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Grad School Woes

  1. Feb 11, 2009 #1
    I have a GPA of 2.8 as of right now (i have 3 semesters of grades left and I am busting my butt). I have not taken the GRE but I am taking a Phys GRE prep class (which is offered because people at my school are notorious for low GRE scores) so hopefully I will do well. Do I have even a chance at grad school? I'm not talking about upper ranked... I'll take nearly anything that has chemical physics or condensed matter.

    On the good side, I do have research experience through one professor that I started last semester and I plan on doing more over the summer and through the next year (possibly other professors). And I believe I can get good recommendations.

    Another side note. I have worked 20-30 hrs/week to pay for my schooling, which I never use as an excuse but some people have advised me to mention that when speaking of my GPA... should I really make a note of that?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 11, 2009 #2
    If I were in your shoes, I would seriously consider working after school and obtaining a second degree in something related to physics, maybe EE just to get a degree with a GPA that is competative. As it stands, I highly doubt anywhere would take you in with a 2.8. It's just too low. A 3.2 in grad school is still too low.

    You are honestly not in a good position. Finding a job with a BS Physics is going to be next to impossible. So, I hope you enjoy doing engineering work for a living.
  4. Feb 11, 2009 #3
    What in the world possesses people to say things like this? If you have a BS in physics, it would not be very hard to find a job at all. It might not be doing superstring theory or anything but a job is a job.

    But he does make a good point...if you can't bring up your 2.8 GPA in the next 3 semesters then you might want to work a job and get a second undergrad degree taking one class at a time to bring up your GPA or something like that. Other than that..all I can say is that don't be afraid to apply to grad school with a 3.0...it's completely possible.
  5. Feb 11, 2009 #4
    The fact that people with BS's in physics here can't find jobs.
  6. Feb 11, 2009 #5
    You should definitely be able to get in somewhere with a 3.0 GPA, especially if you have a higher GPA in physics and math classes. Doing well on the physics GRE can make a big difference. I would suggest applying to a masters program, since the requirements are usually less stringent.

    As far as studying for the physics GRE, it is mostly basic calculus-based physics like you would find in Halliday and Resnick. It was a lot easier than I thought.
  7. Feb 11, 2009 #6
    http://umdphysics.umd.edu/index.php/academics/prospectivegraduates.html [Broken]

    You could possibly shoot for ohio state.


    But when they say the minimum is 3.0, what they should really say is most people who apply have 3.6.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Feb 11, 2009 #7
    I doubt you could get into a flagship state school, but there are numerous lower tier institutions that would take you with a 3.0 and a decent PGRE.
  9. Feb 12, 2009 #8


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    It might be worth mentioning, but in my opinion this just shows that you're not serious about the amount of time you spend on your studies. I would strongly advise you to stop trying to undertake about 2/3 of a full time job and try to go to college full time too. Take out a loan for your final year, and you can work even harder and, in theory, get your grades pulled up higher.
  10. Feb 12, 2009 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    It may be helpful to read https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=284463", particularly post #7.

    There is a perception here on Physics Forums that a GPA of 3.0 marks the line between getting in and not getting in. I disagree with this. It usually marks the line between being rejected immediately and being rejected after the committee has looked at your application.

    Moving from a 2.8 to a 3.0 in 3 terms means a 3.3 average in the last 3 terms. That's not very ambitious in terms of improvement. Your target needs to be a 4.0 for the last three terms. That gets you to a 3.25, which is still not very high, but will look a lot better than a 3.0, particularly since it will include many upper division physics classes.

    Additionally, that's your best chance to get your physics GRE score up.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  11. Feb 12, 2009 #10


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    I completely understand having to work to pay for school. Personally, I'm in the school of thought that students should work during their studies. Not only can they avoid or at least reduce debt, but it gives them solid experience that they can draw on when seeking their first full time positions. Further, the application process for the graduate programs that I'm aware of require a CV, and therefor work experience counts. Naturally a part-time job working in a lab, tutoring, work as a TA etc. counts for more than weekly shifts at McDonald's.

    Something else to consider, is that if you're finding undergraduate work a challenge, it doesn't get any easier in graduate school. The reason the admission levels are so high is because the admissions committees don't want to allow anyone in who doesn't have a reasonable chance of success.
  12. Feb 12, 2009 #11


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    There's a difference between doing a bit of lab work, or tutoring on the side (and, indeed, doing a couple of shifts at mcdonalds) and working 30 hours a week (regardless of the job) during term time. If I saw a student that was acing a course and working for 30 hours a week then I'd be impressed, but if I saw one who was only achieving low grades and told me that this was due to working for 30 hours a week, I would not be impressed, since it shows no sense of priorities. Weekend and holiday jobs are a good thing, but when a student's work starts to become affected, it ceases to be beneficial and becomes a hindrance.
  13. Feb 12, 2009 #12
    Why is there the 3.0 or higher cutoff for admission to grad school? I understand upper tier schools wanting to set their standards high and not wanting to waste time on slower students.

    But why don't 3rd or 4th tier schools accept them?
  14. Feb 12, 2009 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me say this again. There is not a 3.0 dividing line between getting in and not getting in. Below a 3.0, many places - even the less competitive ones - won't even look at the application. I mentioned in the thread that I referenced that at even one of the least highly ranked schools, accepting a student with a GPA less than 3.0 requires the approval of the provost.

    The reason grad schools require a high GPA is because they can. Even the less competitive schools reject more than they admit.
  15. Feb 12, 2009 #14
    Agreed, but why? Wouldn't they be ahead financially by accepting more students?
  16. Feb 12, 2009 #15
    Thanks for all of the honest opinions. I truly appreciate them. I don't know if the professors and grad students are just trying to be nice or something but they think that, while difficult, i can get in somewhere... To be honest, i'd rather hear, you screwed up go fix it then... oh your not that bad off. And I understand that I have made some serious mistakes which has led me to this point.

    As it stands, I'll probably apply to a few schools when my GPA gets up but I'm not counting on anything.

    On a side note, what useful information is there out there on high school teaching? I know I can easily teach a high school class and I have actually tutored many people in the bare basics of the subject and I always get the "you make it more understandable" comments. Would it maybe be better if I just go for high school teaching and then maybe work on a masters later?
  17. Feb 12, 2009 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    No, the department pays for graduate students.
  18. Feb 12, 2009 #17
    Grad students (especially in science and engineering) aren't really the revenue units of the university systems, even of smaller universities. Often the less competitive schools are smaller overall, so there are fewer faculty to support large numbers of graduate students, their faculty receive fewer grants (or the grant money they receive is in collaboration with other institutions and must be split accordingly), and the number of TA positions (which can be used for graduate students support) are fewer becuase the institutions are perhaps smaller. Most grad students in science or engineering are only offered positions if there will be financial support for them. Aside: the revenue units of the university system are the undergraduates who are not on scholarship.

    In fact, large numbers of graduate students are often found in the more highly ranked schools, which often have the research funds and large numbers of faculty to support large numbers of graduate students. You can play with the numbers a bit at this link:
    http://graduate-school.phds.org/find/programs/physics" [Broken]
    You'll find that of the 36 schools in the top 20% in size, 26 of those schools are also in the top 20% reputation-wise. None are in the lower 40% reputation-wise.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Feb 12, 2009 #18

    Andy Resnick

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    This may be tangential, but the medical school here recently revised the graduate (PhD, not MD) program, and issued the following criterai for admission, in order of importance:

    Research experience, as measured by honor’s thesis, publications, abstracts, and presentations
    Letters of recommendation
    Grades and rigor of coursework
    Diversity of the candidate pool
    General GRE scores

    Note two things- grades are far down the list, and the GRE is ranked even lower. My point is that obsessing over grades, rather than getting some good experience, is likely to hurt you more than just having "poor" grades.
  20. Feb 12, 2009 #19


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    The Physics GRE must have changed since you have taken because the level for 60% of the problems is at the AP Physics B level and the quantum questions are a joke (Calculate simple expectation values and qualitative boundary problems). There are 2 Lagrangian/Hamiltonian questions and 4 questions that align well with EE courses. If the goal is to get a better PGRE advanced physics courses are not the way to go. Taking an intro circuits class is more effective or some course surveying electronics or solid-state theory.
    Comparing the old Physics GRE with recent ones the committee deciding questions included on the exam are trying to decrease the amount of computation which means quantum questions come up less often and are dependent more on qualitative boundary value problems and asking more other topics questions that are more like history questions(particle physics which is heavier).
  21. Feb 12, 2009 #20


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    You need to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher in grad school to remain enrolled in the program - fall below that and you're on academic probation for a semester, stay below 3.0 and you get kicked out. Grad school classes are more demanding than undergrad, so it's assumed that if you can't maintain a 3.0 in undergrad you're not going to pass grad level classes.
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