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Programs How difficult is it to get into a top PhD program?

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  1. Jan 13, 2013 #1
    I realize that there are many more than adequate schools where I can go to obtain a PhD, but my current goal is to get into one of the top 30. I truly have no idea of the competition, hence the question. I am going to the university of connecticut and came in with 38 AP credits and will graduate in three years instead of four. I got a 4.0 first semester but obviously I was not taking upper level physics courses. I should be doing an independent study in nuclear and particle physics next semester and will hopefully get research for over the summers and during the semesters in form of credit or money for the following two years. Also, I will graduate from the honors college and write a senior physics thesis before graduate application deadline. I will also take about 4 upper level physics courses not needed for my major so I should be very qualified. Lastly, I hope to be a University scholar which they only award to 30 students a year and is considered the highest possible honor. With all that info (and assumptions), would it be reasonable to get into a top school? Such as Yale or Brown (my top two at this premature stage). Thanks for any input, even if its telling me I havent got a shot or that it is pure speculation, which I understand.
     
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  3. Jan 13, 2013 #2
    Chill, man. You are fine. 38 AP credits??? Outrageous.
     
  4. Jan 13, 2013 #3
    Yeah I worked hard to get out of weedout/boring intro classes while I was in highschool haha, I was very thankful to be able to do so.
     
  5. Jan 13, 2013 #4
    That's definitely a great start, you just have to keep it up. If you want to have your pick, you should try to take 1-2 years of graduate-level courses before you are done with your degree. Also, start studying for the subject GRE early and make sure you can ace it. Most important thing, though, is to try very hard to impress 3 profs in upper division courses because they can be your recommendation-letter-writers. The biggest thing will be what they have to say about you.
     
  6. Jan 13, 2013 #5
    I feel like my schedule works perfectly for the pgre. Next year I am taking quantum mech1 and 2, em1 and2, statsitical and thermal, lab in mechanics, and mech1 and 2. So I should be at least in a position to do well. Also, say im interest in particle physics. Would it be better to take only that as a senior level course and then do some grad courses. Or should I do say cosmology for a senior course. Thanks!
     
  7. Jan 13, 2013 #6

    ZombieFeynman

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    I would suggest taking four years to graduate. Use this extra year to do research and take more courses. Find out what interests you. Take additional math courses. If you lean more towards theory, take computer science courses. If you lean more towards experimental, take instrumentation and electronics. If you are interested in material science, perhaps you could minor in engineering or chemistry. I just dont see how getting to grad school a year early would be as advantageous as taking the additional year to gain some breadth.

    You say you want to do particle physics. Why?

    You say you want to go to Yale or Brown. Why?

    You are only in your second semester of college. Odds are that you dont have the experience to know what specific field or schools would be best for you. I didnt.

    As far as getting into a top 30 school, I dont think its very difficult for a dedicated and diligent student
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  8. Jan 13, 2013 #7
    Thank you for the advice. I am definitely keeping an open mind as to what field interests me most; particle is one but I was really just using it as an example for the question.
     
  9. Jan 13, 2013 #8

    ZombieFeynman

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    I have to stress, unless finances are the issue, by taking only three years to graduate you are eliminating much of the advantage of taking all of those AP credits. You will compete against people that have done more reesearch and have taken more math and science courses.
     
  10. Jan 13, 2013 #9
    Hm would it be possible/a good idea to apply after 3 years and see where I get in? If my grades are good and I get rejected then staying on for a fourth year and if I get accepted than just as well? Just an early idea
     
  11. Jan 13, 2013 #10

    ZombieFeynman

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    Im not saying you wont get in after three years. Its very possible you could get into the school of your choice after 3 years.

    What Im sayin is that its not a race. Getting into the graduate school of your choice earlier does you little good, in my opinion.

    Extra math, chemistry, computer science, and research can be beyond value once you are in grad school. Grad school is going to give you depth in a narrow area. Undergraduate is the time to get breadth.
     
  12. Jan 13, 2013 #11
    Interesting opinion. Im somewhat torn between the matter. Yes, I would certainly gain breadth of knowledge with another year, but at the expense of a full year salary if I had gone straight to graduate school. Thats a fair amount of money to weigh
     
  13. Jan 13, 2013 #12

    ZombieFeynman

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    If money is the issue, do not go to a PhD program for physics. Go into engineering and get a masters. Getting a PhD in physics is not the financially optimal choice.
     
  14. Jan 13, 2013 #13
    Money is not the issue! Thankfully. But I hope you can understand why a year head start could be beneficial monetarily and I dont feel like id be sacrificing a whole lot of physics education. Luckily I have plenty of time to figure it out!
     
  15. Jan 13, 2013 #14
    Try to get into research doing particle and see if you actually like particle physics vs the romanticized pictures you see in pop sci books and documentaries. Alot of people enter physics wanting to be the next einstein or hawking and they end up doing condensed matter, plasma, biophysics, etc when they finally learn what the reality of the field is.
     
  16. Jan 13, 2013 #15
    Depends on what physics you do.
     
  17. Jan 13, 2013 #16
    Out of curiosity, which fields in physics pay well outside of medical. Im pretty sure my interests are not in the areas that make good money >_<
     
  18. Jan 13, 2013 #17
    Condensed matter/material science/electronics fabrication <- biggest and most practical research area
     
  19. Jan 13, 2013 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    How can you possibly know that before you have gone through this physics education?
     
  20. Jan 13, 2013 #19
    Im unsure of what exactly your accusation is. I can have a fairly good idea that I wont be sacrificing my undergradaute physics education by graduating in three years because I will have taken more upper level courses than required, leaving very few courses available. So I can have a good idea. However I certainly would be missing out on a year of education in other subjects if I didnt stay on.
     
  21. Jan 13, 2013 #20

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm not accusing you of anything. I am saying that before you have your degree, you don't know what you'll be missing or how important it is.
     
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