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Getting into graduate school

  1. Nov 14, 2011 #1

    I wanted to get a feel for if I'm wasting my time here in applying to graduate school and wanted some opinions from people on here.

    So I want to get into a ucla or a ucsd and I want to do experimental condensed matter. My physics gpa is approximately 3.4. I got an 830 on my pGRE, an 800 on my GRE Quantitative and a 600 on my GRE Verbal.

    I don't have any research experience, but I did work at an small engineering firm (~100 employees) and I came out with two patents. I think that is probably what stands out about me the most.

    Based on this, is there any reason why I should be applying?

    Thanks ahead of time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 15, 2011 #2


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    I think you have a shot at the schools mentioned. Your PGRE and normal GRE are great, and your GPA isn't bad. The lack or research experience is a little bothersome, but the fact that you have engineering work experience and two patents should easily make up for it, especially if your goal is to do experimental or applied research.

    Based on the information given there is nothing that should stop you from getting into a graduate program in physics.
  4. Nov 16, 2011 #3
    Your PGRE is great (especially for a US-resident), and generally that factor gets weighted fairly heavy. I'd suggest emphasizing your engineering design/patent work... since that rather fits along the category of "research experience"... which is also a factor weighted heavily. Maybe even look to have your supervisor at the engineering firm write one of your letters of recommendation (as long as that's not jeopardizing current employment relations). Of course, rankings only mean so much (it's the work you do in graduate school that really matters)... but I'll note that your present choices do consistently appear in top rankings.... so your going to be against a competitive pool of applicants (some great students from great schools with great scores that maybe know why they are applying... and others who maybe don't have a clue of what they want to do next, but have determined their decisions by applying to top-ranked programs).

    Unfortunately, I'd say your GPA isn't great... which is a problem when applying to top-notch programs (I'd say these are probably in the top 25) -- particularly when the economy is bad (and perhaps more people are applying to grad school). Generally for top programs, you can't have any weaknesses.

    That said.. I think you have a shot... and should apply. Your unique background may even make you more desirable. Then you also need to have some back-ups. I'd generally recommend applying to 5-6 programs. My experience: When I applied YEARS ago, I only applied to 3 top-ranked programs, and one "back-up"... and only got accepted with guaranteed aid to the back-up (and with no guarantee of fellowship to another). Of course, I went to the back-up, which later entered the top- rankings fairly consistently (again... if that matters at all).
  5. Nov 16, 2011 #4
    Thank you so much for both responses. It helped to calm some of the angst I had.

    So one more thing that I think sets me apart from the rest is that I started a non-profit that deals with math and science literacy among kids living in underserved communities and it's a pretty thriving non-profit. We offer free one-on-one online tutoring for these kids and we also host seminars for the high school kids in cutting edge science (i hosted them on nanoscience topics) We've been around for a few years and have hosted about 12,000 tutoring sessions to date.

    Do you think this, in anyway, bolsters my application or is it fluff that admissions committees won't care too much about?

    Thanks again for the help!
  6. Nov 16, 2011 #5
    While most of the graduate school admissions process is based on research-prospects(so I wouldn't play this up TOO much), something like this should be mentioned for a few reasons:

    1) Typically part of the "guaranteed fellowship/assistance" offered for the first year to incoming graduate students is going to be teaching-based (TAing labs, grading, or both)... so it shows you'll be decent at that. It's less common for graduate students to come in already attaching themselves to research assistance-ships.

    2) If you're interested at all in an academic path later on, having teaching experience shows you've considered this skill set as complementary to the research skill set.

    3) Success along these STEM outreach lines is sometimes required in grants that might sponsor research. Not bad to show you are capable.

    4) You started it, and it's been successful. (Note: Was it just you "single-handedly, or a group? Maintain truthfulness.. and if it's you and a small committee.)

    If you talk about it in your "statement of purpose" (which is probably where you should, in addition to having it on some CV) try to limit it to one teeny paragraph, and maybe be pragmatic about it... mentioning points 1-3 above... about how this will complement the research skill set you want to develop as a graduate student. Always remember as you prepare your application: Grad school admissions in top-tier institutions are usually looking for the "research-oriented" students.
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