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Schools How Competitive are Master's Programs

  1. Dec 13, 2017 #1
    Hi, I am planning to apply to Master's programs in hopes of improving my credentials and then applying to a mid-top tier PhD program afterwards. My question is partially in the title, how competitive are terminal Master's programs in Physics in comparison to PhD programs? I have heard that it is only slightly competitive.

    A side question then is, given 4 years of research experience in 3 different fields in physics, a 3.7 GPA, a 700 physics GRE, 155 quantitative, 152 verbal, 4.0 writing, what rank master programs am I competitive for?

    Edit: I don't have any publications.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 13, 2017
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  3. Dec 13, 2017 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    This is unlikely to be as big a help as you think. If this were a successful strategy, you'd see many students in top-ranked schools who have done this. You don't. (This is where the middle schoolers, high schoolers and undergraduates give me grief for this statement).

    Also, what do you think a year of master's-level courses at a lower-ranked school will tell the admissions committee that they don't already know?

    There are about 70 terminal masters programs, (although more than half graduated no students last year) graduating a total of about 300 students per year. So in some sense they are very competitive, because the numbers are so small.
     
  4. Dec 13, 2017 #3
    How about if I publish a paper or two during my master's program? If that won't help that much, do you recommend I wait another year to increase my PGRE score?

    Edit: The idea was to publish a paper or two in hopes of strengthening my application. I have not published any papers in my previous research.
     
  5. Dec 13, 2017 #4

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    1. If this were a successful strategy, you'd see many students in top-ranked schools who have done this.
    2. If you are busy taking classes for your MS, when do you have time to write papers?
    3. MS-only and terminal MS programs tend to be at less research-oriented institutions. How do you plan to jump in and start cranking out papers at such a place?
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2017
  6. Dec 13, 2017 #5

    Choppy

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    Why don't you just apply to a PhD program? Unless I'm missing something there's nothing about your profile that would suggest that you'll be completely stonewalled. Sure, you might not get into the most competitive programs, but that doesn't mean you're out of the running everywhere.

    Spending two years in a program you don't want to be in just to get into a school based on someone else's ranking criteria is probably not an effective use of your time, even if it did work.
     
  7. Dec 14, 2017 #6

    StatGuy2000

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    So this begs the question -- what do you suggest the OP do instead, given that you consider a MS degree to be useless?

    BTW, in this discussion, we are assuming of Masters programs in the US -- outside of the US, it is typically the case that a MS degree is a required step before applying for a PhD program (this is certainly the case in Canada).
     
  8. Dec 14, 2017 #7

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    Yes we are, but that fits within the context of what has been said.

    I know you like asking that. :wink: I think there is value in saying "this path is unlikely to do what you want" even if I can't tell the OP what I think he should do instead. Part of the issue is that after finishing college is not a very good time to try and change one's trajectory in college.
     
  9. Dec 15, 2017 #8
    I don't know I am just doing this based on advice of a professor after I noted that I wanted to go to a mid-top tier school. Another professor noted that it was the best choice. I feel that it may be wise to heed their advice.

    Am I competitive for a top 40 program? Top 60? I get the feeling that with my credentials I will only get into a top 100 program and it will be a waste (I am very stuck on getting into a mid-tier program for a PhD). Am I wrong in my assessment?
     
  10. Dec 15, 2017 #9

    Choppy

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    What do you expect a "top 40" program would give you in terms of a PhD education that a "top 100" would not?

    My concern is that it's most probable that if you get into a master's program, you'll end up performing similar to the way you've performed through your undergrad and you won't really be much further ahead after two years of work and your options for a PhD won't be much different than they are now. That's a very realistic "waste" scenario. You also have to consider how likely it may be that you'll have to repeat any graduate coursework. Not all PhD programs will automatically give you credit for graduate classes taken elsewhere.

    The advantages of pursuing an MSc are that you'll have a couple of years of advanced coursework that will give you a better foundation. And if it's a research-based master's degree, you could get a publication or two out of it. A master's degree will also allow you to explore the field you're interested in more deeply, without plunging into a five year commitment.
     
  11. Dec 15, 2017 #10
    Hmm, perhaps you are right about #1, If I recall correctly from some CVs I saw, some were able to get to slightly higher tier but not much. Then I should take a year off and wait to improve my PGRE and/or potentially do free research to improve my application?

    Regarding #2, I imagined that there would be time to write papers, but it seems there isn't much time as implied by the phrasing of your question.

    Regarding #3, Again, as implied by the way you phrase the question, it seems that it is an unlikely result to jump in and start cranking out papers. Perhaps I was a bit too optimistic in my thinking? I do know one school that isn't exactly high tier but is very active in a specific field which is interesting and it's an option I am considering.


    I read a lot of papers and found that the more interesting research I want to do tends to be at top 40-60 programs. In addition, I expect better resources and opportunities. The job market is tough so I want to go to the best school possible according to my potential. If that's a top 60 program then that's fine, but I don't think I deserve to be in a lower tier, I had a tough life, my scores aren't representative of my abilities and I find that frustrating because I can't reverse time.

    I think your concern is a very reasonable one and one that I have to take into account regardless of any optimism or subjective feeling. Perhaps I should take another year off and come back once I retake the PGRE to show that I have mastered the material and have the ability to move forward in a top 60 or above PhD program? Do you think that will help?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2017
  12. Dec 15, 2017 #11

    Choppy

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    I might recommend applying to the places you really want to go to now. Spend some time to determine what the best places are for you. Talk to potential supervisors and current graduate students. Go on campus tours if that's feasible. Try to get an idea who which professors are really looking for new students in your areas of interest. You never know. You could end up getting into a great program right off the bat.

    If it doesn't work out, that's when your contingency plan should kick in. That could include getting a master's degree or taking a year off to polish up your PGRE score, or getting involved in a research project, etc.
     
  13. Dec 17, 2017 #12
    Thank you for your advice, I will do that. A part of me is a bit hesitant in doing that fearing that if I apply to some schools this year, then apply again next year, I would be annoying my professors by asking for letters of recommendations 3 years in a row. But logically speaking, I shouldn't let that deter me as this is very important.
     
  14. Dec 17, 2017 #13
    Given 4 years of research experience in 3 different fields in physics (but no publications), a 3.7 GPA, a 700 physics GRE, 155 quantitative, 152 verbal, 4.0 writing, what tier PhD OR Masters programs am I competitive for? Please assume average letters of recommendation.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2017
  15. Dec 17, 2017 #14

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    There is no way to tell. Letters of recommendation are critical, and we don't know what they say.
     
  16. Dec 17, 2017 #15
    It's tough to make a list of potential schools to apply for without the feedback though. Maybe one can give advice assuming average letters of recommendation, whatever that may mean.
     
  17. Dec 17, 2017 #16

    Choppy

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    I would assume this is old news, but this website/thread has BSc graduates post their profiles, schools they apply to and they tend to follow up with acceptance rates. That might give you an idea of where you stand in relation to your peers.
    http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?t=6459
     
  18. Dec 18, 2017 #17
    Thank you Choppy, I took another look at it. I have a rough idea of what to shoot for, I am going to make top 40 programs my reach schools and put in some safety schools, if I am not happy with the results I may opt to wait for the next year. Thank you for your support and guidance.
     
  19. Dec 20, 2017 #18
    Nobody has an exact answer to this question, but I'm one semester into a graduate program with a profile that is at least in the same country as yours, if not the same ballpark. If it helps. I had no research experience, a 3.9 GPA, 640 PGRE, 160 quant (I believe), 4.5 writing, and I got into 4 of the 15 programs I applied to. I applied to 2-4 schools that often made top 40 appearances and was rejected, and the 4 acceptances get ranked between 70-110, with wide distributions depending on the sources.

    I am happy here and the program is perfect for me and has research I am interested in. You should be able to find someplace you're happy with given what you've told us, IMO.
     
  20. Dec 20, 2017 #19
    Thank you Randall!
     
  21. Dec 21, 2017 #20
    Those writing your letters of recommendation know what's in them, so if they also know the rest of your record, then they are best to advise you what your odds are of getting into various undergrad institutions.They also know how well your BS program is regarded when applying to various grad schools. A 3.7 at GA Tech, Texas A&M, or Ohio State is different from LSU or LA Tech, and those are different from third tier programs.
     
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