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Don't know what level of graduate school to apply too, help please!

  1. May 1, 2012 #1
    I'm in a rather weird scenario. My first four years of college, I wasn't interested in studying or macadamia in general. I was a finance major and realized that I was learning an extraordinary larger amount at work then I was in class. I'd go to work and learn how to analyze investments using techniques that were taught seldom in graduate school. So I didn't focus on school and slid through with a 3.0.

    After working in finance for a bit I realized that I wasn't enjoying it; I'm more interested in how the finance worked and the fundamentals, where as all the jobs I was finding were sales positions... more or less. So I switched to physics, as that is what I was interested in all along but wasn't sure I could actually maintain the grades necessary.

    A year and a half into Physics, I've gotten straight As with most overall grades being in the 130% A or higher range. Just for a quick example, I just finished an EM final today where the course required 825 points for an A and I'll finish the course with about an 1100. I should have done better, but this class wasn't very high on my priority list. I won all the awards offered to physics students and I'm the top of my class by quite a bit. My professors gave me high assurance that their recommendation letters will bare more weight then my rather poor and non-representative GPA. I'm studying at Florida Atlantic University, if the name bares any recognition to you.

    I haven't taken the GRE yet, but I'm an exceptional test taker. I'm pretty confident I'll score very high.

    My question is this: what does this chaotic background due for my potential grad school search? I'm entirely confident in my ability to perform well at the highest of schools so I'm interested in applying for them. Yet, I have very low confidence in my track record. 6.5 years of college with a 3.1 sounds awful. Two years of beyond perfect grades in physics sounds wonderful. Will colleges that I apply for have enough students of my caliber in physics to not take the risk on my poor track record?

    If any of you have experience with admissions and weird backgrounds of this sort, please let me know your opinion. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2012 #2


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    as far as i know, an upward trend is always good. as for the poor grades before, they may give you a chance to explain that.
  4. May 2, 2012 #3
    Some of the top people in supernova research happens to come out of FAU, and they have a very well known numerical relativity group.

    And they are right. Your recent grades are good, and if you have good recommendation letters, then it's a strong application. As far as where to apply, apply to a diverse set of schools. There is a lot of randomness in getting into a particular school. However, if you have very strong recommendations, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting in somewhere.

    What risk? I don't see much risk.
  5. May 2, 2012 #4
    A. Yup, trying to lock down a research position with them for this summer.
    B. Got a more specific idea? The common dream of aspiring physicists is something like Cal tech, MIT, etc. Do you think I have a shot in top 10/20 schools?
    C. I have a history of not giving a damn about school. Zero correlation with my physics history, but the negative history still exists. I'm sure there is an abundance of other straight A students who didn't screw up from 18-22. Why take me over them?
  6. May 3, 2012 #5
    It took me eight years to finish my BS. I have 17 W's and 6 F's on my transcripts. I completed all relevant coursework in two years and got into a couple top 5 programs.
  7. May 3, 2012 #6
    That's great. Was looking to hear something exactly like this. Very encouraging, thanks.
  8. May 3, 2012 #7
    And people need to rethink this.

    I think you need to do some more research into how physics graduate schools work.

    Physics graduate schools don't work with a "ranking" system. For example, your school FAU happens to be as good at numerical relativity as Caltech and probably better at it than MIT. The big name schools are usually ones with large departments, but what happens with small departments is that they can develop outstanding faculty in one or two focused topics.

    1) Everyone has a past. People don't care about your past. They care that you won't wash out in the future. In some ways someone that has screwed up and recovered is a less risky bet than someone how has never screwed up, because you don't know how someone who has never messed up will react when they mess up.

    2) Straight-A's aren't important. Note I *didn't* say that grades aren't important.

    Grades are important, but once your grades are good enough so show that you can do the work, being "perfect" is not a desirable quality. Straight-A's could mean that your school grades easy and you aren't challenging yourself enough.
  9. Jan 7, 2013 #8
    I'm not trying to be a troll at all, but I certainly wouldn't write your personal statement like you wrote this post. That would certainly be a resume-killer.
  10. Jan 7, 2013 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    Well, that's probably not such helpful advice, 8 months later.
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