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Grad school with a significant other

  1. May 16, 2012 #1

    Maybe a silly little question but here goes.

    Suppose that a couple that are both in the same department and are about to finish their studies at about the same time and both want to apply for some postgraduate program at the same department (or at least the same town/city). Is it possible, and/or common for a grad school to accept both applicants? What happens generally in such occasions?

    Well ok, let's get more specific. There is a girl and we are really into each other for 3 years+ now, both from a EU country. It would be cool if we could continue our studies together (preferably abroad). Our interests are not that unrelated but we are probably going to end at different groups(she is more into signal processing and computer architectures while I'm more into computer networks, telecoms and smart grid. We work great together!)
    She may or may not be able to afford not getting a scholarship, but I'm DEFINITELY going to need one that also addresses at least some of the living expenses. We are both pretty good students (our marks are >8.75 which should translate to GPA>3.5) and are probably going to get good marks on GRE and TOEFL as well as good referals. We plan to leave for studies late summer 2013.

    Yeah I might sound as a romantic type, but we are both prepared if it doesn't happen and we are both grown ups to deal with that. It would still be so cool though if it could happen! So what do you suggest we do, where to start?

  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2012 #2


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    I think one big question would be.... how would they even know you're together? If you're not married, you wouldn't even potentially have a common last name to hint at such a situation.

    Would you put on your application "Please accept my girlfriend, __________, as well"? If that sounds ridiculous...
  4. May 16, 2012 #3
    It *can* happen. My boyfriend (now husband) and I graduated in 2007. I got into a graduate program, called up the head of the department, and told them I'd love to accept their offer if they could find a place for my significant other (who was in different field, but related enough to be in a subsection of the same department). It was even after the application deadline for him, but they found a place. Just depends how bad they want you. I would say that you should apply for lots of different positions, and you may be able to get something together without even asking. It may work differently outside the US, and it's definitely easier if you are married, but the two body problem is very common, so it doesn't hurt to ask.

    That said, we're both graduating with our PhDs around now, and I have a job (abroad) and he doesn't yet... but we have a few leads, and he's following me there, so hopefully we can get something to work out.
  5. May 16, 2012 #4
    Contrary to what Pengwuino remarked, a lot of grad programs in the U.S. are fairly good about helping place a significant other in the same grad school, even if it's in different departments. The catch is that they must really want one of you (not saying you have to be their top choice, just a competitive candidate). Though the story is always different for international students, in which case this post may be counterproductive.

    One last remark to avoid confusion, in the U.S. postgraduate means "post Ph.D." not post-undergraduate.
  6. May 17, 2012 #5
    At the graduate school level, I haven't heard of any department giving special consideration to significant others. It happens increasingly often after the Ph.D. level.

    However, I do know of many examples where two people ended up in the same university by both being admitted without special consideration.

    This is an interesting probability puzzle. If A applies to N universities with probability X of getting in, and B applies to N universities with probability Y of getting in, what is the probability that they will get into a "matched set". If X=Y=0.4, N=8, I get 75%.

    One thing that you might look into is applying to schools where there are "clusters" of universities. In that situation, the odds start getting better that both of you will get in somewhere. Exercise. Instead of N matched pairs. Assume M groups of N universities.

    Something else to consider is "taking turns" going to graduate school. One person goes first. The other gets a job, and after N years, people switch places.
  7. May 17, 2012 #6
    Hey thank you all for your answers!

    Great! It's good to know that it can happen. I only wish that there are good groups to both our specializations in the place we end up to.

    Damn! I should have thought of that! That should be a classic Binomial(N, X*Y) pmf summing from 1 to N. Indeed if you think about it intuitively , if we apply to many unis, its pretty unlikely that we won't find at least one to accept us both in its departments. But I needed to know that beyond my intuition, it does happen in real life!

    haha I love those puzzles! Let's see, the probability of one being accepted in a group is p(X) = Sum{i=1->N}pmf(Binomial(N,X),K=i). So the prob that both are accepted in a group is p(X)*p(Y) and from here on, its the same as above: the prob of being accepted together is Sum{i=1->M}pmf(Binomial(M,p(X)*p(Y)),k=i), sorry no Latex in this subforum! (at least I can't find it)

    Hmm... this might apply indeed! Maybe we should discuss this...
  8. May 17, 2012 #7
    Now that gives me hope!

    Oh didn't know that, thanks!
  9. May 17, 2012 #8
    I'm glad grad school accepted you both, that's great and it shows that it can happen! Now that indeed gives me more motivation to pursue it. I hope your husband finds a job too!
  10. May 17, 2012 #9

    Well I can't say you are totally wrong on that, for example how can the department know that indeed we are a couple, or just two friends that try to promote each other... hmm maybe we should look into it.
  11. May 17, 2012 #10
    I would definitely recommend going for it, but focus more on ending up in a common city rather than same school / same department although that may happen anyway. It all depends on how badly a school would want you and what level you're looking at. For example, I doubt they would pull strings to admit you and her if you were both only doing a masters degree, but who knows about what some schools may do if they are really interested in you for PhD level stuff.

    Often, in a major U.S. city, there are several quality universities that you can choose from, often they offer classes and research opportunities from neighboring institutions.

    For example, Philadelphia has: Temple, University of Pennsylvania, and Drexel that each have pretty good graduate programs.

    Another option is even to look for programs in neighboring cities such as Baltimore and Washington D.C. ... they are within 30-45 minute driving distance (depending on traffic), so best case you do all the applications and get into the same school or even same city, but worst case, one of you ends up going to school in the other city and you live either in one city (with one of you commuting a little to get to school) or living between the two cities and both commuting a bit. Granted that assumes you can get a car when you get over to the U.S. but, it's a strategy that may work well for you. There are loads of schools between those two cities I used as an example (Baltimore & Washington): Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland Baltimore County, George Washington, Towson, Georgetown, Howard, American University, and I'm sure I've even missed a few.

    I am sure that there are quite a few combos of cities that could work well if you need to cast a wider net when looking for grad school possibilities for a couple. Like I said earlier, I would focus mostly on larger cities (or city clusters like Baltimore + Washington, Minneapolis + St. Paul, New York + Jersey City, Denver + Boulder, and probably more that I can't think of right now).

    Also, like other posters have said, you may consider taking turns with grad school ... assuming the relationship is serious enough that you are ok with supporting the other person while they're taking their turn in grad school.
    Last edited: May 17, 2012
  12. May 17, 2012 #11
    Also if the relationship is serious, long distance relationships also work. I've known of academic couples who have spent extended periods of time on different sides of the planet. Going back to the probability problem, the odds of ending up in the same place increase even more if you are able to "mismatch time" (i.e. person A gets accepted at time X and person B gets accepted at time Y).

    The other thing is that in astrophysics, there are some notable husband-wife research teams (off the top of my head, the deVaculeours, the Wills, the Cochrans, the Bachalls, the Mihalises).
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