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Admissions Grad school admissions & minimum GPA

  1. Apr 24, 2006 #1
    grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    The question is: will this school likely reject my application, based on too-low GPA. The problem is that I haven't found a good way to determine this. Most schools put their "minimum GPA" on a website, but it seems this is misleading.

    For example, take Berkeley. Both gradschoolshopper.com and Berkeley's site (http://www.grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/admis_require.shtml) put the minimum GPA at a 3.0. It seems obvious to me that if someone with a 3.0 applied for physics or engineering grad school at Berkeley, they'd flatly get rejected.

    So, is there any resource that shows the actual stats, historically, of the people who got in.

    Disclaimer: I appreciate the fact that GRE scores, both general and physics, as well as previous research experience, published work, and letters of reference also play a very significant role. But I'd like to know the story on this whole "minimum GPA" thing regardless.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2006
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  3. Jan 6, 2010 #2
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

  4. Jan 6, 2010 #3


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    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"


    An on-going list of graduate school physics hopefuls and those accepted in 2009. When viewing, remember that these are posted by each user and can be embellished; however, it seems the majority of the posters are honest. I'm sure they will have a 2010 thread soon enough.
  5. Jan 6, 2010 #4
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    One of my co-workers attended UC Berkely. Brilliant guy, but had a nasty habit of eating lunch with his mouth wide open and food showing all around. Ugh.

    Anyway, it's a highly competitive institution, and not just to get in. He reported that once in, nearly all grades were on a curve for the first two years, by design to advance their NRC's top score ranking.

    As for "minimum GPA," I'd strongly recommend you do anything and everything to ensure you GPA is never minimum, but is as maximum as humanly possible! It's just the way the ladders of academia work.
  6. Jan 6, 2010 #5


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    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    It's important to remember what "minimum GPA" really means. Essentially, departments and universities themselves will often set a bar that says no matter what, to get into grad school you have to have achieved this level. This is there to ensure integrity within the program. In some cases, departments have programs that are specifically designed to encourage minorities, mature students, professors' offspring, etc. to go through graduate school. Of course, you can't admit someone just because they meet the requirements of a special programs. You have to set a standard.

    From that point however, it's a competative process. Applicants are usually screened for minimum requirements and then ranked. Offers of admission go out to the number of students the department can commit to supporting based on their ranking. So a school can't publish a cut-off GPA that will guarantee admission, because the number of spots and the credentials of the students in the applicant pool will vary from year to year.

    That being said, most schools will have a ballpark idea. You can always write to the graduate advisor and ask if with your particular GPA would it be worth applying.
  7. Jan 9, 2010 #6
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    For engineering, I'd certainly aim to have at least a 3.5, and for physics, even higher than that. Beyond a certain point, however, letters of recommendation plus context of undergraduate institution will be taken into account.
  8. Jan 9, 2010 #7
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    Ignatius, you're right that the minimum GPA requirements don't imply that someone with the minimum GPA will get in. For what it's worth, I got into a physics PhD program with a 3.1 GPA. But I go to a pretty average state school, so I doubt this would work with Berkley.

    If you want to go to grad school though, don't give up just because of a borderline GPA. Even if you apply only to PhD programs, you'll almost surely get in somewhere. It probably won't be a prestigious school, but once you move on to a postdoc no one really cares where your PhD is from anyway.
  9. Jan 9, 2010 #8
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    You'll note that the graduate school doesn't say that the minimum GPA is absolute 3.0. It says that a minimum GPA is *usually* 3.0. There is a good reason for that. If you have a really, really tough school in which even outstanding students get 2.5 GPA's, then this wiggle room will let you in. One problem with using GPA as a criteria is that what is a 2.5 GPA in one school could be a 3.5 in an another, and it's trivial to game the system so that you can get a stellar GPA by taking easy courses.

    Note that you have a lot of international students, and in some countries a 3.0 GPA may be outstanding.

    The AIP directory of physics programs list median GRE scores and admission rates. I don't think anyone lists GPA's since these are meaningless statistics.

    There is usually a political tug of war between the department and the central administration of universities. The central administration wants easily quantifiable standards because that makes it easy for the central administration to have more control over who gets in. Physics departments *hate* quantifiable standards because the departmental admissions committees want to have control over who they let in. Generally the departments win.
  10. Jan 9, 2010 #9
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    I don't think so. In order to get into graduate school, you are much, much better off taking hard courses and getting slightly lower GPA's than to take easy courses and getting a stellar GPA. If you have a 2.8 GPA, but you are talking advanced quantum field theory and numerical general relativity, you are *MUCH* more likely to get in than if you have a 4.0 GPA, but your highest math class is Algebra II.

    The reason you aren't going to get a definite answer about "minimum GPA" is that people just don't look at the number. They look at the whole transcript.
  11. Jan 10, 2010 #10

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    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    There are schools that set a true minimum GPA: one I know of is ranked near the bottom, and admitting a student with less than a 3.0 requires the signature of the provost. (Hiring a new assistant professor only requires the signature of the dean)

    I think there's also some confusion about the process. The grad school admissions committee (who are professors in the department, not "the admissions people") are not trying to sort out who is qualified from who is not. They are trying to pick the best N people from the stack of X qualified applicants. That's why the discussion of whether an applications package makes it into the stack of X or not sort of misses the point - it's true that if you're not in the stack of X, you won't be inn the stack of N, but if there is some question about whether your in the stack of X or not, you're not going to be in the stack of N anyway. N << X.
  12. Jan 10, 2010 #11
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    Yes. However, one thing that's part of the game of academia is that it's sometimes not clear what requires a real signature and what can be done with a rubber-stamp (literally). There are sometimes formal requirements that look nasty, but the department routinely gets them waived by going to the provost's secretary and having them use a rubber-stamp (I mean it's a real rubber stamp.) It works the other way, there are some requirements that aren't written anywhere, but they are iron laws.

    However, the good news is that if you have enough pull in a university, you can get any rule changed or waived. The bad news is that if you are asking questions here, then people won't bend the rules for you, if they have no idea who you are, and if you are just another face in the stack of papers.

    On the other hand it's a multi-variable problem. If you end up with a 2.9 GPA, but you have *REALLY* strong letters of recommendation (i.e. a Nobel prize winner says that you are the most brilliant student they have ever seen and you've published five papers in top ranking journals) then people are going to ignore the GPA and if they need a provosts signature they'll get it. Stuff like this is rare, but it happens.

    The trouble here is that in most situations, if you have a 2.9 GPA, then the rest of the package is likely to be either below average or average, in which case the GPA is just part of the problem.

    Also, this is just at the low end of the scale. As the GPA improves, it becomes more and more irrelevant. If it's a decision between a student with 3.7 and 3.8, the GPA is not going to matter. The reason 3.0 is sort of a magic number is that if you have below 3.0, then there are some serious questions as to whether or not you are going to survive grad school. On the other hand if you have a 3.7, this isn't going to be a problem, so the difference between 3.7 and 3.8 isn't important at all, and even the difference between 3.2 and 3.8 is less important than other things in the package. Someone with 3.2 and lots of research, and really, really tough courses is going to be in a lot better shape than someone with 4.0 that is just taking fluff.

    I am curious about why it matters to the OP? In applying to grad schools, you usually want five or six applications. One application should be a "shoot the moon" application. One application should be to a school that you are absolutely positive you can get into, and the remaining four should be a mix. If you have a <3.0 GPA, you are going to have to work really hard to come up with stellar letters of recommendations. If your GPA is above 3.3, then knowing the median GPA of people that get accepted is probably a useless piece of information.
  13. Jan 10, 2010 #12
    Re: grad school admissions & "minimum GPA"

    One other thing is that GPA tends to be bogus since in some places grades are so inflated that they don't matter much. Harvard is notorious for massive grade inflation. I took classes there, and if you wanted to get a "C" it required a great deal of effort to make your grades that low.

    I was talking to a dean that was studying long term trends in GPA at a university (i.e. they were cruching statistics from the late 19th century to now) and they mentioned that grades in most universities changed radically during the 1960's because a lot of students in college had draft deferrements, and if you failed someone, they'd be sent off to Vietnam.
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