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EE at a top [graduate] school

  • Thread starter sozmoz
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I am currently a physics undergraduate doing research in applied optics (plasmonic waveguides/microscopy).

I have a few questions. I'd really like to go to a top 10/15 EE graduate school and pursue research in these topics. Problem is I went to a school fairly unknown for its physics department (for financial reasons), and I'll be graduating very quickly (2.5 years due to AP credits,). Plus I did a year in astronomy research, and realized that I disliked it.

I currently have 2 very strong recommendation letters, and 1 fairly decent rec. letter, 1 from an astronomer another from a physics professor who is fairly well known in the optics field, and another one from a STEM organization coordinator.

I have 1 astronomy paper that I'm 3rd author on, and I have another one that will be published fairly soon (next ~month).

I will have at least 1 paper published in optics (as 3rd author) by the end of this semester (I graduate next fall).

1 Summer REU at a top 5 school for astronomy.

My current GPA is a 4.0, and there's a decent chance I'll be graduating with a 4.0 (just based off of the difficulty of the classes that I have left compared to the ones I've already taken).

3 Presentations at conferences (2 astronomy related, 1 in optics). Presentation award at my university's research conference.

I haven't taken the subject PGRE yet, but on practice tests I'm scoring ~65-70th percentiles (not sure how much this matters for EE graduate school).

I also hold office for SPS and another school STEM organization.

I'm a white male US citizen.

I'm fluent in 4 languages (possible bonus?)


With just these qualities, what are my chances at a top 10 EE grad school (berkley/MIT/rochester)?

Would it be worthwhile staying an extra semester to get a EE minor before applying for grad school?

I would be unable to do another internship this summer due to some family obligations, how much would this hurt my chances at a top-tier school?
I haven't taken the subject PGRE yet, but on practice tests I'm scoring ~65-70th percentiles (not sure how much this matters for EE graduate school).
I've never seen an electrical engineering graduate school that wants the PGRE. I'm a Junior in EE who has been doing a lot of looking into grad schools. Still, take this with a grain of salt.

I'd say it's sort of difficult to gauge what your admissions chances are, because you're not even coming from electrical engineering. What you'd probably want to do is emphasize how your experience in physics is relevant for you to move into electrical engineering, but quite frankly, you should just apply to a lot of schools, because there's no telling what kind of school you could get into.

Don't commit yourself to a top 10/top 15 school, though. School rankings don't mean everything in graduate school. There may be some lower-ranked (25-45) schools that have extremely strong programs in optics.

The strategy I would suggest is that you should read up on what the professors at your choice schools are doing, get into contact with them, and show interest in their research and show that you have the potential to help them with their research. You should also reflect this in your statement of purpose. They're probably going to want to know why you're switching to EE and whether or not you'll be prepared for it. You might be at a disadvantage coming from a different field, so if you can stand out as a strong applicant, then you're in a better position.

Also, make sure you have some background in EE. Some schools might not care if you haven't taken all the usual EE courses, but some (for instance, Texas A&M) require that you've taken certain courses or equivalents before you can get your degree. See here for some examples: http://engineering.tamu.edu/electrical/academics/advising/graduate/leveling-courses


Education Advisor
Gold Member
I suggest you take 4-6 undergraduate courses in EE before you waste your time with any top ten EE graduate program. You may need the 4-6 EE undergraduate classes to get into ANY EE graduate program. You might be able to do this in a semester, but most likely you will need/add another year to your undergraduate studies.
You might consider moving onto a Physics Graduate program at a school that has both EE and Physics programs and shares resources. That might allow you to remain in physics while acquiring knowledge of the EE field that would help you transition into EE without adding that year. However, if you really want to get directly into EE, you will be best served by taking several undergraduate courses. They are cheaper and easier and will allow you to sample the merchandize vs struggling to get into an EE graduate program, maybe succeeding at getting in and but being totally unprepared for EE graduate work and its different approaches to problems vs your current education/solution methods.
Do note, that in my career of engineering over the last 30 years, I have had the misfortune of knowing some incredibly pompous idiots who graduated from top flight schools.

Engineering is all about the practice, not the education. Allow me to reiterate: THIS IS ABOUT EXPERIENCE, NOT EDUCATION!

A solid formal education is an essential part of any capable engineer, but it's only the starting point. You wouldn't take newly minted MBA students and make them CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Likewise, graduation from a top flight engineering school means little.

Get your education wherever you can find it. The debt you'd incur from attending a top flight school may be significant --and for what?

Schools try to differentiate themselves to prove that you're getting something for your money, but in reality, you're there to learn theory. You can learn that theory from just about anyone.

Vanadium 50

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
, I have had the misfortune of knowing some incredibly pompous idiots who graduated from top flight schools.
So have I. I have also known some incredibly pompous idiots who graduated from no-name schools. Idiocy shows no favoritism.

OP, the admissions committee is going to ask themselves if you are likely to succeed in a graduate EE program. Doing well as a physics student is helpful, but nowhere near as helpful as having done well as a EE student.
I have also known some incredibly pompous idiots who graduated from no-name schools. Idiocy shows no favoritism.
My point in saying this is to deflate the notion that graduation from particular educational institutions means anything special. Top flight schools are just as capable of graduating fools as any other institution. They will probably be well educated fools, but they will be fools nonetheless. Mind you, I graduated from one of those Ivy League schools (Johns Hopkins, if you must know), so I'm not jealous in any way. I'm merely trying to point out that in my career, I have yet to see any difference between those who graduated from the fancy schools and those who got their degree from a third rate state school. At the end of the day, Engineering is about application of theory that schools teach. No school I know (besides the school of hard knocks) has ever been able to teach that.

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