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Grad courses as undergrad

  1. Feb 12, 2015 #1
    Hi guys, I hope you are having a wonderful evening.

    Since summer, I took great amount of course work, and resulted in having myself pretty far ahead in the curriculum. I should be able to take a graduate course next semester.

    If things go as planned, I should have graduate level theoretical solid state physics I and II, semiconductor device physics I and II, and a few other graduate courses under my belt before I graduate. But my question is, should I really push myself to take all these graduate courses before grad school? Of course I really wish to and I can't wait to take them, but I feel like it would all be in vain if I'd have to take them again.

    So what are the advantages and disadvantages of taking graduate courses as an undergrad?

    (and how important is the PGRE?)

    Thank you all!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 12, 2015 #2


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    • You get to cover more advanced material, and material that is perhaps more specific to your interests.
    • Doing well in graduate courses will demonstrate that you're ready for graduate school.
    • Taking advanced courses can help you decide on a sub-field and whether or not you're cut out for graduate school.

    • The material will be more challenging than in the average undergraduate course.
    • Graduate students will often only take two or three classes per semester. They have also gone through another academic bottleneck and therefore likely to perform better than the average undergraduate student in class. They are also academically more mature. In short, your classmates (to which you will be compared) will perform better that what you're used to, making it more of a challenge to earn a high mark.

    • You may or may not get credit for graduate courses taken as an undergraduate at your graduate school. Read the fine print.
    • What are your other options? What is the opportunity cost of taking these courses? Are you sacrificing the opportunity to explore other sub-fields? Could you be taking courses that will give you marketable skills for later on when you're looking for a career outside of academia?
    • Who will be teaching these graduate courses? Sometimes a challenging course given by a great professor can have a tremendous positive impact on a student. Conversely, a poor professor can ruin a student's love for a subject.

    • Weighting for it's relevance is school-specific. Some don't require it at all. For others it weighs heavily in a students' ranking.
  4. Feb 12, 2015 #3
    If you have all the prerequisites, take the class if you know you are going to take it anyway. I don't think it will be harder to take it now than later. It is actually often easier to do a followup course directly after the prerequisite.
    Should you push yourself to do grad courses? No. No reason to do so.No one will care later on about when you did a course.
    Where I study it is very normal to do a few grad courses in your BSc.

    Don't forget about widening. Some people swear by taking a creative writing or academic writing course. Also,nothing wrong with taking a course just for fun.

    Will you be doing a BSc thesis? If you do, do you know the subject you gravitate towards? If so, take the grad course that prepares you best for the thesis. You never know how close in quality you might get with your BSc thesis to get it to be publishable. A grad course may give you that additional push.
  5. Feb 13, 2015 #4
    Having to take them again should not be an issue if you really know the material. I think most schools are pretty understanding.

    I think finding specific research (as in professors, universities) that interests you is important at this stage. Taking more graduate courses could help you make more informed choices but it could also take time away from learning about the physics community or enjoying other parts of life. Also the is risk of burn-out. Graduate courses can be quite difficult (I suggest you stay away from QFT while you are an undergrad).

    My impression is that it is very important to score well if you are going for top-tier schools. Of course if you have some really nice looking research going on they may overlook a bad score, but most candidates have multiple REUs so I think it would have to be something special --maybe it's in line with a professor's interests, or you made an outstanding original contribution -- but maybe these are fairly rare.

    One ought to score above 700 on the PGRE and have at least a 3.5 GPA and that will give you a decent shot at getting into a PhD program somewhere.

    take with a grain of salt, considering the kind of student I am....
  6. Feb 14, 2015 #5
    I've taken 7 graduate classes while an undergrad. I did well in a few and average in most. It is possible to do really well in graduate courses if you put your mind towards it, but it's a huge distraction from research. I could have had a first author publication by now (which I am only just preparing to send to publishers) had I not spent more time in graduate courses, which I think would have had a much greater impact on my admissions chances.

    As for the PGRE, it's importance drops precipitously outside the top ten graduate programs from what I can tell (a friend of mine got into Hopkins which is top 20 I believe with a 50% or something like that). So it's mainly a bottleneck for the already extremely competitive spots at top schools to help them trim their application inbox down, which means that if you care about doing physics at MIT you should take it seriously.
  7. Feb 16, 2015 #6


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    You should definitely try to take grad courses if they are available. They will not only help you prepare for grad school but can also give you an idea about what subfield interests you.

    I also believe it gives you a significant advantage when applying to grad school.
  8. Mar 1, 2015 #7
    I see. Thank you all!
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