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Does course load matter in final semester?

  1. Nov 8, 2014 #1
    I am wondering whether graduate schools really care about final semester course load. I am a senior physics major, applying to graduate schools in geophysics. Currently I am enrolled in the normal 16hr course load but am considering dropping down to 12 hours for my final semester. I've never taken less than 15 hours but I would like to lighten my load in the final semester for several reasons:

    - I am working on a first author manuscript that my advisor wants me to submit by the end of my senior year. I haven't had much time to work on it this semester due to classes and applying to fellowships/grad schools. I think this should be one of my priorities for next semester.

    - I have to write my senior thesis next semester (on different project than the manuscript).

    - I am taking my first graduate course in seismology and I would really like to excel in this because 1) my advisor is teaching it, 2) I am the first undergrad to ever take the course, 3) it is the field I will be pursuing for graduate studies.

    - I have finished all requirements for the physics major (and some), and it would just be nice to have a lighter load in my final semester... Also, I will be visiting grad schools in the spring and likely will miss some class.

    So, are these reasons valid and will admissions commities raise an eyebrow when they see my final semester being relatively light?

    Another concern: One of the courses that I am planning to take is ornithology (the study of birds). Bird watching is a hobby of mine so this course would really just be for my own personal pleasure and is unrelated to my goals for graduate school. I have never taken an unrelated class just for my own amusement... Would this look bad or should I really stick to courses that relate to my grad school interests? My thoughts are that this will be my last chance to take a course like this before graduate school.

    Thanks for any advice PF friends.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2014 #2


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    You'll be fine.

    It may raise a flag if you never excelled with a full course load (but even that is rarely a deal breaker). A single semester with a less than full workload when you don't need the credits is not a concern.

    As for taking a course for interest sake, that's perfectly fine too. A diverse education is not a weakness.
  4. Nov 8, 2014 #3
    Thanks for the input- that is definitely a relief.

    I am still unsure whether I should take the ornithology course or get a head start on a course that I will need to take in grad school. For example, although I am minoring in geology, I know that I will need to take a few more undergraduate-level geo courses in grad school. I could even take signal processing from the electrical engineering department as that is useful for seismology. But again, my thinking is that I will be able to take those courses in grad school, while I will not have a chance to take ornithology later on. I will at least be taking the grad-level seismology course I guess...
  5. Nov 9, 2014 #4
    Finally semester won't matter at all. When you apply, they only have transcripts for the previous semester. You send final transcript once you are accepted so when they do see it, you are already in.
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