'good' physics school possible with bad gpa?

  • #1
Well, everyone, that time is getting nearer - the time where everyone around me is going to start getting worried about college. I'm not too worried, and I'm not sure I ever will be.

You see, here is my problem:

I don't have the best GPA. I'm not even sure what it is, but cumulative is something like 3.2 to 3.6. Not even real sure. Anyway, I know that isn't the best. I'll prolly be in the top 25% of my school, but probably not the top 10% - my school is saturated with those kinds of people that do nothign more than memorize - "oaky, then i press this button on my calculator", which means i'm not really too intimidated by anyone around here - but also means that theres about 35 people competing for the highest gpa (they are tied) at about 4.2. You heard right. Theres about 70 kids with a 4.0. Not exactly a fun school to be in, but this is where things get fun.

You see, my grades aren't exactly the best, and to be honest, they probably never will be. But, and i don't mena to sound like I'm bragging, but I am better at what I do than those people. I know it sounds mean, but I'm just gonna lay it out on the line here. I will get further than them. But it's not about them. See, I know I will have very good SAT and ACT scores, it wouldn't surprise me if they were the best in my school, and it wouldn't surprise anyone around me either.

I think about physics in a totally different way than anyone around me. People here think of it as a class and somethign to remember formulas in...I just can't get enough of it. I was so far ahead of my classmates in it this year that on days the teacher was gone he actually had me be the substitute. My teacher, who on many days I would stay after for an hour or two having lengthy discussions on physics, pulled me over one day towards the end of the year and this is what he said:

adam.. you are one of the smartest kids I have ever had. you don't have the best grades, but I have no doubts about your intelligence. i can tell you are brighter than almsot anyone with a higher grade than you. you aren't one of the typical students who just takes the formulas and gets a passing grade. you're more than that. you are someone who is truly inquisitive, and really questions the methods we use rather than blindly accepting them...you aren't a conformist. every great thinker in history was someone like you, someone who wasn't comfortable jsut accepting someone else's way. I don't know if you realize it yet, but you have a great future in physics if you choose it. Your mind power jsut amazes me...you come up with things even I can't understand and have to try myself. I don't know what it will be...it may be some great invention or new theory, or maybe jsut a way of looking at things, but you are truly one person i can see making a huge difference in the world, for the better.
Pretty deep, huh? Well, that made my day, and confirmed my belief that all the people simpyl memorizing formulas don't really mean a whole lot for the world.

But now that the whole college scene is approaching, i still want to get into at least a respected school (because what school you go to determines your value as a human being, it seems..)

I have no doubts about my own abilities - but the things is - others will...and i'm not going to regret much of what I have done in the past two years. So I guess, I'm not really worried...just curious, as to what my future might be. You are all pretty much older than me, and more experienced - why don't you try to tell me?


Answers and Replies

  • #2
Well, it's no secret that many academics value references more than grades, so if you can get your teacher to tell this to the right people (won't you have to have a reference for your college application anyway?) then you may well be in with a chance.

Admissions tutors for colleges should know more than anyone else how even the best '4.0 average' student can fall flat on their face when thrown into the world of higher education. So I would be surprised if they weren't sympathetic to your cause, it just takes a bit of work to convince them that you really do have what it takes.

Good luck!

  • #3
Chi Meson
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
If y ou are planning to go on in Physics per se (as opposed to engineering), then it really doesn't matter what you did in high school, because it really doesn't matter (so much) what you do in undergraduate school.

Advanced physics happens at the graduate level. SO apply to moderate to high-level schools (state universities with good science departments) for your BS. Forget Yale and MIT and Stanford and do so without regrets. If you are going to make a difference, start showing what you got in college, and show the right people. MAke sure your professors know your name as the one who asks brilliant questions or the one who stops by for insightful clarifications. (I'm sure you can tell the difference between that and just wasting the professors time).

By the end of your undergraduate years you will know whether or not you will be in the realm of true physicists (I for example, knew that I was not), or if you are better suited as an applied physicist (or engineer), or if you would be more inclined to repair toasters (with me it was bikes).

Even if you don't get into the BIG physics universities for your graduate work, nothing will stop you from you potential if you work hard. Get a PhD from Podunk University then shoot for the Post-doc at CalTech. Whatever happens, your future is NOT determined in high school.
  • #4
If you can afford it, shoot for the small private colleges. They tend to focus on education more than the research universities.

And consider going to a community college for a couple of years. They tend to be real bargains, and the instruction in general education courses is probably better than at most four-year universities.

Letters of reference, GRE scores, and GPAs that you receive as an undergraduate are more important than the name of the school when applying for graduate school. Choose a good environment and forget the name recognition. You need a place where you can best succeed academically. Also consider the social environment -- fun is good.
  • #5
I agree 100% with JohnDubYa as far as going to a community college. It will save you a lot of money, and in the end have the same result as attending some big name school for undergrad. I don't regret going at all. The physics department at my school was excellent, and the teachers really devoted their attention to the students, since they didn't have some big research problem to work on. I ended up getting accepted into Berkeley, UCSB, UCSD, and Cal Poly. My gpa wasn't stellar at 3.6, but colleges take into account the fact that you are taking college level coursework, and weight it accordingly. If you absolutely MUST do your undergrad at a university, I would pick a lower key state university or similar. That way you have professors who are there to provide you an education, rather than see you as a distraction.
  • #6
I feel pretty good about 'choosing the right one', I think I would have given my same advice as what most of you people have, so thank you a lot for reinforcing that....It helps.

Buuut....I still feel pretty dumb about what college is, so to speak. High school is supposed to prepare you for college, but as far as I've seen, it does so only educationally. I haven't gotten a single, even min-after class type course about what how the application process works and that sort of thing. No idea so far. I mean, whats an undergraduate shcool and how long do you go for? I'm assuming a 'graduate' school is the one where you actually take a 4-year course and graduate...buuut...whats up with those two terms?
  • #7
Undergraduate is what you do after high school. Count on five years for physics and engineering degrees.

Graduate school is what you do after you receive your college degree. It includes masters and Ph.D.s. Figure on three years for a masters and an additional three years for a Ph.D.

So if you are 18, you would receive a Bachelors degree by the time you turned roughly 23, and a masters degree by 26. If you want to obtain the Big Enchilada, then you can figure on being roughly 30 by that time.

Most people stop when they receive their Bachelors. In physics, more people tend to go after higher degrees.
  • #8
I'm in exactly the same situation. And I mean exactly, even with the teacher quote. It makes me sick how some people in my graduation high school class think they know a lot about physics because of an A+. I personally surveyed a few of my friends after a final test in my senior year (covering mostly electromagnetism) and 2 out of 20 knew what electricity WAS! And most of them had gotten great grades. None of them had a good answer when I asked something like "why do you think Einstein was a genius?", and so on with examples... I'm putting my faith on the recommendation letters during the application.
  • #9
Huh, just realized this post is from 5 years ago. But anyway...
  • #10
I had a 3.2 graduating high school. I was accepted into a couple of top state universities, however I ended up going to a cc my first year for financial reasons.
  • #11
are you the same guy that created the post? Because I only realized that it was old after I replied, he must be a PhD by now heh

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