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Do I have any hope for grad school?

  1. Jun 16, 2011 #1
    (I wrote a lot of text so scroll to the bottom if you want a synopsis)
    I'm a CS undergrad going to a crappy public school and recently I decided that I want to switch majors and get a PhD in math or physics. I've been interested in both subjects for a long time, math has been a big theme throughout my whole life and I got very interested in particle physics back in high school.

    I want to do theoretical physics the most as I love to constantly think about abstract concepts that have nothing to do with the present situation but I hear that there are very few opportunities for theoretical physicists. So I'm considering math as well, as I find it comes to me easily, and even if there were no opportunities open for mathematicians, I wouldn't need a great job at some giant laboratory to do math, all I would need is a pencil and some paper. I would much rather do physics, though, because I love the idea of figuring things about that relate to the real world. Some experimental physics interests me, I would love to work on a tokamak, or any sort of particle accelerator (I just realized that I had been considering work on particle accelerators theoretical physics but that's probably more experimental), but if I had to work with lasers that would bore me. But what do I know, I've only taken two physics courses.

    Anyway, even though I love math and physics so much, and my recent full time internship made me realize that being a programmer will probably crush my soul, I don't think that any grad schools will accept me. My grades were absolutely terrible in high school, I barely graduated (although I didn't just slack off the whole four years, I spent a lot of my time outside of school hanging out online with super nerdy people, programming and hacking apart old computer games). When I went to college, I did even worse, I hung out with stoners all the time, I stopped going to class, I stopped doing most of my work, and I almost got kicked out.

    But somehow, by some crazy ****ing miracle (excuse the language but that's exactly what it was, a crazy ****ing miracle), 3 semesters ago, I pulled my grades up enormously, and went from a 2.0 or below per semester GPA to a 3.5+ per semester GPA. This last semester I got a 3.88, which is the highest I've ever gotten the entire time I've been at school. I'm not taking all super duper easy classes either - this last semester I took linear algebra, vector calculus, a machine structures class (think programming assembly), and then two semi-easy classes.

    But my overall GPA sucks. It's a 2.7. Perhaps it'll go up more in the next few semesters, but I doubt it'll go past 3. My major GPA is fantastic, it's at least 3.5, and I've heard that grad schools look mostly at your major GPA, but I feel the fact that my non-major GPA is ~2 is going to make schools toss my application in the garbage bin.

    Am I thinking that GPA matters too much? Or am I correct? Is this fixable if I do lots of extracurricular activities? I'm hoping extracurriculars will save me. I'm spending almost all my free summer time outside of work studying differential equations and I'm planning on continuing this trend of outside studying indefinitely.

    tl;dr - I screwed up coming into college, my gpa sucks, but I've gone from a consistant 2.0 to a consistant 3.5, do i have any hope towards grad school in a completely different major, etc
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 16, 2011 #2
    Do research and lots of research which is productive.
  4. Jun 16, 2011 #3


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    To apply to a physics graduate program, you need to have at least the basic courses of a physics major. So you've got a few years to go to finish those, and if you do very well in them, you can still pull your GPA up over 3.0. And you'll have a few more years to start getting involved in physics research to see if it's really what you think it is, and if you actually enjoy it before applying to grad schools.
  5. Jun 16, 2011 #4
    Some will. You just need one that doesn't.

    Also one thing that you should look into is to see if your school has some sort of provision for academic forgiveness.

    It will hurt. It may or may not be fatal.

    Extracurriculars by themselves are useless for graduate school applications. Now if you can study PDE's over the summer and then ace a class in the fall, or if you find someone that is willing to recommend you, that will help.

    You have hope. I do think that many (or even most) graduate schools will toss your application, but you just need one to say yes, and I think that's possible.
  6. Jun 16, 2011 #5
    Also 3.0 is something of a magic number. The reason for this is that in many schools, the physics department has to beg and plead in order with the graduate school to get you admitted, which is something that they are unlikely to bother with.

    If you get 3.000001, then that means that they don't have to go through that bureaucracy. It's not that you can get in, but that means that there is one less barrier for you.
  7. Jun 16, 2011 #6
    Thanks, it's good to know all is not lost. I've come so far in my CS program that I might just double major instead of switching entirely, and in that case, getting above a 3.0 would be easy... but I would be in school for a bit longer.
  8. Jun 17, 2011 #7
    Hi everyone,

    After reading OP's message, I am curious. Does having above a 3.0 gpa mean you stand a good chance of getting into grad school? I just want to know for my own future reference (I am starting my undergrad in the fall as an evolutionary biology major. Looking for bio grad school).
  9. Jun 17, 2011 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    The statement is the opposite. Below 3.0 one has a much lower chance.
  10. Jun 17, 2011 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    df606, I think you need to consider a number of things.

    1) You are unprepared for physics grad school. Typically a major is about a dozen classes. You have had two.

    2) One element that can balance grades is the subject GRE. Poor grades and a good GRE score means the candidate somehow learned the material somewhere. But in your case, see point 1.

    Eri is right - you need to start taking physics courses immediately, and you need to get mostly A's in them.
  11. Jun 17, 2011 #10
    Thank you Vanadium. I didn't know that about the GRE.
    I neglected to mention in the original post that I plan on switching to physics. Of course applying to grad school in physics without a degree in physics would be absurd.

    I've already gone over my school's physics program requirements and it will take about 4-5 semesters to finish due to prerequisites. Because I will have finished my GE in a few semesters, these would be 6-10 unit semesters (a full time student here is 12 units, I've been taking 15), and therefore double majoring in physics and CS seems appealing. I understand that most physics these days is programming so those majors would mesh nicely, I think.
  12. Jun 17, 2011 #11
    Yup. In order to stay in most grad programs, you have to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0; fall below 3.0 and you're on probation for the next term. If you can't bring your GPA above 3.0 during probation, you're booted out of the program.

    If you can't handle a 3.0 while doing undergraduate level work, most departments aren't going to believe you can get a 3.0 doing graduate level work. That's why 3.0 is a magic number.
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