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Getting into Grad School

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  • Thread starter bueno1989
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Hey Guys. I'm coming up on my senior year and I am looking to apply to grad school, to receive a Ph.D. in physics. I've been doing a bit of online research, comparing schools and getting an idea of the ranges of gpas/scores for admitted students. After reviewing places that have struck my interest (UC Berkley, Stanford, Colorado-Boulder, Columbia), I am becoming increasingly worried that I will not stand a chance in the applicant pool. Here are my stats, let me know if I have even the slightest of shots:


Penn State University - B.S. physics, B.A. philosophy, minor mathematics

GPA - 3.65 (I am not sure of my phys gpa, but 4.0 in phil)

Research - Materials for photovoltaics (not in phys dept, and I don't think I want to go to grad school for solid state, or anything like that.. thinking more particle/fields?)


I know it is even harder to evaluate my chances without GRE scores, but I am not even sure my GPA as it is will be sufficient for any top 15 school? Also, my intro math and physics grades were not stellar, but my grades are much improved now that I have grasp on things (I started out as a chemistry major...).
 

Answers and Replies

Pengwuino
Gold Member
4,854
14
The GPA isn't great but there are many determining factors. How much research did you specifically do? Where are your GRE/PGRE scores? Expect to get good letters of recommendation?
 
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All-in-all, my research is not too impressive. Thus far, most of my research has consisted of me in the lab mixing chemicals and working with electrochemistry. I have done a bit of characterization (XRD), but not much. Our research group has been in a state-of-transition, and we've had many problems with equipment and such. We have not really succeeding in accomplishing things we set-out to do, so I have pretty much learned to accept failure and that nothing can be gained in research without going through this process, but that's about it.

I know this doesn't sound good, but I am in the process of looking for a group in the physics department that I can a) get excited about, b) learn a lot from, c) produce results. I am staying an extra year, so I will have time to make this switch.

As for GRE scores, I don't have them because I haven't taken them yet...

I am pretty shy, so I am trying to work on getting to know my professors and going to office hours. As of right now, the professor I do research for could certainly write my a good recommendation, however, he is in the engineering department, and I don't know how much his opinion will matter.

I know my gpa isn't perfect, but how do grad schools except people to get A's in everything? I mean, grades (at least at my school) are pretty much determined by final exams, and I have definitely had days where I was in no condition to take a 3hr test and my scores reflect that... But overall, my gpa is basically an A- average.. why is that so terrible? Will schools take into account that although my gpa isn't a 4.0, I also work 20+ hours a week? Do schools even consider extracurriculars when looking over applications?

That was sort of a long-winded response, but I feel like I never get honest answers for these kind of questions.

If places like Berkley and Columbia seem way far out of reach, do you have any suggestions on schools that may be more obtainable?
 
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I know my gpa isn't perfect, but how do grad schools except people to get A's in everything? I mean, grades (at least at my school) are pretty much determined by final exams, and I have definitely had days where I was in no condition to take a 3hr test and my scores reflect that...
They don't. My undergraduate GPA was lower than yours and I got into somewhere reasonable. If you have o.k. recommendations, then I think you will be able to get in somewhere.

The standard reference for these sorts of things is the AIP Guide (http://www.aip.org/pubs/books/graduate.html [Broken]) which they have put partly online. at http://www.gradschoolshopper.com/

Also look at the authors for the papers that you are interested in to see where they study.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
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All-in-all, my research is not too impressive. Thus far, most of my research has consisted of me in the lab mixing chemicals and working with electrochemistry. I have done a bit of characterization (XRD), but not much. Our research group has been in a state-of-transition, and we've had many problems with equipment and such. We have not really succeeding in accomplishing things we set-out to do, so I have pretty much learned to accept failure and that nothing can be gained in research without going through this process, but that's about it.
Graduate schools don't expect you to have an exceptionally stellar research background. What they are looking for is students who are willing to make a commitment of doing 5+ years of research in their chosen area of specialisation. The problems that you have described above are typical of any area of experimental physics. For any new research group, it is natural to experience some teething problems and you are certain to encounter more of them when you start your graduate studies in any other university. The important thing is what you have learnt from these experiences and how they will help you in your future research.
I am pretty shy, so I am trying to work on getting to know my professors and going to office hours. As of right now, the professor I do research for could certainly write my a good recommendation, however, he is in the engineering department, and I don't know how much his opinion will matter.
Why should you be shy to ask for recommendations? In most cases, Profs ask for your CV and SOP before writing a recommendation. If they are familiar with your work, then they will write a good LOR and yes, their opinions will matter during admission consideration.
I know my gpa isn't perfect, but how do grad schools except people to get A's in everything? I mean, grades (at least at my school) are pretty much determined by final exams, and I have definitely had days where I was in no condition to take a 3hr test and my scores reflect that... But overall, my gpa is basically an A- average.. why is that so terrible? Will schools take into account that although my gpa isn't a 4.0, I also work 20+ hours a week? Do schools even consider extracurriculars when looking over applications?
Applicants are not judged on their GPA alone, although a consistent academic performance is a winning point. No one said your grades are terrible, it is just that top ranking programmes have a very large pool of competent applicants for very few spots. So you have to be realistic and apply to mid or lower ranking programmes as well. As it has been said many times on this forum, there is very little difference in the quality of research in top-ranked schools and lower-ranked schools in US.
 
eri
1,034
20
Your grades are OK for an applicant, but without much research you probably don't have a very good shot at the schools you mentioned. I had a higher GPA, 4 REUs, and publications, and I didn't get into those schools. Pick some more mid-range schools to apply to as well.
 
585
2
I'd be very worried. If you don't get into a top 20 school, your life is essentially over.
 
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0
I am certainly looking at other schools, no doubt. It's just unfortunate that the schools I mentioned above are in locations that I am very interested in living in. I don't think that my life will be over if I don't get into the most prestige school, I was just curious if it would even be worth my time trying.
 
585
2
I'd say it's worth applying. Not that I'm in some position to know, I just finished applying to grad school last week. The school in my ideal location happens to be Cornell. I already got rejected for undergrad there. The chances of me getting in are essentially zero but why not apply?
 
Pengwuino
Gold Member
4,854
14
Hey Guys. I'm coming up on my senior year and I am looking to apply to grad school, to receive a Ph.D. in physics. I've been doing a bit of online research, comparing schools and getting an idea of the ranges of gpas/scores for admitted students. After reviewing places that have struck my interest (UC Berkley, Stanford, Colorado-Boulder, Columbia), I am becoming increasingly worried that I will not stand a chance in the applicant pool. Here are my stats, let me know if I have even the slightest of shots:


Penn State University - B.S. physics, B.A. philosophy, minor mathematics

GPA - 3.65 (I am not sure of my phys gpa, but 4.0 in phil)

Research - Materials for photovoltaics (not in phys dept, and I don't think I want to go to grad school for solid state, or anything like that.. thinking more particle/fields?)


I know it is even harder to evaluate my chances without GRE scores, but I am not even sure my GPA as it is will be sufficient for any top 15 school? Also, my intro math and physics grades were not stellar, but my grades are much improved now that I have grasp on things (I started out as a chemistry major...).
If you score in the 700-800s for the PGREs, I think you have a good shot at getting into at least one the schools just below the elite schools, such as Washington, UC San Diego, Texas-Austin, etc. Texas accepts about 50% of domestic applicants
 

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