the graduate program at [institution x] appears to be well-suited to help me reach this goal. In my graduate studies at [institution X] I would like to build on my experience in materials science, possibily working with [professor x] on [describe his project(s) via just a few words] or [professor y] on [his research].

    Hopefully you have a few research experience (like research at your primary institution and research via one or more REU type experiences) to talk about in main paragraphs. I DON'T recommend talking about what got you interested in materials science too much... especially if it's along the lines of "I've always been interested in the world around me; as a young child I was inspired by my uncle, a civil engineer, to take materials in the world and put them to use. I recall mixing different amounts of dirt and water to develop the perfect mortar for small stick houses that I built in a region of my backyard." Committee members laugh at crap like that... it feels like "filler" and can make them set it aside. Committee members basically want to know what you accomplished in your undergraduate work and that you'll be able to successfully complete graduate work (which is why research experience matters, but why the GPA and GRE matter too... you have to be able to successfully complete the core academic courses of the program).

    So this brings me to the letters of reference: The letters of reference should back up the research experience you talk about in your personal statement. They should be written by research advisors (I've even seen some written by post-docs or senior grad students, although the PI(s) / primary professor(s) would be better than post-docs and post-docs better than grad students). They should back up your action words in your primary statment and talk about your independence and motivation in the lab. Other letters (written by professors that have had you in a class or two) aren't as strong, but if you have to resort to one of these, try to make it a class where you had some big project that the professor will hopefully talk about.

    Lastly... if the institution asks for three letters, send in only three.... your three strongest. Give the forms, if there are any, and a pre-addressed/stamped envelope to the professor, perhaps with a copy of your personal statement, a copy of your CV/resume, and even perhaps a copy of your paper (if they haven't seen it... say the professor directed your research in an REU at another institution). Politely ask at routine intervals, if the professor has sent in the letter... or perhaps even better, give them TWO envelopes that are addressed and stamped (one that will be sent to you, containing a slip with the institution it is being sent to and the name of the professor writing the letter).

    Hope this helps (and sorry to be so long-winded). I used to be on a selection committee for a physics graduate program, and this is how we treated applications. In our case (in a well-ranked, large state flagship), committee scores (based on reading letters of recommendation and personal statements, as well as general impressions from the transcripts (like did the student show improvement in advanced coursework or did the transcript GPA get boosted by filler classes like basketweaving) were averaged with other scores (based on GPA on the field, GPA in the major, verbal GRE score, analytical GRE score, reputation of undergraduate institution, ...) to get a final ranking of the candidates before offers of acceptance (and support) were made. It may not work like that at all places; I hear that at Caltech or MIT what often matters most is knowing a professor in the program who wants you to work in his/her lab and pulls strings to get you accepted... But in our case pulling strings didn't matter; we once even denied a student who had a recommendation from a Nobel Laureate at our institution (who the stuent had done an REU under him), because the student's GPA and GRE scores were so low that we feared the student wouldn't have probably made it through the core courses with the class of students we did accept... many of whom were obviously interested in working with the Nobel Laureaute.
  6. Sep 5, 2009 #5
    Thank you ever much for the reply physics girl phd. You have helped me avoid several errors in witting my letter. Thank you again. I am off to write that letter.

    ps. I have one more questions if you have time to answer it. Growing up I have severe learning disabilities, to the point where I was put into special education, which i was able to overcome with hard work. Should I mention that in my letter? Personally I think they would not care, but i may help.
  7. Sep 7, 2009 #6
    Generally if these disabilities were surmounted before your undergraduate education I wouldn't mention it. Here's two ways of how it might be usefully included however:

    1) If some of these difficulties were surmounted during your undergraduate education, and were known by one of the professors that is writing a letter (who witnessed you surmount these), I think that gently hinting that it might be good to put in the letter is the way to go (that way it doesn't come from you directly).

    2) Another way that it might be included is if, during your undergraduate education (or possibly even upper high school education), your experience with your disabilities helped you in a teaching or tutoring experience.

    Why the latter? Note (I think I neglected this before): mentioning a small bit about teaching or tutoring in your statement of purpose can also be good so that the institution of choice will know you'd make a decent teaching assistant (since most first-year graduate students are offered support in a TA form, rather than a RA (research assistant) form.

    Note: I do admire your success at overcoming these difficulties. One of my stepsons is in special education due to both physical and intellectual delays.... and while his disabilities are quite severe, because of him we know many children with higher levels of functioning in the special education system (and have high hopes for their success), so your success at moving forward so far in your education is moving.
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