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Grad school applications questions (aka pep-talk request)

  1. Oct 9, 2007 #1

    This is my first post on the forums. It's mostly elicited by anxiety about getting into grad school. I have seen a bunch of similar posts, and extrapolated as many data points as I could from them (in terms of where to apply, etc). But it's always nice to receive personalized responses/advice -- so I request your indulgence:

    I would like some clarity on the following questions:

    1. Given my record (over-detailed below), and my interests, which grad schools can I hope to get into?

    2. How many grad schools should I apply to, without annoying my recommenders etc.?

    3. Is it easier applying to 'related but not quite physics' phd programs, like EE, applied physics, applied science and technology, nanotechnology etc?

    4. Should I mention my excuses for a low(er) GPA in my statement, or is that just negative talk? perhaps I should focus on what's good.

    I graduated from a large top-20 public university in Physics with a Minor in Math. My GPA is not stellar, but not terrible, about a 3.6 overall, and a 3.55 in my subject. (oh, and I'm a US citizen).I screwed up a year or so in between basically because I was sad that a girlfriend left me (silly, but true, unfortunately). I was unmotivated, and it reflected in some of my core physics classes (e&m, classical mech upper division classes -- some B's, no C's thankfully)

    I did two summer research projects in university, and have at least one high-profile recommender out of it. I also have a recommendation letter from a prof with whom I took two classes and managed not to screw them up.

    After college, I have worked at a national lab in semiconductor physics/spintronics for about 1.5 years. I will get a strong recommendation letter from my PI (known, but not super high-profile). I have 1 first author publication in APL, and another 3rd author publication also in APL. There are hopefully one or two more articles in preperation, but I'm not sure if they will be submitted by the time I apply this december.

    My general gre is good, 790/710/5, and I just took the physics gre in october (I expect about 800, but i don't have a good measure of how i did).

    My interests are condensed matter physics/spintronics/quantum-computing, and I would like to apply to the following school, in order of preference:

    ucsb, uiuc, yale, stanford applied physics, ucb (applied science and tech), ucsd, columbia, u penn., harvard, ut austin, penn state physics, umd physics, u-washington seattle (ee or physics), boston u (physics) -- ucla-ee, ucdavis-physics, uc-irvine (these would be backups).

    Am I wasting my time applying to harvard/ucb/columbia/yale etc? Can I even be assured of getting into my backup schools? Will my publications help offset my gpa?

    Thank you so much for reading through this. Any advice is appreciated. Feel free to tell me I'm out of my mind for even considering top-tier schools etc. or tell me if I've missed some great programs in my area of interest.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 9, 2007 #2
    1. Not a single person on this forum can answer this question. We can speculate and recommend, but not predict. Or perhaps one can say that you can hope to get into all the departments you apply to, since that is what applicants hope for. ;)

    2. Don't worry about annoying your recommenders. Once a letter of recommendation is written for one department, it can be easily changed to go to another department by changing a few words and pressing "print" again. The number of grad departments you should apply to depends on the number of grad departments you feel you have a good connection with.

    3. If I had to guess, I'd say it's harder to apply to related departments because you may have deficiencies in your undergrad courses, but it's certainly not unheard of.

    4. Your GPA is not low. You would look like a fool if you mentioned it in a negative way, in my opinion.

    Your GPA is actually good, and you have a research experience in a number of projects. Your general GRE is great, and if you expect an 800 on the Physics GRE, that's great. In my opinion, you have a strong application (you did create this thread for the pep talk, right?), and you would absolutely not be wasting your time applying to any university you wanted to apply to.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2007
  4. Oct 9, 2007 #3
    I can say this, my friend got into Standard with less than you, but he does have a very strong personality. I say you got a pretty decent chance!
  5. Oct 9, 2007 #4
    You look like you have nothing to worry about. 3.6 is a great GPA. Not the best, but it still puts you in consideration for top 10 schools given your research work and publications. Your high GRE Verbal score might make you stand out among other applicants.
  6. Oct 9, 2007 #5
    You look better than me....I'm a double major in physics and EE with a minor in chemistry hoping to apply to EE/applied physics grad programs. I have a mere 3.45 gpa overall with a 3.72 in EE and a 3.92 in physics. I have a little industry engineering experience (interned at an automotive safety engineering firm), but for grad school this means little. I have a little research experience (about 7 months at wayne state univ) but no publications since I was never really assigned a research project, but I did learn a lot about my advisor's research field and uhv techniques.

    I just took the physics GRE but I didn't really do that well..not sure what score I got, but I attempted 60 of the problems and I might have got like 50 right. meh. That might be good enough for like a 70th percentile.

    I take the general GRE on Nov. 2nd.
  7. Oct 9, 2007 #6
    I'd say you have a good shot at the top 10 schools, as the others have mentioned.
  8. Oct 10, 2007 #7
    Thanks so much for the opinions. I appreciate your time. The advice here seems to be to try all the universities I think I fit well with, and not talk about my gpa -- which is what I will do .

    feel free to mention/ask anything else, if you care to.

    PowerIso: If you meant stanford, then I have a similar friend. he got into stanford applied physics, did yours as well?
  9. Oct 10, 2007 #8
    Lol opps, didn't even realize my mistake! I'm not sure if it is applied physics. All I can say is that he majored in physics and went to graduate school for physics. Haven't seen him since he graduated.
  10. Oct 10, 2007 #9
    lol you came here looking for a pep talk and cheered me up.
  11. Oct 11, 2007 #10


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    I can't recommend any grad programs to you.

    Don't worry about annoying the "recommenders." We are all used to being asked to provide a slew of recommendation letters for our students. And, once they write one letter, it's really not much effort to just change a few details to send it to additional places.

    As for your reason for a slip in your GPA, here is my 2 cents: if you improved your GPA after that period when you slipped, don't say anything, let your improvement do the talking for you. If you mention that it slipped because you broke up with a girlfriend, it does sound like an excuse, and furthermore, will have the admissions committee wondering what will happen next time you encounter similar personal problems. Instead, if one of the people writing a recommendation letter knew you during that time, or knows you well enough now that you have talked about that with them, you can suggest to them that it would be helpful if they are the one to share that in their letter. When that sort of information is revealed in a recommendation letter, and immediately followed by high praise of how well you've gotten past that or matured, or applied yourself to make up for what you missed, etc., it doesn't come across as an excuse, but rather an explanation immediately mitigated by a positive recommendation of your current status. We all know that students slip up, lose their way, or otherwise have a rough semester or year for a variety of reasons. Recommendation letters go much further than student statements about whether that is reason for ongoing concern, or something they have grown past. A lot of maturing happens in 4 years of college, and a graduate admissions committee is mostly interested in figuring out where you are now, and your preparedness for entering their program.

    Oh, and I forgot the last part...YES, research experience and publications will GREATLY offset a lower GPA (and your GPA isn't really that low anyway), especially if you also have a letter of reference from your research advisor who can point out how much of the project you did and your aptitude for research.
  12. Oct 11, 2007 #11
    "If you meant stanford, then I have a similar friend. he got into stanford applied physics, did yours as well?"

    did that guy, by coincidence, graduate from UCLA?
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