1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Dropping out of graduate school, re-admission?

  1. Feb 2, 2016 #1

    So first of all, I am not in this situation. I am just wanting to know about a hypothetical scenario. Yesterday I heard that I've been admitted to an Ivy League and though I couldn't be more thrilled, I'm also terrified to the highest degree since I'm not sure that I have the intelligence/stamina/competitiveness to succeed. Though I would like to accept the offer, I'm just trying to weigh my options.

    More specifically, I'm trying to determine whether it would be worth it to give an Ivy League "the old college try", or if I would be better off attending a university with a less rigorous graduate program (though yes, I know it's going to suck no matter where I go). If I go to the Ivy League and fail out, am I SOL on getting my PhD, or is there a chance that I could be admitted to a small university for a graduate program there (assuming I receive my masters)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 2, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Bear in mind that it is in the school's interest that you graduate. They wouldn't accept you if they didn't think you could do the work. My experience is that the top-notch schools also will give you better support. My advice is to take the Ivy League offer you've been given and make the most of it. If you run into trouble, don't be afraid to ask for help. It's not clear it is any easier at a small school, where you may get less support.
  4. Feb 2, 2016 #3
    It is natural to be apprehensive. You may wish to consider that good graduate schools admit students that they believe have all the qualities they need to succeed. I know there are many students that they reject who honestly believe that had they been admitted, they would succeed thoroughly, (and they may be right).

    Another point you may want to consider, is whether completing a doctoral program successfully would be easier in a small university rather than the Ivy league. I think most physics graduate students are driven to succeed and have very strong analytic skills whether they are going to Ivy U, or LRS (Lesser Regarded School). The program at LRS may be trying to make a name for themselves and the faculty may be even more tough.

    The (8) Ivy U's are excellent, but of course Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Berkeley, (not Ivies), are also prominent. So are the programs in Chicago, UMichigan, UIllinois, UTexas, UMaryland, and many others. I have a hard time believing the programs at the 8 Ivy U's are much tougher than the programs at the Universities I have mentioned, and these are just the big (size) schools. A look at the schools and their admits, shows all these schools get their fair share of 900's on the physics GREs, and high GPA's and research.
    The answer to your question though is failing out of an Ivy program may not exclude you from another program. I dropped out of one program to begin again and succeed at a more-demanding higher regarded one, but several years went by between these two events, and I had to establish a strong "track record", ask for new letters of recommendation, additional testing (GRE's), etc. This was tough. It is best to consider this opportunity your only chance and do your best.
  5. Feb 2, 2016 #4

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Dropping out of one graduate program is believed to be a strong predictor of dropping out of another one. Maybe it's not even true, but that's the belief.

    And, as said, if you can't hack it at Harvard, you need to go pretty far down to find somewhere substantially easier. After all, Jackson is Jackson, no matter where you take it.
  6. Feb 2, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Well first off, not all of the Ivy League schools have top physics programs. Harvard and Princeton are in the very top tier, but Dartmouth and Brown are definitely not as strong. The others are great programs usually ranked in the top 10-15 or so, with many excelling in certain areas (i.e. Penn is one of the top few programs for soft matter and Cornell has probably the best clean room in the country).

    It's definitely okay to be nervous about going to a top tier program. Honestly, if you aren't a bit nervous you are likely overconfident. The thing to remember is that the department does really want you to succeed and to do everything they can do you can to help you complete the program and do great things. Physics grad programs are much more supportive in that respect than they were in the past, even some that were notorious for toxic environments. If you need help, there are people you can reach out to even just to talk, often the grad student chair and/or coordinator.

    Quite frankly, you also need to be ok with feeling stupid a lot of the time. You should allow that feeling to motivate you rather than discourage you.
  7. Feb 3, 2016 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Congratulations on your acceptance! (Assuming that part is real and not part of the hypothetical scenario.)

    I wouldn't let the brand name of a school psyche you out. As others have said, graduate school is going to be a challenge where ever you go. Make your decision based on the program that seems like the best fit for you based on your interests, the opportunities that it will provide, how you feel you'll get along with potential supervisors etc.
  8. Feb 6, 2016 #7
    Excellent, thank you for all of your information and advice. You all make a good point that, as V50 put it, "Jackson is Jackson, no matter where you take it."
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook