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 US graduate school and reapplying at Europe

  1. May 21, 2013 #1
    I know this bit awkward, but seriously I am in need of some advice due to my strange situation. Last year I joined a graduate school at US which is ranked below 150 as I got only offer from this university and rejected from the rest of universities where I applied.

    I was not at all happy with the program due to various reasons. First of all I had already masters degree and I am an international student of around 35 years old. So, I didn't want to continue the course as I had to spend two years attending coursework, in the meanwhile try to clear masters qualifying exam and to grapple with qualifying exam for PhD in the next three years given to me to qualify these exams, before I actually start with my PhD research. They told me that my Masters degree from my country is not recognized, so I have to sit for the MS qualifying exam. Besides, none of the research( mostly experimental) taking place in the school excites me as my interest is in theoretical physics. Moreover, I found difficulty in adjusting to the environment as the university town is bit far away from the city and its mostly ghost town. Due to these various reasons, I eventually lost interest in the program and decided to drop out of the school.

    After spending a semester, I left the program and finally got back at my country and coincidentally I am able to join a PhD program in my country. However, research potential is very limited in this current university due to poor infrastructure and I don't have supervisors who can actually help me in my research interest. So, I am thinking of applying somewhere in Europe for next academic session for physics PhD, where I can start my PhD straight away without having to do coursework and complete possibly in around 3 or 4 years.

    My question is, how would I convince the admission committee at universities in Europe so that I can get a berth in their PhD program? Wouldn't they think that I am incompetent for their position as I dropped out of US graduate school? Is it necessary to mention that I spent a semester at US graduate school and backed out before even completing a year of the program? Will it be impossible for me to get into programs at Europe?

    I am truly sorry for this long write up and I am thanking you in advance for your sincere advice and suggestion.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    This will be difficult.

    This will not look good. First, the fact that you were accepted in only once place, and a place near the bottom of the rankings means you are on the borderline. That you then dropped out will likely be interpreted not as you being too good for the place, but that you couldn't handle it. Second, you will have dropped out of two other schools, which will mean that you have a high probability of dropping out of the third one. This will not help.

    Dishonesty is not your ticket out of this mess.

    Impossible? Who can say? More difficult? Certainly.
  4. May 21, 2013 #3
    I don't imagine having dropped out will look especially good—and, frankly, it sounds like you knew going into it that it wasn't going to be a very good fit. That said, there is usually an opportunity to explain extenuating circumstances on graduate applications. You can take advantage of that to explain your reasons for leaving the US program: you are eager to get on with research and didn't want to spend a couple years repeating classes, you weren't happy with the location, and you found that your interests lay outside the scope of your school's research program. I think those are all pretty legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction—though admissions committee may wonder (as I do) why you accepted a spot at that school in the first place.
  5. May 21, 2013 #4
    Well, I can say that it was due to my shortsightedness. That time, I got only offer from that university out of total six programs that I applied. Moreover, time seemed to be running out as I was already 34 years old when I got that offer last year. So, I accepted the offer as I was not sure of the consequences that I may come across later. Is it good idea to mention the various circumstances which led to my disappointment and dropping out of the program? What can I do to convince my application? Kindly suggest what you will do if you were in my shoes. I need your sincere advice as that will help me in taking a decision.
  6. May 21, 2013 #5

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    At the risk of being discouraging, you need to realize that you're not a very competitive position.

    You can write that "I went to graduate school A, but dropped out when I realized it wasn't a good fit; then I went to graduate school B, but dropped out again when I realized it wasn't a good fit. But I am really, really sure that this time your graduate school is a good fit and I will stay for as many years as it takes". If you read this, would you be convinced?

    On top of that, the evidence is that your application is not strong. You were not accepted to multiple schools. You were not accepted at a top or mid-tier school. The school that did accept you felt that your classwork for a master's degree wasn't adequate, and you yourself support this by saying you were worried about qualifying exams.
  7. May 21, 2013 #6
    @ Vanadium, I am not sure whether you are actually discouraging or helping in some ways. Though, your perspective is appreciated. I have not quit the present PhD program. Its simply that I am looking for better position with good research potential. Let us see what others have to suggest. I need truly a convincing answer that shows my genuine interest to do research this time when I apply to Europe. Please bear with me if my questions are bit frustrating. My intention is for good. Thanks
  8. May 21, 2013 #7
    Since you say that you already have a masters degree: Is it a masters in theoretical physics (meaning your thesis was in theory)? Or at least in any branch of physics or math?
  9. May 21, 2013 #8
    My thesis was in phenomenology. It has to do with neutrino oscillation.
  10. May 21, 2013 #9
    In another thread you were asking about whether it is possible to do research on your own without getting much help from your advisor, and you said you are interested in doing something on theoretical physics. I suggested perhaps you try to talk with the math department to see if someone are willing to co-supervise you, did that work out?
  11. May 21, 2013 #10
    So far I have not approached the professors. I am thinking of discussing the matter with one of the professors at math department. In the meanwhile, I am trying to find out possibilities of applying to Europe if none of the option works out.
  12. May 21, 2013 #11
    I have read some discouraging posts. They may be partly true but can't be thought of as some kind of doomsday. Dropping out of the 150 ranked US school is not really a bad idea but did you do well while you were there? Like getting good grades in the courses you took?
    Right now if you apply with exactly the same credentials you have then the outcome isn't likely to be different. So the way out is to try and improve your record. Maybe retake the GREs and try to get a better score. Or work on getting a publication in a prestigious journal.
    IMO 6 schools is too less to apply to. You could try doubling that number. The more arrows you shoot, better is the chance that one of them will find its mark.
    And I think you may be better off not mentioning that you joined the U.S. school. You could just say your application wasn't aggressive enough and you didn't get any good offers so you decided to wait and apply again the next year.
    For the time being, focus on the work in your current university and focus on getting good grades or doing quality research.
    You haven't mentioned your long term goals. If your plan is to eventually join as a faculty in a university may I point out that you are a bit behind in terms of age. And getting post docs/academic jobs may be more difficult for theoretical physics compared to experimental. I hope you are aware and well informed of the ground reality vis a vis jobs. I don't know which country you are from, so I can't comment on this part.
    Good luck!
  13. May 21, 2013 #12


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    You're 35 and in grad school: what do you want out of your education/life?
  14. May 21, 2013 #13


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    I see a disconnect here. You want to do theoretical stuff but what you have done wasn't recognized. I see "this university doesn't suit me, this town doesn't suit me". I would now make the best of your current opportunity, probably it is the best fit for you.
  15. May 21, 2013 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Very very bad advice!!! As V50 already said,
  16. May 21, 2013 #15
    Not mentioning something is not dishonesty, right? IMO you got to mention stuff which puts you in good light and make less mention of stuff which puts you in bad light. IMO part of it is also about how you market yourself.
  17. May 21, 2013 #16
    @samkh : Please don't take the comments personally. What some of us wrote may be harsh but they are still trying to help you.
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  18. May 21, 2013 #17

    You're not even advocating a mere lie of omission (and, in any case, didn't your mother ever teach you that that's a form of dishonesty too?), you're explicitly suggesting deliberate, bald-faced lying about his prior education. This is such catastrophically bad advice, I can't wrap my brain around how you could possibly think it's a good idea.
  19. May 21, 2013 #18
    Your advice and suggestions are well appreciated. My long term goal is definitely a research career in physics after PhD and Postdoc in some universities not necessarily in Europe or America. I can look out for faculty job in my own country which is not so difficult to get into if I have good research from a university in US or Europe. As for the GRE score, my score are valid for 3 more years and they are not too bad though I have to sit for the toefl english test. In Europe, they don't need GRE score to apply so far as I understand. What they need is MSc degree, research interest and previous skill. Guys, in that case even without lying about my past academic credential, what do you suggest that I should do and say to convince the academic committee? Kindly put your suggestions across in this regard and help me.
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  20. May 21, 2013 #19


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This is incorrect.

    By withholding information that you are well-aware is significant to the other person, you are telling a lie by omission.

    Further, this is the kind of lie that would be grounds for expulsion. Most graduate programs will ask for transcripts from ALL of the post-secondary institutions that you've attended. At least, that's the way it works in north America. I can't see it being too different across the pond.

    The way to deal with something like this is to first make a mature assessment of why it didn't work out. It sounds to me like the original poster got stuck doing work he wasn't interested in. This happens. Not everyone gets their first choice of program and sometimes you have to make a decision - either don't go to graduate school at all, or take what's behind door number one. Sometimes what's behind door number one is a shiny new field... with a turbo charger! Sometimes it's a chicken.

    Of course, you can try again. But part of that mature assessment is figuring out if your odds are going to be any better the next time around. Another part is putting a little more time into the specifics of where you're applying to. Find out what projects are available and what you'll really be working on. Talk to other graduate students in the program. Getting into a graduate program and choosing supervisor and a project is a two-way street.

    This is also why people get some subjectively harsh responses when they come here posting a borderline profile and ask what their chances of admission to graduate school are. The responders, in general, are not trying to be harsh (well... maybe some of them are). But what happens is if you're borderline but manage to slip into a program, it's not like the dice are rolled again and you get another set of attributes. Unless something fundamental changes, you're likely to struggle in graduate school the way you struggled through undergrad.

    So what's really different this time around? When you know this, you'll be in a much better place to make a decision.
  21. May 22, 2013 #20

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Choppy has some good advice.

    Samkh, your evaluation misses the most important factor - universities want to admit students who will finish the program. This is more important than grades, more important than test scores, more important than research - and one could argue that the reasons they look at grades and test scores is to try and make an educated guess as to whether or not someone will finish the program. There is a huge investment in time and effort in taking on a grad student, and if the student doesn't finish, this effort is wasted.

    Now, if you were the sort of student who Harvard and Princeton were falling over each other to try and recruit, this would be easily overlooked. But you're not, and it's not. I don't think there is a magic incantation that you can put on your application to address this. You're going to have to rely on luck.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook