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How does the system work for graduate school?

  1. Apr 17, 2009 #1
    How does the "system" work for graduate school?

    I am currently an undergrad working on a long term research project with a professor at my university. My question is, as far as recommendations go, will his recs carry more weight at the university he graduated from? He is a Harvard PhD and I am wondering if I would have a better shot at Harvard than at other epically difficult top tier schools.

    Really, how does the back room recommendation/old boy system work as far as Physics goes?? How far does that kind of thing go/carry weight?

    Thanks for any answers you have. I just want to understand whether or not it will be a waste...I do not think I am particularly bright, I just feel like a different person when I do physics (and mathematics) but a lot of times that doesn't translate into good conventional scores (I am perpetually stuck in the damn A-/B+ range, which from my school indicates rejection from a lot of the "top" graduate schools if history is a reliable indicator). So just wondering if its worth giving more consideration to a school my advisor graduated from.

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2009 #2


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    Re: How does the "system" work for graduate school?

    Depends on your PGRE (900+) you need to give your recommender something to work with and the recommender but either way how is anyone supposed to know how much possible pull your recommender has other than your recommender.
  4. Apr 18, 2009 #3
    Re: How does the "system" work for graduate school?

    Well, I don't expect anybody to know the individual impact my research supervisor's influence may have but I am curious as to how universities treat students of their own, really.
  5. Apr 18, 2009 #4
    Re: How does the "system" work for graduate school?

    I does depend on the admissions process. Perhaps if your adviser's adviser (or someone else who knew your adviser while he was a student at Harvard) is on the committee, or makes a special request to the committee, it might carry weight. It might also pass by completely unnoticed. So it might increase your chances at Harvard relative to comparable schools; it might not.

    As others mention, your application will probably be looked at in full by all schools you apply to. So even if your application might be given slight weight at Harvard, I wouldn't bet on it without all the other factors in line that a school like Harvard generally looks at.

    In my past experience in an admissions committee, we denied admission to someone who had worked for a Nobel Laureate at our own institution (in an REU program). While this student had a strong recommendation from a faculty member we definitely respected, the students' GRE and GPA just weren't up to par with that of the students we did admit, and we feared the student wouldn't successfully make it through the introductory coursework, even through the student did show strength in the lab during the REU.

    We also denied admission to some of our own undergrads on the same basis. Sometimes if they didn't get in anywhere and were lucky and HAD shown good lab skills, a professor would let them work for a year in the lab with some slight funding, before they reapplied to programs the following year.
  6. Apr 18, 2009 #5
    Re: How does the "system" work for graduate school?

    Thank you! This was exactly what I wanted to know, and the example answered my question very well. I guess I'll have to start working hard haha :rofl:
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