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Grad school admission odds in Canada

  1. Sep 7, 2011 #1
    I'm an undergraduate at a quality (though not highly ranked) private school in the US, but I think I'd like to go to grad school in Canada for the experience. My grades are decent (~3.70) and will have a couple of years of research by the time I graduate. I'm thinking of applying for a masters at a top school in Canada and subsequently to a PhD program in America.

    So my questions is how hard is it to be accepted into a physics graduate program at a school like British Columbia or Toronto compared to a US school like Cornell or UC Berkeley? I understand Canadian schools receive fewer applicants (not 100% sure if this is true) and generally don't require the PGRE, but is there any reason to believe admission is substantially easier?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 8, 2011 #2


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    Welcome to PhysicsForums!

    I can't comment specifically on your question--I went into graduate school in EE (from Engineering Physics, but basically EE), but at the same school I did my undergrad at. My school might not be the most prestigious institution in the country (as loaded of a description as that is) but I like to think it's a pretty good school (and according to some publication with whatever arbitrary criteria they use to quantify schools--graduate and undergraduate combined--we rank #127 in the world).

    But in general, grad school departments (and individual advisors) will receive far more applicants (with varying degrees of seriousness / spamming) than available positions, so by no means is it simply a matter of submitting your application (not that I'm saying you've implied this).

    Now, I'm given to understand that my application experience applied throughout most programs in most of Canada (and hopefully, you don't mind my use of sports metaphors). You don't apply to get into grad school and join the grad student "free agent pool" looking to get signed up by an advisor, but rather, get "sponsored" figuratively and literally (assuming they're paying you a stipend out of their research grants). That's not to say that you're locked in, or that they "own your rights", as I've seen grad students / advisors split after going on divergent research paths, hitting dead ends in their research, or just plain falling out.

    Then again, my friend in Computer Science (at the same school) basically *did* have to go through the "free agent process"--your mileage varies greatly, depending on where, when, and probably how you apply.

    Back to the main topic, if you have the minimum qualifications (and sometimes, even if not, if the prof in question really, really, really likes you) you have to convince individual advisors to take you on as a student based on your educational background, your familiarity with the field, your willingness to suck it up, work ethic, being the right guy/gal at the right time, etc. And then, you're usually in (sometimes the Departments will raise issues, e.g. with questionable qualifications, poor TOEFL, poor marks, etc.)

    I should advise you that most places will charge international students differential tuition (usually, 100% on top of the baseline). As an American, you would be international (but thankfully, the baseline isn't all that high, comparatively). Usually, you get paid enough of a stipend, you can usually cover tuition, rent, and cost of living (assuming you don't go too extravagant on the latter two).

    TL;DR version: no, it's not a cakewalk (why would you want to go to a place that accepted just anybody, regardless of whether or not they're qualified or good) but if you have good grades, letters of recommendation, and above all, interest and some demonstrable potential, you'll probably find a position. Then again, this generic advice probably applies almost anywhere and with everything.
  4. Sep 8, 2011 #3
    Thank you so much for the advice and initiation! My reason for the question is that it's fairly early on in my grad search, so I don't know whether I'm PhD material yet. Grades are fine and research is there, but I'm by no stretch a sexy candidate. So when I found out Canada offers terminal masters degrees at just about every institution, that seemed like a perfect opportunity to test the waters. Plus having a masters seems like it would help me get into a top school if I decide to pursue a doctorate. Is my logic flawed?
  5. Sep 8, 2011 #4


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    Usually, people aren't admitted into Ph.D. programs straight out of undergrad in Canada. They start off in M.Sc. programs and either "upgrade" to a Ph.D., or finish and apply to a Ph.D. (or just finish and get a job). That's why you see the "terminal" masters' degrees.

    I can't speak to the certainty of getting into a "top" (there's that descriptor again!) school, but if you prove yourself well with your opportunity, and have good publication record (or at least a solid recommendation from your advisor and good results) you can probably leverage that into Ph.D. school back down south. People out of my department have gone onto various U.S. schools (grad school friends of mine have gone onto Georgia Tech, UCLA, etc.) If you search through the threads here in the Academic subforum, you'll see that cutting edge research, and areas of expertise don't just happen at Ivy League schools (which is what I assume you mean by "top"), but at all sorts of schools.

    However, if all you care about is the school's name (and not the work or research you do), then those schools definitely have cachet and you'll be facing stiff competition. But if you mean "top" school in terms of the most published and productive names in a given field work and collaborate, it may (or may not!) be easier to get in.
  6. Sep 8, 2011 #5
    All conversations I have with myself lead to this conclusion. It's definitely the quality of the research that matters to me. I find the notion of being a renegade physicist from a second-rate university pushing the frontier of scientific knowledge very romantic.
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