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Grad School Application Advice

  1. Jul 24, 2008 #1
    Hi, this being my first post and all I guess I should explain who I am.

    I'm Dave, I study physics at the University of Bristol in England and will graduate in the summer of 09 with a Bsc.

    I want to apply to Southern Californian graduate schools for admission in the Fall of 09 and I am primarily interested in materials science, mostly the experimental side. I understand this is an interdisciplanary field, so information on which universities do these Phds and which department they're in would be very useful.

    The reason that I want to apply to SoCal is that my long term girlfriend lives there and by the time I graduate we will have been long distance for over a year.

    I have work experience from a few years ago, with very good reports, and am currently an intern for Shell doing some research into materials science. Unfortunately my grades are not so good, I have a history of bombing in exams, my university's conversion guidelines place me as a 3.0 for GPA.

    I would hope to go to one of the better Californian schools, like Berkely or similar, but I'm not sure what my chances are like for admission.

    So what do you guys think, have I got a chance or am I deluding myself? Also any advice you guys can give will be much appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2008 #2
    You seem to have a lot of doubt. I would say go for it. The only thing you have to lose is a couple of bucks. Proximity to your girlfriend seems real important, so apply to a variety of schools in the area and then make your final decision after you receive your acceptance letters. Good luck.
  4. Jul 24, 2008 #3


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    If you have a lot of good research experience, you might have a shot at it. Try to raise your GPA over the coming year, study hard for the GRE, and start thinking of ways of writing your cover letter in such a way that they will care more about your research skills than your coursework.

    Some universities in Southern Cali aren't all that hard to get in, while still having very good departments. Most importantly, they have a large number of universities; many smaller, less reputable universities may have a good faculty in materials science, and you would definitely have a shot there.
  5. Jul 24, 2008 #4


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    What's your current average mark? What grade are you predicted? I would imagine that if you want to get into Berkeley, then you'll need a pretty high 2:1 or 1st class (just as you would to get into most UK universities for graduate study). I would also advise you to look into the GRE: this isn't like any exam you'll have done before, and so you need to start preparing for it asap. Also note that, unlike in the UK, you actually have to pay to submit an application to grad schools in the US.
  6. Jul 25, 2008 #5
    Yes, you're right Buffordboy, there is a lot of doubt, mostly because failure means another year's separation from my girl, which is something I don't want to have to contemplate.

    Tmc I'm hoping to raise my GPA, but applications have to be in by early December and due to the British system most exams are taken in May and early June. So I won't have any way of showing improvement before I apply. Also could you point me in the direction of some of these schools please.

    Finally cristo: my current mark is a 2:2, to give you some perspective my year did very badly, my 55% was actually in the top half of the gaussian distribution of marks. But I dive bombed and burnt out this year for exam term, I don't really know why, but I did. My mark, per exam, lowered by an average of 7%.

    I'm planning to do better this year, and, I don't think there's a way to say this without sounding arrogant, I am considered intelligent, but suck at exams.

    Thanks for the advice guys. I really appreciate it.

  7. Jul 25, 2008 #6
    Berkeley isn't in southern California...
  8. Jul 25, 2008 #7


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    I don't want to sound like I'm discouraging you, but you will need to ace the GRE and better have some pretty sterling letters of recommendation to even get a look in. It sounds like you should be able to, though, since you seem to have some research experience. I know pretty much nothing about US grad schools, but I do know that an applicant with a 2:2 in the UK would not get a look in for a PhD.

    Whilst of course you are thinking about this, it should be noted that sometimes it is better to not rush into things. For example, you could take a masters degree in materials science over here and then, if you do well in that, you could apply to a US college. This would only be an extra year, but it may be worth it in the long run.

    Anyway, good luck with whatever you decide.
  9. Jul 25, 2008 #8
    Don't worry about discouraging me Cristo, I'm going to have some very good letters of recommendation, but I understand that these marks are not good enough, I was truly disgusted with myself for getting them. About the GRE, when you say ace though do you mean >900, or what?

    Also about the rushing in thing, basically the Phd is the not rushing in, for me to work and live in America I'd need to marry her, since we don't want to do that, I'll take the Phd so we can see how we develop.

    Cincinnatus, I know Berkely isn't SoCal, but Rebecca (the mrs) would love to go there and so would I...
  10. Jul 25, 2008 #9


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    I don't know what score I mean (since I've never done the GRE), but what I mean is you'll need to do very well to show that you do have a knowledge of the subject, and that your grades in your degree were anomalies. Someone else (preferably from the US) will be able to tell you what sort of GRE score is very good.

    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply you were rushing things relationship-wise (that's none of my business), but I meant that you could be rushing things PhD-wise (i.e. applying when your application isn't as strong as it could be). Though, this probably isn't much of a problem, since if you get rejected then you can always apply again later with better qualifications.

    With respect to working in America: would it really be that much more difficult to get a visa if you get a job in the US than getting a visa for grad school? (I'm guessing you're a UK national here!-- Scottish perhaps?) But yes, if it is more difficult, then this is probably wiser than getting married (supposing you actually want to do a PhD).
  11. Jul 25, 2008 #10
    Well, the GRE is scored out of 990, if you get 900 that puts you in the 90th percentile, a 990 puts you in the 98th percentile. To get a 990 you need to have a "raw" score of 85-100, a raw score is the number of questions you got right, minus 1/4 the number of the questions you got wrong. So for example to get 85, I'd have to get 86 right, 4 wrong and not answer 10, as the test is out of 100.

    About the relationship, don't worry even I acknowledge that shifting countries is a bit extreme, but it has to be done. I think the plan is: apply, if I get in great, if not I'll do an Msc in materials science in Britain for a year, then re-apply.

    From what I've been told getting a work visa for America is stupidly hard, but if you've got a place waiting for you at a Uni it's not hard to get a student visa.

    Seriously guys, you've been a great help and I really appreciate it.


    P.S. I am Scottish, from Glasgow actually but I hold Swiss citizenship too.
  12. Jul 25, 2008 #11


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    That sounds like a sensible plan. I totally understand, by the way, and don't think shifting countries is that extreme-- my gf lives in the US and I'm here in the UK. I'm not going to moving for at least a few years, though, since I've just started my PhD.

    Anyway, like I said above, good luck!
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