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GPA/Academic History Issues

  1. Nov 14, 2013 #1
    This horse has been beaten so many times, it's not funny. But I, like everyone else need words of advice from people that aren't going to tell me what I want to hear (or maybe they will).


    I messed around a lot after highschool, took numerous classes at various community colleges with sub-par grades (mainly C's). Then I 'quit' for a few years to one day wake up and enroll back in school to major in physics and eventually transferred to a to-remain-nameless university. My overall GPA is 2.7 (ugh), but since returning to school my upper-division GPA is 3.3. Just A's and B's in my junior/senior physics classes. I've been doing research for the past 1.5 years and have consistently overloaded my quarters (18+ units a quarter vs. the standard 12 for full-time).

    I don't know about my potential for grad school. I'm not all that sure that I even want to go. I mean, I do, but sometimes the stress of studying and the student lifestyle makes me just want to get out.

    My question is this:

    Given what I have briefly described of my academic record (both good and bad), and let's pretend I can do fairly well on the GRE, do I have a shot at getting into a 'respectable' grad program? I'm not gunning for MIT, Caltech, or Princeton...just something with a decent reputation.

    My pessimism tells me I'm sorta screwed given my academic past, but I wanted to present this to the physicsforums community for some input.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2013 #2


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    get your grades up to around a 3.5 and get some good research experience and you will have a good shot.
  4. Nov 15, 2013 #3


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    I ended undergrad with a 3.25 cumulative and 3.8 major

    My gpa my first 3 semesters I had a 2.2 ish cumulative

    my last 5 semesters I had 3.75 ish cumulative

    Im currently going to an ivy league school for a masters degree. I got a job to of school in a leadership program at a large defense contractor. when the ivy league school found out about my job, they basically just accepted me right away. so im lucky that my past F*#& ups didn't affect me that much.

    what im saying is:
    1) its possible to get into a good grad school with bad initial grades
    2) employers don't care about grades as much as schools do. If you need to, try to get a good job then go to school part time. note i realize you may not want to do this, but it is an option. My employer also pays for my schooling
  5. Nov 15, 2013 #4
    You need to start making A's in those upper division classes. If they see an upward trend in your academic performance, that will help in minimizing the damage done by poor performance earlier on. In my own case, my academic history was similar to yours. I partied way too much my first two years, receiving 5 W's (withdrawals), an F, a few C's, with an overall GPA of 2.9 as a foreign language major (this was before I realized what I actually wanted to do). I took a few years off from school and started back Spring 2012. Since then, I have changed my major to math and have a received a 4.0 every semester. In this instance, I was told by professors and my advisor that my current performance will overshadow my past failings. So I'm sure the same would apply to you, supposing that you start making all A's in your upper division classes.

    Like Physics_UG said, to stand a decent chance, you need a GPA of around 3.5.
  6. Nov 15, 2013 #5
    Are you a minority or first generation or something along those lines? If so, you might want to look at the APS bridge program or their affiliates, they have programs to get people into grad school with low(er) GPA's but show promise with research experience.


    Odly enough, people like Columbia and Michigan and the OSU are on the list.

    You're not necessarily screwed if end undergrad with below a 3.0, but you will be if you don't have anything else making up for the GPA deficiency.
  7. Nov 15, 2013 #6
    If you are going to look into the bridge program I would really try to look for an alum of such programs because what they describe might not be what they actually deliver. The mentoring might just consists of an hour or two with a professor who is just meeting with you to fulfill requirements for the grant itself. Hell it might not even be a full professor but some adjunct lecturer or junior professor. That type relationship will just leave you in a similar condition but with an MS which is an improvement but really you need those networking relationships from actually having a real mentor.
  8. Nov 15, 2013 #7
    Looking for alums is probably a good idea. I know people who got into Michigan through their masters bridge program and now fully integrated into the PhD program and that's most likely the route I'm going to go. Each of the bridges are actually different, so the experiences and opportunities for bridge people will be different across the board.
  9. Nov 15, 2013 #8
    Admissions challenges drop precipitously past the top 20 or so from my understanding, so it is probably possible for you to get in somewhere with your current stats, especially if you get a good letter of req; but that's not the real issue. I have had numerous friends with similar, even stronger backgrounds, fail their quals. So even though they got into a bottom 50 school with less competitive admissions, they did not make it because they did not address their fundamental issues.

    EDIT: I saw your GPA as a 3.3, but you say it's a 2.7, which is lower than the traditional cutoff. I still suspect you'll get in somewhere, though.
  10. Nov 15, 2013 #9
    I think the drop after 20 isnt as drastic as you think. The top 20 programs only accounts for ~500 students. There are x >> 500 students with 3.0+ GPA applying to grad schools. There are loads of international students with 3.0+ and 700+ PGRE applying to graduate schools in the US.
  11. Nov 15, 2013 #10
    Perhaps, my own anecdotal experience is limited to a top 40 school, and my advice was predicated on my misreading that s/he has a 3.3 GPA, but I've met numerous students at my institution with precisely that, and it doesn't meet all of its demand for graduate students (a lab I worked for over the summer desperately needed more graduate student manpower as an example, and a conversation I overheard involving the department chair stated exactly that).

    I would like to have stronger statistics, but I think my thesis that the OP should be less worried about getting in somewhere and more worried about making it once he/she does still stands.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013
  12. Nov 15, 2013 #11
    You have to jump over the hoops in order.
  13. Nov 15, 2013 #12
    Hm, that bad eh? Well, redacted then, the OP clearly has two problems, getting in, and making it, instead of just one.
  14. Nov 18, 2013 #13

    What about applying to a Master's program at a smaller, State school attempting to boost my academic performance and get better research experience? Does that count for anything?
  15. Nov 19, 2013 #14

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    This gets suggested here a lot. Usually by undergrads. The thing about this is that if it were very effective, there would be a good fraction of people in grad school who followed this path. There really aren't.
  16. Nov 19, 2013 #15
    It happens to a few people at the school I'm from and those individuals have gotten decent post graduate school opportunities out of it, it's off the beaten path but to say it is ineffective at least to some degree is incorrect.
  17. Nov 19, 2013 #16
    Why is it not viable, Vanadium? I have wondered about the same question, since it seems as though very few people go this route (I've seen only a handful of professors, as an example, who had differing masters and phd institutions). I always assumed it was very difficult to transfer graduate programs which is why they were so few.
  18. Nov 19, 2013 #17

    Vanadium 50

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    The observation is that there are not many students who are successful in this path. Why? That's speculation - my suspicion, though is that many students who have a poor track record as an undergrad don't do so much better as to persuade the school to admit them as opposed to an undergrad with better grades.
  19. Nov 19, 2013 #18


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    I might just add that in many Candian schools graduate students are first admitted as MSc students and then either complete the MSc or transfer directly into a PhD program after a year or so of study.

    I think the big advantage of setting the system up this way is that it gives the student the opportunity to try out a field before diving into a 4+ year committment.

    I also think the philosophy of using an MSc to improve your PhD prospects, while not necessarily a bad idea, is bound to run into the questions of... if you struggled though undergrad, why would an MSc program be any different? If you have a good answer for this question, then pursuing the MSc to PhD route may not be a bad idea.
  20. Nov 19, 2013 #19
    I would figure the financial burden of doing a year or two schooling in a university ($20-40k) probably has some big deterrent effect that drives the fraction going down this path.

    Especially given the average american carries $30k in student loans and $15k in credit card debt.

    If PhDs werent funded either through research grants or teaching assistantships there would be less people doing PhDs.
  21. Nov 19, 2013 #20
    I appreciate everyone's input.

    I know everyone has a different story. But I (and it's probably mostly due to naivete in the grad school topic) am slightly dispirited and a little confused. My overall GPA which is arguably *crap* is due to classes I took years ago in non-physics/math related courses. While it can still be said that my upper division GPA is still not that competitive (3.3), how BAD do I look?

    Let's suppose I go into a MSc program...(drop my work hours, stop overloading my quarters) and pull mostly A's. Am I still at a disadvantage because I had a poor undergrad history and *trying* to transfer grad institutions? The question's already been answered to an extent but in my specific case playing a lot of what-ifs, am I really as dismal a prospect as is being made out?

    I mean, I've matured enough to know that if I don't get into a good grad program, let alone get INTO a grad program my life will probably (I type that with a hint of sarcasm) be alright. But I'm still curious. It almost seems like academic maturation is disregarded and the follies of youth are tattoed on a student forever, despite an upward trend. Is this true?

    Something else that this sparked and was sorta touched on in my original post:
    Counting the above and assuming a good score on the subject GRE -let's say...hmmmm....what's a good score? More fairytales...85th percentile or above- is that going to lend a decent amount of assistance in my situation or will it be only mildly considered?

    I'm just trying to see my options/prospects.

    (Maybe I'm being redundant, sorry)

    Again, thanks for the responses. It's interesting to read the input.
  22. Nov 19, 2013 #21

    Vanadium 50

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    You're looking at this from the wrong perspective. The department is not interested in giving you a chance. They are interested in putting together the best class they can. For every student they say "yes" to, there is a student they say "no" to. Often this other student doesn't have the same degree of, for lack of a better word, baggage.
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