Grad School Admission GPA

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  • Thread starter kitaewolf
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  • #26
Well, he wasn't saying that you could get anywhere with a 2.0 GPA; but the fact that the 3.7 guy got into the schools the 3.9 guy didn't goes to show that his two points 1) difficulty of the classes and 2) school you went to make a difference
Not really, because the 3.7 guy had a 3.9 in major. A 3.7 in major would not nearly be good enough.
  • #27
Note here that physics and math may be quite different.

Yeah, but "mathgrad31455" went to an ivy (and had a 3.9 in major, mind you), while "mrb" went to a "Big state school, not a great math reputation"
Something that you should know is that "ivy league" schools grade a lot less harshly than "big state school." Having seen both, it's easier to get an A in a physics course at MIT or Harvard than it is in a physics course at UT Austin. In particular, big state schools tend to grade very harshly to weed people out, whereas this doesn't happen nearly as much in the Ivies.

The point is that even a 3.97 an was not enough to gain "mrb" admission into 9/10 of the (admittedly top-tier) places he applied to, even with a good GRE score.
And since we don't know that transcript or the other parts of the application we don't know if there was something else that was an issue.

"mathgrad31455" had a chance, at least, coming from a top tier university already. But even with 12 graduate classes, and published research under his belt, his "meager" 3.9 GPA-in-major prevented him from being accepted to over half the programs he applied to.
Since you can only go to one school, as long as you get in somewhere decent, it really doesn't matter who rejects you.

twofish-quant is painting an inaccurate picture. It's not like a lower GPA can be outweighed by other factors, like what classes you took or the difficulty of your institution.
Again, I don't know about math graduate school, but I got into UT Austin astronomy with a 3.5 GPA (both overall and in major), and of the six places I applied to, I got into four of them. Also, if you look at the physics site, you are getting similar responses from people, so I don't think that the grading has changed much since I was an undergraduate.

If I had gotten a 3.9 GPA and done astrophysics research rather than CS, I probably could have gotten into the two places that I was rejected by, but looking back, I got a good deal by exchanging the lower GPA for "other stuff."
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  • #28
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I actually collected a pretty comprehensive list of ALL the people with low GPAs who got in pretty good schools.

I suspect there are more, but I actually did a count of domestic applicants (for threads across all three years) with low GPA but HIGH PGRE, and there were very very few of them (could be a selection effect on people who visit the PhysicsGRE forums, but could be other reasons as well). So you have a low sample size, and cannot conclude (at all) that you can't compensate for a low GPA. The few listed applicants with low GPA *and* high PGRE did get into some pretty good places.

The truth is that you simply can't measure a lot of the intangibles like LORs (which *can* actually be the most important part of the application). Things like LORs are why it IS quite possible for a 3.9 student to be rejected in favor of a 3.4 student, if the 3.4 student has stellar LORs *and* stellar research *and* decent PGREs *and* an improving GPA trend. Maybe not all of those things are even necessary - maybe the student just had a LOR-writer who had strong connections to a professor at the university they were applying for. In some cases, a single professor can convince an entire admissions committee that they REALLY want a student (this doesn't seem to happen in Physics as much as it happens in biology or geoscience though)

I'll list 3 of the profiles

Undergrad Institution: Private school, very good reputation
Major(s): Math, Physics
Minor(s): None
GPA in Major: 3.4
Overall GPA: 3.4
Length of Degree: 4
Position in Class: Average
Type of Student: Domestic male
GRE Scores:
Q: 800
V: 600
W: 4.5
P: 780
Research Experience: Three semesters - two in optics, one in accelerator physics
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Nope
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: Nope
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Undergraduate thesis, but not published.
Special Bonus Points: My statement of purpose was kick-***.
Applying to Where:
Arizona - Planetary Sciences - Accepted
Boston University - Astronomy - Accepted
Cornell - Astronomy
Michigan - Space and Planetary Physics - Accepted
MIT - EAPS - Accepted
Texas - Astronomy - Accepted
Virginia - Astronomy
Undergrad Institution: Big State University, moderate physics reputation
Major(s): (Astro)physics, Biology
GPA in Major: 3.79
Overall GPA: 3.49
Length of Degree: ~5yrs
Position in Class: Near top
Type of Student: Domestic, white male
GRE Scores:
Q: 800
V: 580
W: 4.5
P: 910
Research Experience: 2 yrs particle physics research at university; 2 yrs astrophysics research at university; 1 first authored publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Dean's list 4 quarters (unimpressive)
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: 4 yrs tutoring, 1 quarter TAing upper div astrophysics elective
Special Bonus Points: Recommendations are good I think
Applying to Where:
Focusing in Theoretical Astrophysics at all
UCSB - Physics - Accepted (Webpage 2/14/11) TA
Berkeley - Physics - Accepted (Unofficial, e-mail 2/7/11)
Stanford - Physics - Rejected (E-mail, 2/24/11)
CalTech - Physics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/24/11)
Harvard - Physics
Harvard - Astronomy - Accepted (Phone 2/8/11) RA & Fellowship
MIT - Physics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/2/11) fellowship
Princeton - Astrophysics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/4/11) RA & Fellowship
Cornell - Physics - Waitlisted (e-mail, 2/15/11) - Withdrawn (2/15/11)
Columbia - Physics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/10/11)
U Chicago - Physics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/23/11)
U Chicago - Astronomy & Astrophysics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/8/11)
Northwestern - Physics - Accepted (E-mail, 2/1/11), (Unofficial, Phone 1/18/11), RA & Fellowship
Johns Hopkins - Physics - Accepted (E-mail 1/25/11) - Declined (2/15/11)
Undergrad Institution: Ivy with good physics reputation
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): N/A
GPA in Major: 3.51
Overall GPA: 3.50
Length of Degree: 4 years
Position in Class: Above average, but definitely not top
Type of Student: Domestic, generic white boy
GRE Scores:
Q: 790
V: 650
W: 5.0
P: 940
Research Experience: Worked with two professors here at my school doing particle detector R&D, and spent lots of time learning clean room nanofabrication techniques (which I think is *somewhat* rare for undergrads) - later will be listed as a coauthor on a presentation for IPAC 2010 (which hasn't actually happened yet). Also, REU in high energy experiment during summer of 2009, with a paper presented at the final undergrad research symposium.
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Dean's list for a few semesters, National Merit Scholarship in high school
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: Physics Tutor for a few years, TA for introductory mechanics course for 1 semester
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: None physics related...
Special Bonus Points: All three recommenders have worked at SLAC, and my most important one (director of a large lab here on campus) got his Ph.D. at UChicago. I'm crossing my fingers hoping things like this matter!
Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: I'm in a band! Also, I was included on a national a cappella compilation CD for a solo I sang in 2009. Maybe physicists appreciate good singers...
Applying to Where:
Boston University - Physics - Accepted 2/11 via e-mail, 18.4K TA + 9.2K summer funding + tuition [Declined]
CalTech - Physics - AMO Experiment - Rejected 3/12 via email
Columbia - Physics - HEP/AMO Experiment - Accepted 2/22 via email, 30.6k Faculty Teaching Fellowship + tuition
Harvard - Physics - AMO Experiment - Rejected 2/26 via snail mail
NYU - Physics - Soft Matter
University of California, Berkeley - Physics - HEP/AMO Experiment - Accepted 2/28 via email, ~25k stipend + 2k Additional Stipend + tuition
University of Chicago - Physics - HEP Experiment - Rejected 3/1 via snail mail
University of Colorado, Boulder - Physics - AMO Experiment - Accepted 2/26 via email, stipend plus 4k signing bonus
University of Rochester - Institute of Optics - Optics - Accepted 2/10 via email, 28k stipend (Sproull Fellowship) + tuition
Stanford - Physics - AMO Experiment - Rejected 2/24 via email
Undergrad Institution: Big State - Top 15 Physics
Major: Physics
Minor: Math
GPA in Major: 4.00
Overall GPA: 3.45
Length of Degree: Long,Long Time
Type of Student: Domestic Male
GRE Scores:
Q: 740
V: 530
W: 5.0
P: 900
Research Experience: 3 Research Projects: 3 years in experimental plasma, research project is honors thesis; 1 year in theoretical astrophysics, soon to submit publication; 1 semester doing independent project
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Sigma Pi Sigma
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: Math and Physics Tutor 1 semester
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: 1 publication in medical journal
Special Bonus Points: 1 grad class, 3 strong endorsements from research supervisors all of whom I had taken courses with and received the highest grade in all those courses.
Applying to Where:
UCLA - Physics - Exp. Plasma - Accepted 03/02 by email [Declined]
UCSD - Physics - Exp. Plasma - Accepted 03/02 by email [Declined]
UT Austin - Physics - Exp. Plasma - Accepted 02/02 by email [Declined]
MIT - Physics - Exp. Plasma - Accepted 04/01 by phone [Accepted]
MIT - Nuc. Sci. & Eng. - Exp. Plasma - Rejeceted - never received response
Princeton - PPL - Exp. Plasma - Waitlisted 02/24 by email [Withdrawn]
UW Madison - Physics - Exp. Plasma - Accepted 01/30 by email [Declined]
Caltech - Applied Physics - Exp. Plasma - Accepted 02/16 by email [Declined]
Yale - Physics - Astrophysics - Rejected 02/11 by email
Duke - Medical Physics - Radiation Therapy - Rejected 02/18 by email

Something that you should know is that "ivy league" schools grade a lot less harshly than "big state school." Having seen both, it's easier to get an A in a physics course at MIT or Harvard than it is in a physics course at UT Austin. In particular, big state schools tend to grade very harshly to weed people out, whereas this doesn't happen nearly as much in the Ivies.
Good points. Another thing is that professors at top schools may be a lot more flexible with things like extensions, and they may be more willing to give students the benefit of the doubt. has more useful information. From the paper they give (

The above two equations suggest that private schools are grading 0.1 to 0.2 higher on a 4.0 scale for a given talent level
of student. Since the evidence indicates that private schools in general educate students no better than public schools
(Perscarella and Ternzini, 1991), private schools are apparently conferring small but measurable advantages to their
students by more generous grading. Private schools also have on average students from wealthier families, and the effect
of our nation’s ad hoc grading policy is to confer unfair advantages to those with the most money.
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