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Grad-admission at top-tier Uni: Just how difficult is it?

  1. Oct 24, 2010 #1
    Hello there,

    I am currently studying for a Bachelor in Physics in Denmark, at the Technical University of Denmark, however the thought of taking my Master in the US has crossed my mind, and I want to ask:

    Just how difficult is it to get into the top tier, internationally known universities? Is it possible with this CV:

    As of now (2 years till my undergrad is over) I have all A's on the ECTS grade-scale which is the best possible, and I do think it is possible to keep that (with maybe some B's, though I hope that won't be the case).

    Also I do currently work as a TA and hope to do so for the rest of my semesters as well, if that is of importance. And I really hope to be allowed to spend the next Fall at Caltech. I can go there through an exchange agreement at my university, and thus have fair chances of being admitted.

    Will this be enough to be able to get in somewhere? What else is required if not? There is not really much tradition for undergraduate research where I am, though I've heard it is somewhat normal in the US, will that be a problem?

    Any comments are welcome
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2010 #2


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    Most top US schools for physics do not take students to do a terminal masters; only PhD applicants. Their ratings are based on how many PhD students they graduate, not masters students. If you want a masters only, you'd be applying to lower ranked schools. Much lower ranked in many cases - my program isn't in the top 100 ranking-wise for physics grad programs but only takes students who at least plan to do a PhD (although many leave with a masters).

    Research isn't required for top schools (or for a terminal masters if it's coursework only) but since most undergrads do at least one summer/year of research (or in some cases, 3-4 REU-type programs) you'll be at a disadvantage if you've never done any research.
  4. Oct 24, 2010 #3
    Physics in the US tends to be Ph.D. only.

    Also one good thing about the US research university system is that when it comes to Ph.D.'s there isn't a huge difference in quality between the big name schools and the ones that aren't household names. What is a common strategy that works well is for a smaller school to focus on one narrow topic, and then become #1 in that small category.
  5. Oct 25, 2010 #4
    Something that I would also recommend is that you research the universities that you plan to go to very carefully. Selecting a grad school in the basis of "big name" may be a bad thing since it may turn out that the "big name" grad school you are applying is weak in the area you are interested in.

    The must read book is the AIP guide to physics programs....

    http://www.aip.org/pubs/books/graduate.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  6. Oct 25, 2010 #5
    Ok - I wasn't aware that it is not possible to just get a masters.
    Thank you all very much.

    Luckily it is mostly day dreaming anyway now, since it is relatively far out in the future.

    Does anyone know how it is in the UK then?
    How would the chances be, when applying the top universities there, with a CV like in the OP?
  7. Oct 25, 2010 #6
    I think you'll have a good chance at getting onto a good Masters programme in the UK. They love international students over here. Don't expect the university to pay for it though, chances are you'll either have to self fund, or to find grants from other organisations.

    Any specific area of physics you are interested in?

  8. Oct 25, 2010 #7
    I haven't really found, or at least not decided on, my 'niche' yet, as I'm just getting to the fun part now - I'm only one year into by Bachelor.

    However I am on an Engineering Physics program, but am beginning to find out that it is probably not that way I am gonna go. I find that I generally like the more mathematical and theoretical parts of my courses better, and really want to learn the more fundamental physics.

    Therefore I plan to look for a master in some field of theoretical, pure physics. Which one, I do not know yet, but I am planning to do introduction courses on several areas, and will hopefully find something I like more than the rest.
  9. Oct 25, 2010 #8
    There is a fairly recent thread about theoretical physics masters taught in English including some in the UK here:


    Based on my experience of the admissions departments you'd have an excellent chance of admission to any of the ones I list in the second post. They have on the whole been very positive about my application and I haven't even done a pure physics degree. With your excellent background, you'll probably also want to consider Part III at Cambridge, either Theoretical Physics or Mathematics. Very competitive though!

  10. Oct 26, 2010 #9
    Thank you Scott, good thread there!
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