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How Bad are Things Looking for Me, or am I OK?

  1. Dec 3, 2015 #1
    Hi Everyone,

    I originally had a really long post but I'm trying to keep this brief(er). If you have any questions feel free to ask.

    I'm basically in a pickle.
    I switched to physics my senior year of college from a non-STEM major. No experience in STEM courses in high school whatsoever (only took/knew algebra, no chemistry, didn't know what physics was) and I got my associate's in Humanities and Social Sciences (had to take College Algebra for it and even retook it). Basically, very poor skills before switching. I switched, and I suffered majorly. I received C's my first year, and this semester's looking pretty mixed (failing to an B+/A- it seems). I'm already planning to retake courses for a better grade, but I'm pretty worried/stressed now about how much I probably already ruined my future and chances of getting into grad school. From elementary to junior year of college I was very involved in and only ever knew the arts (chorus, dancing, acting, etc.), and it took me until just now to realize what it takes to do well in physics. It was very hard (and still is hard) catching up- the transition was horrific (and even affected my health my first year) but I plan on working very hard starting next semester to improve. My GPA was never fantastic before, and now it's pretty low (about 2.4). I have two years left and I am wondering if grad schools will think this is OK just as long as I show improvement and do better. I know it will help that I've already been involved in research, joined a club, got accepted into a STEM program and will be interning/getting hands-on experience next month in a lab, but the grades definitely aren't what they should be and don't reflect how hard I've been working. (I am reading on this site by the way that retaking classes doesn't look good, but I have no other choice. It doesn't make much sense, because, how else do people make it?)

    So if anyone can offer me their comments/opinions/suggestions/advice/experiences, it would be most appreciated. I'm not worried anymore about things how to study, but I'd like to know pretty much how bad this looks, if it is bad, where I should be going from here, what grad schools will think, maybe some tips on preparing (if I should be doing that now), etcetera. Anything will help! You guys will be better than my actual advisor. Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2015 #2


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    If you didn't have a STEM background and didn't take any STEM courses to speak of for most of your HS and undergrad career, why on earth did you decide all of a sudden that you had to switch to a physics major, and at the eleventh hour?
  4. Dec 3, 2015 #3
    I didn't have to- there is no reason I would have had to, especially not having taken any STEM courses in the past. I switched simply because I wanted to and I'm really happy with it. It wasn't until after transferring that I took actual major classes for (I chose International Studies) and I wasn't liking my classes. I didn't like anything else and was convinced I'd get nowhere in anthropology so this was the next most interesting thing. Again I love it and don't regret switching, but I'm suffering the consequences. :-X I can't be the only one so I'm figuring out how people have done this sort of thing...
  5. Dec 3, 2015 #4


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    I suggest you not worry about grad school and focus on being able to graduate period. When (not if, we will remain positive) you graduate, you will have options, most of them involving teaching STEM for K-12 type programs. You will be in demand and can do well. You may also get technician type work or lab work in some R&D program that is run by a higher level Masters or Doctors degreed individual who needs good tech support.

    After working in the field a few years you can certainly take higher level coursework, but it will likely need to be funded out of your pocket or your employers as your own background will probably NOT get you into a Graduate program with a stipend or funding. Of course if you do exceptionally well in the next couple of years, you may get some break, but the above roadmap is most likely.
  6. Dec 3, 2015 #5


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    Generally speaking a GPA below a 3.0 is an issue. This is a very common cutoff for graduate school admissions, and if your transcripts don't result in a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or greater, the application will be rejected before it even reaches the admissions committee for evaluation.

    If you can bring that average up though and do well in your advanced physics courses, you'll have a shot. There are lots of examples of students who took some time to figure out what they really wanted, found it, and then were successful in pursuing it. I guess the real question though is whether or not you have a plan for bringing that average up. What are you doing differently now that you weren't doing before that will allow you to be successful in the more advanced courses? Because things certainly won't get easier the further you go.
  7. Dec 3, 2015 #6
    I work as a tutor and mentor other students at my college who have been placed on academic probation. It doesn't sound like that's quite where you're headed, nonetheless, what you're saying here is similar to what I've heard from some of the students I've worked with, so I'll offer you some of the advice I've given them.

    I'd start by saying that if you were considered unprepared or unfit for the coursework then you would not have been accepted. There is plenty of time to improve, but make no mistake, you are not in a good situation right now and this is a problem that must be dealt with urgently. A GPA significantly below 3.0 is considered a major risk factor for failing to graduate.

    I'd also say, from experience, students don't end up on academic probation because they're unintelligent or have fundamental character flaws, my observation is usually that they have normal amounts of intelligence and motivation, if not more than normal, but are being laid low by bad habits or unaddressed mental health issues.

    First, you need to talk to your adviser immediately to come up with a plan to graduate within your desired timeframe with a GPA that's closer to what you want. If you have two years left then you certainly have the time you need, but you need to start being very mindful of how you're going to proceed. Re-taking classes doesn't look good compared to acing them the first time around, but it looks a lot better than failing. Remedial classes might take you a long way as well. You may also want to abandon your plans of graduating "on time" so that you can take more courses and have more opportunities to bring your grades up. And while GPA is just a number, you do need the on-paper GPA to be past a certain threshold to be considered for admission in the first place. If you can get the GPA to above 3.0, then you'll at least pass the major cut-off threshold and can lean more heavily on research background and letters of recommendation in your applications. I can't promise that you'll get into a top-tier graduate program, but in the end no one really cares where you went to school anyway.

    Second, you need to start talking to your professors and counselors and taking advantage of academic resources offered by your school. They don't want you to fail and should have resources that they can offer you that will help direct you towards improving your situation. There may be an underlying learning disability, mood or behavioral disorder, or attitude problem in need of correction. With a 2.4 GPA, a mid-C average, that's indicative that you're at least passing courses, and there are at least some classes you're getting A's and B's in, so it's not as if you're incapable of doing the work and learning the material. But you do need to get on this and start identifying what you need to do to get out of the place you're in. Every student's situation is different, but I find that not taking full advantage of academic resources (office hours, counseling, tutoring, course materials, even skipping class) is the one single behavior that unifies students who struggle.

    You say you are planning to start "working very hard". What does that mean? "Study more" is easier said than done, especially if you're being laid low by poor study habits and academic behaviors. Instead of talking about how much better you're going to do next time, I want you to go ask your professors about what they think you're doing wrong and what they've said to other students in your place, and more importantly I want you to come back here after you've spoken to them and list 10 of the comments that they have made about your behavior. As an exercise, being forced to reflect non-judgmentally on yourself might help you to fully grasp what's causing your problems, and that's one of the first things we tell students to do when they're struggling to meet their personal goals.

    I also think you should read this article about what causes college students to struggle:
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2015
  8. Dec 3, 2015 #7
    eli23, please follow jack476's advice carefully. It's one of the best advices I've ever read. I wish he would expand on it and publish it as an insight.
  9. Dec 3, 2015 #8
    Hi everyone,

    Thanks a ton for your replies! I am very appreciative of your advice and thoughts.

    CalcNerd, yes, I believe you are right- I should be focused on the "now" rather than the "later." The problem is though, I have been for a while, until the head of my program brought to my attention that I'm not thinking long-term and should be. Right now I am pretty focused on the future though, since I'm worried about what it will look like, but I understand that I should be somewhere in between. As for jobs, I really like the idea of teaching as a professor. I know this will be extremely tough, though. I don't see myself doing anything outside of it other than research. But again, I am still learning where I can even go with the degree. Thank you.

    Choppy, yes. Thank you for mentioning the 3.0- that is the minimum GPA I would need at my current school and probably others. I am hoping that retaking the courses I'm looking at and doing better in future classes will solve this problem. I'm not sure how difficult it will be, but I guess I can't do anything other than try my best. I've been told quite a few times that classes will get more difficult, and I think I do have a plan now. I will be speaking with professors/advisors and work on maybe a more specific plan. I will also see them frequently for extra help if I need it. Thanks.

    jack476, Thank you very much for the long and detailed reply. I am very thankful that you decided to give me the same advice you give the students you've worked with.
    I got accepted with the minimum passing grade (C), and although it's the minimum, it was such a big deal and I consider it a great accomplishment since the core classes were pretty intense (over 3 credits), so different from what I've ever experienced before and ones that weren't exactly for beginners in STEM. I fear I will be on academic probation after this semester, so I understand this is pretty urgent. As for graduating "on time," (and I should have mentioned this before), this does not matter at all to me. I switched to physics my senior year of college, so I am in my 5th year and if everything works out alright, I should be done after the Fall 2017 semester. My main concern is getting at least a 3.0 so I think this should give me enough time. As for office hours, I go to them usually if I'm caught up and have a specific question. But I do feel awkward coming in if I don't have anything specific to ask, but know I am having a hard time with something. Basically, setting up problems in general are tough, even though I understand the concepts pretty well. I feel they will just tell me to practice, and I'll leave knowing what I should already know. I will try to be more organized though and set up questions. I have a bad habit actually of writing down all these questions (I'm very good at dissecting things and asking questions, even if they're a bit away from the point), but not coming in to get them answered. I tell myself I will understand perhaps when I move forward, not realizing that it probably would have saved a lot of time. I notice I just spend too much time on readings/concepts that I'm not getting as much practice on actual problems as I should, so I think my bad habit is not knowing where I need to spend the most time. Thank you very much for the link, I will definitely check out the article. Not sure if I'll be able to follow up on the 10 comments, but so far I have seen a professor and told him this bad study habit, and he did tell me to focus on mistakes I've made in past exams/homework, because I can get a lot out of where I went wrong. He also agreed that reading everything maybe isn't as smart as looking at the problems, focusing on what I need to know, then just going to the section in the textbook and learning what I need for that specific problem. Either way I now have new things to try and will see how it goes. Thanks so much once again.
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