1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Grad School Admissions - comparative or absolute?

  1. Jun 23, 2015 #1
    Greetings all,

    I found some similar threads to this but none that answered my exact question. I am doing an REU at a school I would like to attend for graduate school, and some students there have said that in graduate school admissions, I am going to be judged relative to my peers from the same school in things like GRE scores, research experience, and GPA. Is this true?

    For instance, I come from a very small school where no one (save one person in 2001) has scored above a 700 on the pGRE. If I take it and do well, will this fact work in my advantage or will it not matter at all? I have also heard that if two students with similar applications apply for the same school, the school is likely to take only one of them. Is this also true?

    I heard from professors who are on admissions committees that you are judged according to how you have taken advantage of the opportunities present to you. For instance, my school has no grad program so grad courses are out of the question, so in this matter I would not be discriminated against in the same manner as someone who had grad courses available but did not take them.

    I am just wondering how absolute/relative grad school admissions are. Can anyone comment on this?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2015 #2

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I would take this statement with a grain of salt. What admissions committees will typically pay attention are your absolute GPA, specific research experiences and letters of reference, and your GRE score as a kind of mitigator, and whether you're coming in with some kind of scholarship. They will also consider your relative standing in each class. But this only carries so far. If there are only two of you in the class, you likely won't be penalized for having the lowest mark.

    I wouldn't expect it to carry much weight if any. The point of the GRE is to provide a common assessment to mitigate the fact that some schools will inflate their grades and others will be more challenging. It's not a perfect compensator, but that's typically how it's used. So you will be compared to everyone else who takes it that session. I don't think too many schools will look too far beyond that in ranking your application.

    Statistically speaking it's probably true, but you likely want to know if there is a negative selection bias. I don't think so. There migth be a positive bias if previous applicants from that same program have done particularly well, but otherwise I don't think it's common that admissions committee members will use phrases like "well this is a good applicant, but she comes from school X and we already admitted someone from there into our condensed matter program, so let's pass."

    I think that's a fair statement under most circumstances, such as in your example of a lack of graduate courses. Naturally it fails when taken to extremes though. Even if you took advantage of all the opportunities availed to you at Bob's School of Broadcasting, you're not going to be competative for a physics grad school position.


    I think it's common for students to over-think their applications. Other common concerns are things like the reputation of your undergraduate institution, applying to one's undergraduate institution for graduate studies, or whether getting research experience in your field of choice is absolutely necessary. Ultimately the advice to make to the most of the opportunities you have is best because there's not much point in stressing over factors your can't control.
     
  4. Jun 24, 2015 #3
    I don't think admissions committees really have the time to check how other applicants from your same school have performed in the past. For instance, they will not know that in 2001 a student got over 700 on the PGRE... You are over thinking things.

    You're already doing an REU at the school. This is much much much more important than how you do on the GRE or your GPA. REUs are obviously good experience for the student, but it's also a way for professors to shop for motivated potential grad students. If you buckle down and impress some people, you will have a letter of rec from one of the professors in the department and that means a lot. You're basically already in.
     
  5. Jun 24, 2015 #4
    That was my hope, however the REU is not going as planned. I only see my professor once every 1-2 weeks. What can her letter say, "she exists"?
     
  6. Jun 25, 2015 #5

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    The first thing is that I think in your case the PGRE is important since the fact that no one from your school has scored above 700 suggests that your undergrad may not be able to prepare you for grad school course wise.

    I think they do look at you relative to the other applicants at your school, but I think if several people are really great they would not have a problem with taking all of them.
     
  7. Jun 25, 2015 #6
    Oh, this is without a doubt true. Really kicking myself for going to this smaller school when I got into UIUC. This school doesn't offer a real thermo course or mechanics 2 and the quantum classes are next to useless. However, I'm trying to do the best with what I've got...
     
  8. Jun 25, 2015 #7

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Grad school admissions are largely relative - but you are competing against other people who applied to the same school. You are not competing against some sort of ensemble composite of people who graduated from your school. Basically, the graduate school admissions committee's job is to admit a pool of N students from a pool of M applicants. The the pool is unusually strong one year, it will be unusually difficult. If the pool is unusually weak, it might be easier - or they might just accept fewer students.

    If anything, this affects you in the opposite direction. If you school has never graduated a person to get over a 700, it does not have a strong program. That will be less helpful than had you done somewhere with a stronger program.
     
  9. Jun 25, 2015 #8
    Although my school does not have a strong program for sure, the fact that no one got over 700 isn't a particularly astounding statistic. Only one student every couple of years goes on to graduate school. It's not as though everybody is taking the GRE and failing.
     
  10. Jun 26, 2015 #9

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    700 is about the 50th percentile. If a school has never put a student in the top half of the GRE (and about twice as many students take the GRE as go on to graduate school), one cannot say its program is strong.
     
  11. Jun 26, 2015 #10

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think 700 is the bare minimum score you should get if you actually understand the material. Sure people often score low because they don't test well, but even if this is the case, I would think they would get at least this score (although they may be at the level of students who scored much higher). The students going to grad school should be the strongest at your school so the fact that they are scoring so poorly is really telling of the program. This doesn't mean you can't go above and beyond by studying yourself. Frankly you will most definitely need to do this if you want to be properly prepared for grad school.
     
  12. Jun 26, 2015 #11
    We understand the material that we learn. But we are lacking several crucial courses, doing well on the GRE means self-teaching, which I've been doing for the past several months.
     
  13. Jun 27, 2015 #12

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    While you will not be discriminated against for not having taken grad courses, it's a major problem that you don't really have a thermo course or quality QM courses. at your school. Those are a huge part of the PGRE. In my program school, Stat mech and QM I and II are three out of the four required grad courses (E&M being the other) and a lot of students who take them have taken very good courses in these subjects before. You can take undergrad courses if you don't feel prepared, but they don't satisfy requirements so it would take you much longer to finish coursework which is a distraction from research. This is something that the admissions committee may worry about.

    They way you can show that you have overcome these deficiencies is to do well on the PGRE. Very strong letters from courses may also help. You want two out of your three letters to be from research but if you know a professor very well from a course that could also be a great letter to have.

    It's also really good that you are doing an REU at a school you are very interested in. From my experience at the REU I did before senior year, it seems very likely that they used it to look for people they would want to recruit to their grad program. I think most of the REU students who applied were admitted and I know me and one of the other girls were strongly encouraged to apply after the program ended.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Grad School Admissions - comparative or absolute?
Loading...