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Extracurriculars for science majors (to help get in grad school) ?

  1. Mar 25, 2012 #1
    Ok, so I am currently majoring in physics with he intention of going to grad school for a masters in engineering (not sure which division yet) and then possibly working as an engineer while continuing school and possibly earning a phd at some point.

    I'm currently a sophomore and have a 4.0 but I am 27 years old, and got into college with a ged. (I dropped out of high school, got into drugs for a few years, then cleaned up and found my passion and have worked as a mechanic for the past five years, and have worked my way up to a manager...)

    My concern is getting into the best grad school program that I can (I'm not opposed to selling my house and moving if need be). But I am afraid, that even if I somehow manage to keep that 4.0 throughout my upper level physics courses (not likely, I know) that I will still have a hard time getting accepted with my past history.

    So I am wondering if there is anything I can do to give myself a better advantage in terms of extracurricular activities. I currently do history club at my school, and occasionally write for the school paper, however I doubt that these things will matter when applying to a masters of engineering program. When I was considering Med school I learned that volunteering at a hospital is one of the best ways to boost your resume... But what if your into physics and engineering?

    Is there anything I can do other than get the best grades that I can?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 25, 2012 #2
    Do you have to put your drug history on your resumé for some reason?
  4. Mar 25, 2012 #3
    your 4.0 is impressive. continue to take the toughest physics classes you can find, and try to maintain top grades. Try to look into doing research as your extra curricular activity. Most people do research during the summer, but if you can manage, you can do it during the school year as well. The common way to get into research is to talk to a faculty, and see if they could give you a research project to do. If there are not available experimentalists at your school, you can also look into theorist faculty or look into the math department for opportunities. There, i would recommend that you look for a summer project that involves computer programming. If you don't yet have lots of experience, this is a good opportunity to learn. Also, knowing to get to computer to do calculations is a valuable skill anywhere, and will help you sell yourself to grad schools etc.

    For the summer of your junior year, you might want to look into the thousands of REU opportunites available, and try to get a research projects elsewhere too...
  5. Mar 25, 2012 #4
    Does your own department(physics/engineering) have any student associations? It wouldn't hurt to get involved and/or participate in any science conferences/contests they may hold, maybe use it as a platform to show off your undergrad thesis when the time comes (very common practice amongst msc and undergrad students at my university).
  6. Mar 25, 2012 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    Extracurriculars do not matter in graduate school acceptances. They are interested in one thing - "is this candidate likely to be successful", and they have three primary metrics: GPA, GRE and Letters of Recommendation.

    They don't care if you play the oboe.
  7. Mar 25, 2012 #6
    Just wanted to second this! Research will be far and away the single biggest "extracurricular" factor in your application - but more importantly if you plan to work as a researcher you should figure out what it entails! REU's are very good at providing spots to non-traditional students.

    If you are definitely wanting to work as an engineer you might want to consider switching your major (if possible) and doing some internships or co-ops instead of academic research.

    My experience corroborates this. I had exactly zero resume-worthy extracurriculars, but I had lots of success with my applications. Letters of Rec tie back into the importance of research, as you will want to have at least 2 recommenders who can attest to your research ability/drive/disposition.

    EDIT: There are some graduate school fellowships and awards that _do_ care about extracurrics, the NSF GRF for example!
  8. Mar 25, 2012 #7
    I actually did pretty badly in HS too. I went (some) of my freshman year and never went again and eventually, after a year nothing got a CHSPE (like a GED but worse). This year, though, I was accepted to graduate school at some top ten institutions. All you need is a pretty good GPA, good letters of rec., good GRE and, if possible, some research. I actually like to think our backgrounds help us.
  9. Mar 25, 2012 #8
    You mention you'd like to go toward engineering for graduate school. I would recommend looking at things like solar car competitions or robotics competitions that the engineering department at your school may have clubs for. This will benefit you in a couple of ways:
    1) It can help show the engineering graduate school that you have some engineering experience (even if it just a student group) which won't come out from a physics undergrad.
    2) You have the graduate school passion now. What happens if you decide you don't want to go to graduate school? Or maybe life won't allow it for whatever reason? Joining an engineering club at school that does competitions like solar car could help you get a job in engineering even with "just" a degree in physics.

    Keep in mind that work as a mechanic is not the same as engineering.

    Your academic record is impressive and that will go the longest way in getting you into the graduate school of your choice. As others have mentioned, research will help a lot as well. Since you mentioned engineering graduate school, I believe that adding in relevant extracurriculars would be beneficial as well.

    Good luck!
  10. Mar 26, 2012 #9
    The fact that you want to go to engineering grad school, but are a physics major, is probably a bigger issue than what your extracurriculars are. If there is any way to switch to an engineering major at your school? Or is that not an option? However, if you remain a physics major, I definitely recommend the previous poster's advice about joining clubs with an engineering bent. Robotics, race car building, solar cells, whatever is availiable to you. Not only could that potentially help get in grad school (though, I have no experience with grad school admissions so I don't really know), but more importantly, it can help you decide if engineering is the right field for you.
  11. Apr 3, 2012 #10
    After doing some further research I have determined that it can be fairly difficult to go from physics to engineering, in the sense that even if I could get accepted into a program it may be impossible to find a job as an engineer as I continue school as many employers will want to see a bachelors in engineering.

    I would switch majors, or better yet, double major in physics and engineering (this would be my ideal choice!) however the school I go to (university of Cincinnati) has these mandatory co-op programs that are built into the engineering program that not only extends the major to a 5 year degree, but would require me to take off work for 2-3 months at a time in order to complete them. I am still considering this route, as I believe it would be a lot easier to find a job to support myself through grad school with an engineering degree than with a physics degree, but it certainly would make things complicated!

    I can't tell if these co-op programs are a blessing or a curse! They seem like a great opportunity to gain experience while engineering bachelors alone would greatly improve my chances of employment, BUT... at the same time they would interfere with my job, require an extra year of school, and prevent me from taking ANYthing other than engineering classes.

    Any thoughts?
  12. Apr 12, 2012 #11
    If you can work as a peer tutor or grade for the department, that might look good, especially if you're applying for assistantships. It'll also give the profs who write your recommendations something else nice to say about you.
  13. Apr 12, 2012 #12
    This also works for the OP since they also don't care if you have a criminal record of
    minor drug offenses or if you have a bad credit history and bankruptcies.
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