1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How competitive are US terminal master's degree admissions?

  1. Mar 3, 2014 #1
    My original plan was to apply for grad school (PhD) for physics after my undergrad degree, but things didn't go as planned. Simply put, I performed poorly in my first few semesters, and while my grades improved towards the end of my undergraduate studies, they were not enough to compensate for my lackluster grades early on. I'm in my final year and my GPA is around a 3.2, and I expect a 3.3 at the end of this semester, when I graduate. Needless to say this isn't a very competitive GPA, so I did not take the GREs and did not apply to grad school.

    I'm now considering taking a gap year and getting a job, then in the coming fall, take the GRE and apply for a terminal master's degree in the US, in hopes of continuing my recent track of improved grades, and hopefully strengthening my Phd application afterwards.

    My question is, how competitive are admissions for US terminal master's degrees in physics, and do I stand a chance of being admitted into a master's program? (also, any advice on what I should do differently for better productivity and increased chances?)

    Much thanks to any sort of advice or input.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2014 #2
    Ok, so I hate to be one who bumps their own thread, but over 150 views and no one has any input? Does nobody here know anything about the admissions of terminal master's degrees in physics?
  4. Mar 11, 2014 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    There are many smaller schools that offers a M.Sc degree as the highest awarded Physics degree. You definitely should be able to get into those. But with a 3.3 GPA, you should also consider applying to larger schools (schools that also offer a PhD as the highest degree) even if you are only going for your M. Sc. Just make sure you apply to a wide variety of schools and use the former as a backup. You definitely want to stay away (at least for now) from the "brand-name" schools because your chances of getting into those is minimal.

  5. Mar 17, 2014 #4
    My experience is > 30 years old now. Like you my GPA was low mine was actually 2.4. Your GPA is not low at all. I thought of the possibility of going to a small school with a terminal masters and then transferring. I did get into the school with a terminal masters, however, this was unnecessary because I got into a school with a PhD program.

    My impression is that the schools that offer the terminal master's are only slightly less selective than the ones that offer the doctoral program. On the other hand, I do not think you should necessary limit yourself.

    I did note Graduate school shopper lists universities by their percent acceptance rate. You can look it over.

    Naturally, you have to be judicious. Less prestigious programs do not get the same student applicants as the more prestigious well known ones.

    Do you have to wait to September to take the GRE's. Perhaps you can take them sooner.
  6. Mar 18, 2014 #5
    Thank you Zz and Mpresic for your help.

    @Mpresic- You got into a PhD program with a 2.4 GPA? Was it for physics? Forgive me if I'm being too direct, but isn't the cutoff for a PhD program a 3.0? Or perhaps you did some serious research and/or have published?

    I might still apply to a few PhD programs, but I'll definitely be applying mostly to terminal Master's programs. I still feel my chances of getting into a PhD program right now is very very small. From what I often hear/read, a competitive GPA is 3.5 or above.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2014
  7. Mar 18, 2014 #6
    I do not mind frank questions at all. I hope my experiences are helpful and motivating

    I graduated from college > 30 years ago. I am a bit reluctant to relate my experience because it may be different from what many students face today. For example, no one in my high school class graduated with a 4.0 GPA (it was inconceivable). Average grade for my university was 2.7. Now I understand grade inflation has allowed > 4.0 GPA's and even in college, average GPA's are higher.

    In earlier times, sometimes schools asked you to provide forms to your referred professor for a letter of recommendation. Often, that form asked the referral something like this:

    "We note that sometimes a student can offer substantial probability of success in the graduate program, and yet have demonstrated a lower GPA. What evidence can you provide us to indicate this student would be an asset and be successful in our program?"

    For example I remember a student as an undergraduate that was deeply interested in physics, and motivated, but always late, and somewhat disorganized. Yet professors and students alike, liked him and forgave him his habits, because it was clear he did work hard and enjoy physics. This question was made for him.

    I do not know if he ever applied to grad school. I suspect his GPA was low yet I think he could get good letters of recommendations ( I believe his GPA was not indicative of his ability because I studied with him before a quantum test and I remember he knew 10 x as much as I did. He seemed to know everything. He asked me my grade on the first test and I found out I outscored him significantly even though he knew the subject matter more extensively).

    I think my letters of recommendations may have addressed and deflected my low GPA.

    I did get a 3.3 the last semester, a full grade point higher than any earlier semester.
    While working a year, I took a grad course in mathematical physics at that university as a nondegree seeking student and got a 3.3 (B+). I got a recommendation from that professor.

    I did visit the school and met with the faculty before they made their acceptance. I always thought this was helpful in their acceptance. I did hear once, that many schools discount personal interviews completely.

    I had nothing published as an undergraduate. I do not think any of my cohorts (i.e. physics major colleagues) did.

    I found out after I applied (years later in fact) the school that accepted me admitted 20 out of 20 students that year, and I think it was 19 out of 20, the year later. I think they needed TA's badly. Unfortunately, sometimes schools may take many students who are weeded out by their qualifying examinations.

    I think applying to terminal Master's programs is a good strategy.

    While, I cannot say for sure, since I have not been on any admissions committees, I think many schools (outside of the top 10 or maybe 20) will select a candidate with a lower GPA than 3.5. (I do think a 2.4 would be out of the question today. In larger programs, computers would screen it out without it even being considered).

    Good Wishes.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook