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Graduate School advice

  1. Jan 26, 2010 #1
    I'm currently an undergraduate and was wondering what options are out there for graduate school. I have a 3.7 GPA (in math/science/computer science courses) and have done numerous research projects with my advisor in theoretical astrophysics (two minor publications). I have also attended two REU programs with projects encompassing theoretical physics (one really minor publication). My major is physics with a minor in mathematics (vector-calculus, differential geometry, and topology have been my expertise), oh and I am an artist and have done some minor publications in that field, too. What schools would you guys recommend I look into? I know I'm not extremely qualified to apply to schools like MIT, Princton, or CalTech. But, I was thinking I have a shot at a few of the top 20 grad schools out there (i.e. University of Chicago, UC Berkley, University of Washington, etc.). My main interest is theoretical physics, particularly gravity and General Relativity, and I've realized I do extremely well in research... but not the greatest in classwork. On that note I have a medical disability (a heart condition) and had to go through surgery right before college and in middle of college. Also, I had complications during final weeks my second semester in college. I'm not sure if grad school admissions would be sympathetic to my condition and not weigh my GPA too much, as it has affected my grades. Another school that got my interest was out of the US, it was Cambridge and there is an amazing scholarship program I could work at that'll help me over there. So, what schools are recommended with my history? Do I have a chance at getting into some good schools? Or would you recommend I look into my local state universities?

    PS: I'm hesitant about putting my status as a minority on applications. I know if some schools practice Affirmative Action they will focus on my application a bit more, but I don't want to be accepted purely based off of that. I know its often frowned upon, but will that really affect my acceptance in my situation? I have trouble finding others of my ethnicity (Native American/Alaskan Native) for advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 26, 2010 #2
    I definitely think you have a chance to get into some good schools. Because your GPA is a little lower than you would like, I think the most important thing is to highlight your research and to make sure you get great letters of recommendation.

    You should make sure you apply to 2-3 schools that you would like to go to but are maybe a reach for you to get accepted. 4-5 schools you are fairly confident to get into and a couple of schools which you feel you will have no problem getting accepted into.

    Regarding your disability: Anything you feel like you need to explain should be included in your cover letter/statement of interest.

    Regarding your ethnicity: I think you should highlight it. To be quite honest, you are a member of an underrepresented group in physics (see http://www.aps.org/programs/minorities/index.cfm for some more details) and if that gives you an edge in the process you should use it. If you are confident you want to be a professional physicist and get a PhD, you should do everything in your power to make sure you set yourself up for success. It is not easy once you get that PhD, you fight for every job. So, you should make sure that you do everything in your power gain every advantage you can. When it comes down to it, you will still have to show you have the skills and determination to succeed in grad school, but if saying you are a native american/native alaskan on your application gets your foot in the door, you should do it!
  4. Jan 26, 2010 #3
    Start by picking up some journals and then look at what research interests you, and then apply to those universities.

    From what you've said, it's not obvious to me that you aren't. I think that should definitely apply to one "shoot the moon" school, since you might get lucky. A GPA of 3.7 is decent so that's not going to keep you out if you have good recommendations, GRE, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    There are lots of good state universities.

    It may help, and it certainly won't hurt. I wouldn't feel too guilty about non-academic factors that help you with an application. One thing that you will find as you get more and more into the science game is that you'll find that there are all sorts of political factors that determine what gets funded and who gets jobs, so I wouldn't feel guilty in using diversity if it helps you.
  5. Jan 26, 2010 #4
    Sounds like a strong application to me, especially if you have good letters of recommendation not that I have any qualifications to judge.
  6. Jan 28, 2010 #5
    Yeah, I'll be working on a list of schools that are competitive and some I'm pretty sure I'll get into. Maybe shrink that list down over the next 6-7 months after researching the schools. My research is something I'll focus on as much as I can and I figure it is only "fair" I label my minority status (although I believe certain social classes like the middle class and poverty stricken majorities don't get the support they need I figure since I grew up on the verge of poverty, and am a first generation college student, that I should be given a second look at, due to my limited resources as a child). Thanks for your advice.
  7. Jan 28, 2010 #6
    I'll most likely choose a "shoot for the moon" school, most likely a top 5 university in my respective field. I'm always ashamed of my academic record when I read of other people's accomplishments at such young ages. Plus, knowing how competitive these schools are I feel a 3.7 with my research just won't cut it. But I'll definitely try.

    I'm not saying state universities are bad, just that there is a higher probability my in-state school will accept me for grad school.
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