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Going to grad school but graduating in fall 2012 - my story

  1. Feb 22, 2012 #1
    When I was in high school I loved science, NASA and outer space stuff. For some reason even though I loved science, I never really applied or pushed myself academically. When I finished high school I started taking classes at my local community college.

    I only took a few classes at a time and had to drop some remedial math classes. Then I had a life changing event happen to me and I decided to really take college seriously. I started making good grades and got interested in science again. I got really excited about physics and decided that I wanted to become a scientist and make a contribution to science.

    I double majored in math and physics and I will be graduating in the fall of 2012. For the past few months I have been thinking about grad school and how to apply and get in. Now I realize that you are supposed to apply in the fall and NOT graduate in the fall! This is really upsetting and disappointing to me. The way my double major worked out was erratic, since it's a small university, classes don't happen when you want and you can only take was is available.

    Nobody ever told me this information or guided me through this process before. I'm the first and only person in my family who is going to go to grad school. I thought I was doing a good job by trying to plan out grad school a year in advanced. Of course I could stay at my current school but here is the deal. I need to decide if I want to go for math or physics.

    Option 1) [MATH] Do grad school for math at current school. There are classes to take in spring.

    Option 2) [PHYSICS] If I do physics, I have been told that I need a class called Math Methods. For the fall I have two math classes still left and one of them conflicts with Math Methods. So I would have to take a math class at another school and transfer. The other required math classes are Abstract Algebra and Logic.

    Option 3) Take off and apply to schools in spring. I could use the time to do well on the GRE. Or doing something that I've wanted to do for a while. For the last 3 summers, I've been in summer school with no breaks. I would like a break, but this would just seem to be too long.

    There maybe other options. I don't know.

    Has anyone ever been through something like this before? I could take a break from school, but I don't know if that's a good idea. I have decided that I want to get a PhD or at least try my heart out to get one.

    Also, sometimes I worry about physics for grad school. I'm pretty confident with math and I'm pretty sure I could complete a masters in math, but the darn thing is that I had this dream of becoming a scientist. I guess I feel as if I don't do physics I won't be that scientist I thought I was going to be.

    When I took Differential Equations I understood the material very well but now I'm in Classical Mechanics and I'm doing the work, but pretty darn hard to understand. Sometimes I think that I am not a confident in physics as I am in math and it leaves me to self doubt myself.

    I almost want to say, I always wanted to do physics but now that I'm doing it I don't even know if I want it anymore. I know that sounds strange, but its just a weird feeling and I think the only reason why I get this feeling is because I've done only math for such a long time.

    Honestly, right now I'm just tired. I almost feel as if I've given up. I've worked so hard for so many years and had to FIGHT to get this double major to work and one thing that I really don't need right now is to know that I'm graduating in the fall and not spring.

    I know I wrote a whole story here, but that's the best way I can describe whats going on.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2012 #2


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    If it helps some graduate schools will admit students beginning in the winter semmester. That might be worth looking into. In other cases, a potential supervisor may take you on as a research assistant for the 'down time' between finishing undergrad and the beginning of the academic year. I know several people who did this for summer jobs before entering their master's.

    Something else that might help is to start thinking about what specifically you would like to do - in either field. What kinds of projects would you work on? That might help you to better decide what programs to apply to.
  4. Feb 23, 2012 #3
    I don't think this is any big deal. Just graduate in the fall and start grad school the following fall, and find a job to hold you over in the mean time. That is precisely what I'm doing right now (math/physics double major graduated in December, am working in a lab on campus now until I start grad school in math in the fall).
  5. Feb 23, 2012 #4
    My background (just so you know where I'm coming from when I state my advice):

    Undergraduate musicology major with 6 minors in math, physics, chemistry, biology, English lit, and French (only relevant since it explains how I could just willy nilly take the MCATs a few years later ... I had all the science prep).

    Diplome de 2e cycle superior (aka master's degree) in trumpet performance from CNSMDP (aka the Paris conservatory).

    Came back to the states and got some professional gigs for a few years then decided professional music wasn't for me, took the MCATs and went to med school.

    After a few semesters of med school, my grandfather and father both died pretty suddenly (unrelated causes), I had to take a leave of absence to take care of legal issues / medical bills / etc... for a full year (due to the course progression setup not being able to just take off a trimester). When I tried to return, I was denied loans and had no cosigner for anything. I tried for months to make things work but I couldn't get financing and I was then even farther behind in the curriculum.

    So I decided to just go work but I've had some trouble (since I don't seem very reliable when HR looks at my history and sees: the longest job I've had was federal work study in college, long spans of "unemployment" aka when I was a contracted musician and didn't have W-2s, and that I have no permanent address nor motorized vehicle / insurance).

    But ok, things are better and next fall I will be starting to work on my MD/PhD in biophysics (focusing in mathematical modeling of neurophysiology). Debra and I have already heard from a few schools (my fiancee who applied to grad programs in the same cities I did) and we're pretty sure we'll either be at U Michigan, U Pitt, UMBC, or U Indiana.


    Here is where my advice starts: I would just graduate on your current schedule, no need to protract what you're doing as an undergrad.

    So working with the assumption that you graduate in fall 2012:

    What you really need to do is decide what area you want to pursue. I would take your GREs in the fall and do your applications for starting grad school in the fall of 2013. Since you said you haven't had a break in a long time, take the spring and summer of 2013 to do some fun stuff, work part-time and use your spare time on math/physics stuff ... try to work through any deficiencies you think you have before you start in the fall. Also, learn more programming during those months, it never hurts to be a little bit better.

    If you go physics, most grad schools want you to have a general area of interest even if you don't know exactly what you want to do quite yet. From what a few friends of mine who went to grad school in physics have told me, you usually are expected to have a short list of profs to kinda shadow / help out in the lab starting from pretty much when you get there. Also, as far as I know (not a true physicist myself) most physics programs will have you taking a few math methods classes as a graduate student anyway so the fact that you haven't but have completed a math major, should not be that big of a deal, you might just have to be quick on the uptake if you haven't seen a few specific things before.

    If you end up going math (I assume applied math), I'd spend the spring/summer brushing up on programming, and even some pure math and proof writing especially if you're expected to jump right into any of the year long surveys of analysis, topology, and algebra and pass qualifiers after your first year ... as far as I know, even applied math guys need to do those since it's the really fundamental stuff.

    Anyway, that's my two cents, just graduate normal time, apply for grad schools next fall/winter like all the other applicants and then spend the extra time spring/summer polishing out deficiencies and having fun.
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