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Graduated with a BS in Physics with terrible GPA. What next? help?

  1. Oct 5, 2014 #1
    So like the title indicates, I graduated with a terrible GPA (2.6) and no papers published and no research experience in December. It took me 5 1/2 years instead of 4. I could go into how this happened but I doubt it is relevant to either you all or potential employers. Since I graduated I've been working various part-time jobs and some tutoring, none-of which have the potential to ever let me move out of my parents house, while naively keeping the dream of graduate school alive while I prepare to re-take the GRE this month. I'm coming to the conclusion now that I really just don't have a chance to get into grad school even if I do well on the GRE and can convince some professors to write me a letter. I don't really know what to do. I'd always hoped to continue my education because I love studying this subject but I have to face reality and I don't know what I can do that won't leave me unfulfilled and overworked.

    I know a few programming languages (By "know", I mean I've done basic numerical stuff with them and put them on my resume) and that's about it. Am I employable anywhere that will give me a real life? Because I feel like I'm not. What do you recommend? Is getting a masters degree while working on the side worth the loans? Should I go back to school and get some other degree? Will previous credits transfer?

    I guess I'm just looking for help in general. I might feel better if I can get some technical-minded job with a salary.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 5, 2014 #2


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    A lot can really depend on the specifics of why you struggled with undergraduate studies to the point that you did. The main issue with continuing on to graduate school, even if you managed to get in (which is very rare when your GPA is below a 3.0) is that you're going to be faced with the same challenges as you were when you were at the undergraduate level. On top of that the material will be more advanced, your classmates will all have been on the upper end of the GPA curve as undergraduates, you'll likely have to balance your work with a teaching load, and the threshold for what constitutes a failure is a lot higher. On the other hand, once you get through the coursework if you are the kind of student who excels on the practical side of things, maybe you'll do better once you have a research project to work on.

    There are a lot of threads around here that pose very similar questions to yours, i.e. what to do with an undergraduate degree in physics if you aren't going forward with graduate school. There isn't a lot of point in rehashing the lists here. Do a search for these. I believe the AIP also keeps statistics on who hires physics graduates, or at least in what industry you could be looking.

    One suggestion is simply more school, but something that trains you for a specific profession. That may not be the kind of thing you want to hear if you're already 4+ years into student debt and have to convince your parents to put up with you for another year. But in my experience, people who have backgrounds in physics tend to do very well once they get in the door - particularly in technical fields. You could look into programs in MRI technology, nuclear medicine technology, or radiation therapy, for example, that will give you a certification in a high-paying field in a couple more years and allow you to put some of your physics background to work.
  4. Oct 5, 2014 #3
    Well I did fine in physics and math, but my gpa was killed by a lot of trouble with humanities and social sciences. I withdrew and failed quite a few of them and I really only have myself to blame. It was all too easy to blow off a class one week and come in the next week very behind and unmotivated to catch up while trying to do well in what I actually went to school for.
  5. Oct 6, 2014 #4
    My general GPA was also not stellar and I took longer than you to graduate (did 2 BS degrees, EE+physics) and I still got picked up by a military contractor to do EE research shortly after graduating in April. My strength was that I had over 3 years worth of research internships (across a span of projects: IT, space systems, nuclear fusion systems), I was part of the McNair Fellowship during my undergrad, and I could demonstrate that I knew enough that I would be an asset to the company. Things like this can mitigate a bad GPA, but the situation you're in is a lot harder due to not having any research experience and thus people to even vouch for you. I would look into the APS bridge program for graduate schools (http://www.apsbridgeprogram.org/), it's designed to help people get into grad programs, gives them GRE and letter writing coaching, and basically allows you to do a sort of terminal masters (they're low-medium 'tier' schools but still) in prep for a PhD. I know two friends personally who's GPA's were both below yours but got into grad programs this way (one of them got into a full fledged PhD program, the other is doing the masters with the option to continue to his school's associated PhD program). If your bad grades are from humanities and not science than that's not so bad I feel, but you'll want 3 rec letters and in-class profs only look so good. Is there any way you could get hired by any labs in your old alma matter and get some more experience under your belt? Regardless I would look into the bridge program if I were you, good luck.
  6. Oct 6, 2014 #5
    Does the bridge program only accept minorities? Because if so, I don't really apply.
  7. Oct 6, 2014 #6
    I've seen non-minorities get into the McNair program and that's supposed to be for minorities only generally. One of the friends I mentioned is part Hispanic but you wouldn't know it if you heard his name. It's worth a shot if nothing else. You could also look into the lower ranked schools on the bridge programs member listings (http://www.apsbridgeprogram.org/institutions/member/) and just apply to the ones you think you might have a shot at directly (a bridge fellow's application is passed around to them if they don't get into the 4 main sites anyway). Also apart from the bridge program, there are schools that give you provisional acceptance (though I imagine no funding). Another thing that's been suggested before is to take grad courses as a non-degree seeking student part time and attempt to build a grad course gpa that show's you can do the work. In your position you're going to be having to do some shopping around regardless.
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