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Grad school gpa

  1. Nov 12, 2009 #1
    Which do you think would be better for getting into a theoretical physics program:

    -- a 2.5 cumulative gpa with a 3.5 physics gpa
    -- a 3.0 gpa, both cumulative and physics

    Also, if your gpa is around 3.0 (+- 0.2), what are your chances of actually getting into a phd program?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2009 #2
    In other words, what do grad schools look for most - a good overall gpa or a good field specific gpa?
  4. Nov 12, 2009 #3
    2.5 cumulative is unacceptable whatever your field gpa is.

    Grad schools look for the best. Especially good ones.

    I'd say field gpa would be a little heavier, but still, there's a lower threshold which breaks all deals.

    For the best schools that's below 3.5 and for not-so-best ones it might be more like 3.

    Below that is unacceptable both.
  5. Nov 12, 2009 #4
    So a 3.0 is the lowest your cumulative can be to have a chance at getting into grad school? What about physics gpa, or does that even matter?
  6. Nov 12, 2009 #5
    Wouldn't a high score on the GRE (subject and general) make up for a low gpa?
  7. Nov 12, 2009 #6
    No one really cares about the general GRE at all. And while the subject GRE is important, it isn't as important as your years of undergraduate education.
  8. Nov 12, 2009 #7
    If you want to try to compensate for something, you pretty much need to do research (do at least 1 REU) and try your best to get published if at all possible.
  9. Nov 12, 2009 #8


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    In many schools the grad school itself poses a restriction that the cumulative GPA can't be less than 3.0. If it is, it means that someone from the grad school will pretty much remove you from the pile without even sending your application to the department.

    Getting someone with a GPA of less than 3.0 accepted often means that the department needs to ask the grad school for permission. In other words, you need to be so desirable that the admissions committee is going to bother to petition the grad school to have you accepted. For this simple reason, a GPA of less than 3.0 is pretty much a guarantee to not get accepted anywhere.

    The only thing I can think of that might compensate is publishing something so impressive that it gets the attention of the professors of the department you are applying to. This is more or less extremely improbable...
  10. Nov 12, 2009 #9
    On the other hand, it's not too difficult to take easy courses that do nothing but raise your GPA. Take 20 credits of PE and consumer math. Problem solved.

    This is really part of the problem in that a low GPA is taken less as a sign of low intellect and more of a sign of poor planning.

    But if you still want to get into grad school, the most likely avenue is to find a job working as a lab assistant or undergraduate tutor somewhere for a year or two, take courses on the side, and then you end up with really strong letters of recommendation.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2009
  11. Nov 12, 2009 #10
    My cumulative gpa is around 3.2 and hopefully only going up. My physics gpa is about 3.6, but I still have about a year and a half of classes left - almost all physics. I don't think it will be too hard to find a grad school, it probably won't be MIT or CalTech though, lol.

    I was just curious if schools prefer a good gpa in physics or a good cumulative gpa for their decisions. It sounds like the unanimous vote is the cumulative gpa is the one that is important. I may have to put off applying to grad school for another year (instead of this summer) to get my cumulative to 3.5. Thanks everyone.
  12. Nov 12, 2009 #11
    What I've seen is that committee's use GPA as something of a first pass filter. If you have a low GPA it hurts you, but a really high GPA doesn't help you much. One problem with using GPA is that schools have wildly different grading standards.

    One other thing, is that you really need some non-physics courses. It might hurt you with the graduate school committee, but it will help you with life. Take some history and philosophy courses. Learn poetry.

    Also, what criterion are you using to select grad schools? I've found that most undergraduates really haven't given this much thought, and it hurts them. You are much better off if in you statement of purpose you can answer the question "so what are you applying to school X?"

    I think you phrased the question wrong. Personally my experience is that graduate schools care much more about physics GPA than cumulative, and they care even more about *content*. It's just that if you are talking about a 3.0 cumulative GPA, you have something of a dealbreaker. Once you get over the minimum, it start becoming very quickly unimportant.

    1) it doesn't hurt to apply now
    2) you really need to worry more about undergraduate research than GPA.
  13. Nov 12, 2009 #12
    It's really not that hard to get the attention of the professors of the department you are applying to. It's just that it requires skills that most used car salesmen have, but more undergraduate physics majors don't.
  14. Nov 13, 2009 #13
    I have taken plenty of non-physics courses. I had about 6 different majors over the 7 years I spent in junior college before I found physics. Most of my classes transferred as electives from my junior college. I'm not big on poetry - unless you count music lyrics as poetry.

    I am considering grad schools based on research the faculty have been doing. I want to do my research in quantum field theory, so I need a school with faculty that are actively working in that area. I know you cannot pick your advisor so I want a school with at least two faculty members in this field (or something similar). The reputation of the school isn't important to me - I'm only after the knowledge.
  15. Nov 13, 2009 #14
    Something that will help you is the fact that most graduate applicants don't have a solid enough background to do research in QFT, and in fact most *physicists* don't know quantum field theory. If you can somehow convince people that you have the background to do QFT research (and this involves having levels of mathematical preparation that most intro physics graduate students don't have), no one is going to care much about your GPA.

    What I'd do is to familarize yourself with the current research and learn enough physics so that you can talk intelligently about the area that you are interested in. In the statement of purpose, it will help a lot if instead of saying "I want to do research in QFT" and instead say "I'm interested in the research of professor X, who has worked on problem Y, and would like to think about approach Z."

    In all but the smallest universities, you end up with a research group.

    School reputations don't matter much. Advisor reputations matter a lot, but it's a lot like buying stock. In some situations, you may be in really good shape if you work with a junior faculty advisor who no one has heard of, but who everyone will in a few years.

    See if you can get yourself to the point where you can read some papers on QFT, and come to your own conclusions about the quality of the research.
  16. Nov 13, 2009 #15
    I didn't know you worked with a research group. I was under the impression you worked alone or maybe with one other person. That's good to know.

    I am always willing to sit down and try to work through a paper. I haven't looked at one on QFT, but I have worked through some on relativity.
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