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Admissions Give me a reality check on grad school admissions?

  1. Aug 22, 2011 #1
    Hello, I'm a physics BS and I'm considering pursuing a graduate degree. Ideally I'd like to pursue a PhD in physics, and I'd like a reality check on my chances of admission.

    What's really putting a damper on things is my mediocre GPA - 2.81 . I'm well aware that this hurts me lots on graduate school admissions.

    However, I got 800 on the maths portion of the general GRE, and 810 on the physics subject test. I also got lots good technical work experience during my summers as an undergrad - as an AutoCAD operator, a stint as a process engineering test technician, and a stint as a civil engineering test technician. I am currently doing (well at) a 6 month post Bach position at a gov't lab which should get me some good letters of rec and work experience.

    As another con though, during the academic year as an undergrad I never did any extra curricular research with any of the professors, except my own undergrad thesis project which I pretty much soloed (a numerical analysis project).

    Anyway, is getting admitted to a physics PhD programme currently an unrealistic ambition for me? Or should I try to rack up more work experience, try for a master's, and go from there as my next step?

    Please be blunt!

    Thanks!
     
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  3. Aug 22, 2011 #2

    fss

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    Getting into "a" Physics PhD program is rarely out of reach for anyone, even with bad grades. The question becomes a matter of where you go at that point- obviously the top tier schools are pretty much out of the question.
     
  4. Aug 22, 2011 #3

    Pengwuino

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    No, many times people are not able to get into a program.

    For this poster, it's actually not that bad of a prospect. The GPA is a problem but the good thing is that it's the only problem. So apply away!
     
  5. Aug 23, 2011 #4

    fss

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    I've never met anyone who wanted to go to Physics for graduate school not get in somewhere. It's really not as difficult as people seem to want to make it out to be.
     
  6. Aug 23, 2011 #5

    Pengwuino

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    *sighs* I have....

    Then again, some people don't even take graduate program applications all that seriously either. I know a couple people who I doubt could get in ANYWHERE (sub-20% PGRE, 3.0 masters GPA) if they do attempt to apply in the future.
     
  7. Aug 23, 2011 #6
    To the OP:

    Your position isn't all that different from what mine was when I was applying. My GPA was just shy of 3.0, but I managed to make it in on the strengths of my GRE scores and recommendations. One additional thing that helped me was a very strong GPA during my final two years (which let me recover from a disastrous performance before then), so if you finish strong it can't hurt your chances.
     
  8. Aug 23, 2011 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    The number of people who take the Physics GRE is a little more than twice the number of people who enter grad school. Either people aren't getting in, or more people take that test "for fun" than who take it in earnest.
     
  9. Aug 23, 2011 #8

    Choppy

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    I suspect that if you really want to get in you will find some place that will take you.

    The bigger and perhaps more blunt question is whether or not that's a good decision. Things don't get easier in graduate school. If your GPA is indicative of the fact that you're struggling at the undergradaute level, how are you planning on being successful with gradaute studies? When I look at a GPA like that, the first question that goes through my mind is: will this person be able to pass the PhD qualifying exam? If you can't pass that, then we're all wasting our time.
     
  10. Aug 23, 2011 #9

    G01

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    The way I see things the OP has:

    1. GPA: Bad. (Sorry, but 2.81 is not mediocre if your comparing yourself to other grad school applicants. 3.3-3.4, may count as mediocre, but not 2.81) My university has a grad school wide policy such that grad school applicants with GPA's less than 3.0 are not considered, and there's very little the department can do about it.

    2. PGRE: Above Average. (When I took the PGRE this was around 80th percentile.)

    3. Work Exeprience: Great.

    4. Research Experience: Below average.

    If you really played your cards right you could probably find a grad school, but I wouldn't have your heart set on a big name program unless your physics GPA is significantly better than your overall GPA.

    You should ask yourself why you want to go to grad school before you apply? Do you like academia? If so, what was the problem with your GPA? Why will your GPA problem not continue in grad school? Did you get enough out of your undergrad courses to pass the quals? Your GPA doesn't show that, so you need to think about this. Will you like research? You don't have much research experience, and this is what the majority of grad school is about.

    These are just a few of the important questions you should ask yourself, because graduate committees will ask these questions when they see your application..

    Your experience is lacking. There were several people in my undergrad class who applied for physics grad programs, but did not get accepted. Physics grad school is not like undergrad. Not everyone who wants to go to grad school for physics will be able to. (See Vanadium50's post above.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2011
  11. Aug 23, 2011 #10
    Thanks G01, that's exactly the sort of advice I was after - number one is a particularly useful reality check to hear.

    I suppose a big question for me is how much does work experience figure into admissions decisions? Because I think that's an edge I have compared to other candidates coming straight out of undergrad - I've successfully managed to convince several people that my labour is worth money, and I know how to not piss people giving me money off :)

    As to if I have what it takes to do well in the classes - I am somewhat sure I do, actually (only somewhat because obviously without going I can't really make that good a judgement can I?) In my undergraduate E&M class I worked out of Jackson's E&M for extra credit, In the time since graduating I've been making myself work out of graduate texts, and making sure to read peer reviewed journals (I'm subscribed to a bunch of the APS ones). I'm also trying to find a specialization within physics I want to pursue.

    I actually did take a lot away from my undergrad classes, and other students did actively seek me out for help - but of course as you've pointed out this isn't reflected in my GPA, so that's only useful for myself to know. Really I think it was just a combination of lack of maturity (being too sure of myself to put in as much work as I should have) and being bad at managing my time - which I have improved. I'm also aware that nobody will be interested in any excuses unless it's a family member dying or serious illness ;)

    I do like academia and want to go to graduate school because research appeals to me (and I don't mind doing the grunt work), because it'll be practical for getting a job in my geographical area, and I do really really like the maths (my maths course GPA is 3.5, and that's including quite a few 400 level courses). I absolutely adore clever applications and tricks of maths to solve problems. I don't want to just tell people at parties I have a physics PhD, or tell them my thoughts on black holes and string theory - I'm more practically minded!

    How does applying to a PhD programme with a master's work? Do they tend to just look at your master's GPA? The main thing that's holding me back from trying to go that route is that I'm much less likely to get a stipend (right?) and I don't want to deal with student loans again =/

    Thanks again for the advice everyone!
     
  12. Aug 23, 2011 #11

    G01

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    All of this is good to know and needs to be worked into your application's "statement of purpose." Good work experience will help show you've overcome many immaturity issues. Get a good recommendation from an employer, but remember professor recommendations will be much more important. Do you think you could get a few good ones?

    Also, what is your math/science GPA? Drop all humanities or gen ed courses from your GPA computation. Is this significantly higher than your overall GPA. If so, be sure to point this out.

    It will be harder to find funding for a terminal master's. If you get good grades in your master's courses, it will help show that you are academically up to the challenge grad school poses when you apply for a PhD program. However, you don't want to bank on getting A's in 1st year grad courses, so I don't suggest this route. My suggestion is to focus on researching some PhD programs that will potentially accept you. I would even call departments you are considering and try talking to the graduate program administrator. They should be able to give you a straight answer about you chances, and you'll be able to present your whole story and not just the numbers.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2011
  13. Aug 25, 2011 #12
    I had ~2.5 undergrad, low math general GRE (for science applicants) and no research experience and I was able to find a school for a Masters. Physics GRE was not required. Aim high and apply to a couple of larger/popular schools but expect that you will likely have to go to a smaller school.

    If you do get in somewhere you'll find your study habits will have to change. I made the adjustment ok since I was taking less courses in graduate school than in undergrad.
     
  14. Aug 25, 2011 #13
    I bet somewhere on http://grad-schools.usnews.rankings.../top-science-schools/physics-rankings/page+7" would consider it, then again, 3.0 in your masters program is pretty sad.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  15. Aug 26, 2011 #14

    Vanadium 50

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    Don't be so sure.

    First, the graduate schools near the bottom of the rankings are usually there not because they are terrible, but because they are small. Small departments can do only a few things, but they can do those things very well. Nonetheless, people who work in other subfields will have never heard of them.

    Second, if you're a huge department and take dozens of graduate students and two don't work out, it's no big deal. If you can only take four, and two don't work out, you are in serious trouble. So it's harder for these schools to make a risky admit than the giants.

    Finally, deans and provosts don't like seeing their schools in the bottom of the rankings, and can be applying pressure. One school that ends up at or near the bottom requires the provost's signature to admit a grad student with less than a 3.0. That's harder than hiring an assistant professor, which only takes the dean.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  16. Aug 26, 2011 #15

    eri

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    I attended two grad programs ranked 90 or above on that list (started at one, transferred to another). They weren't bad, just small and specialized. The classes were demanding, the students had done well at very good colleges for undergrad, many of us came in with publications in major journals, and the graduates of my year and the years around mine are currently working as postdocs, professors, and research scientists at places like NASA and Harvard. It's not so much the name of the school as what you accomplished there, and that's really up to you. And no, they're not easy schools to get into or stay in.
     
  17. Aug 26, 2011 #16
    I thought he was saying that they had a 3.0 masters GPA, not below 3.0 (which is failing, right?).

    Anyway, point taken about the small departments not wanting to take risks.
     
  18. Sep 9, 2011 #17
    Small update: As well as likely being able to get glowing letters of rec from this current job (at a gov't lab), I'm also going to be having my name on quite a few peer reviewed publications coming from my lab - is this going to be as big a boost as I hope it'll be? Several of the "how to get into grad school" blurbs I'm reading online gush about how important research experience and publication is, like here:

    http://matt.might.net/articles/how-...-mathematics-engineering-or-computer-science/

    Opinions?
     
  19. Sep 10, 2011 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    Probably not. At this level, the committee is more concerned with what you got out of the research experience. The number of publications is more closely correlated with what your supervisor has done, not what you have done. The committee knows this.
     
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