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How hard is it really to get into top school grad program

  1. Dec 29, 2008 #1
    Hello guys,
    I am asking this out of complete curiosity, as I am not in the position yet to need to know this information. I was wondering if it is harder to get into a top tier school for graduate or for undergraduate? It seems to me that graduate would make more sense, its higher education so it would seem that the requirements would stiffen, but at the same time, many more undergrads apply than graduate students. Take for example MIT. To get into a school like this undergrad you need a perfect GPA, a near perfect SAT, an amazing essay, volunteer work, insane extra curriculars, valedictorian... ya know, the whole deal. Pretty much shape your life for the past 4 years to what they want just to get in. Then, lookin on graduate sites, alot ask only for at least a B average to get in for a grad program. This seems kinda odd compared to the average GPA and SAT scores that they admit into undergrad. Is the info misleading? Am i simply overlooking something? or is a top tier school actually easier to get into as a graduate. (Just as some background, I am most likely attending University of Delaware for Mech E, so not a top ten school, but top 50 for that area). Also, for an engineering discipline, how important is a honors degree?

    thanks guys
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2008 #2
    getting an A in highschool is equivalent to getting a C in college. one other thing you need to consider is the number of spots in grad school. a mere B is no guarentee, but rather a cutoff (read if you dont have phenomonal letters to makeup for that B, dont even bother.
  4. Dec 29, 2008 #3
    Then what's equivalent to getting an A in college? :confused:
  5. Dec 29, 2008 #4
    Judging by the many profiles I have seen of people who got accepted to one or many top grad programs you need several things.

    GPA to be 3.5-4.0, but I have definitely seen alot of people with 3.5-3.7 get denied although im sure this was not the reason.

    good letters of recommendation

    High GRE

    As much research experience as possible. More than just a summer or two.

    Obviously there are exceptions but from what I observed this was generally the standard profile of those admitted to top programs
  6. Dec 29, 2008 #5
    I would also like to stress how important research experience is when applying to top grad programs.
  7. Dec 29, 2008 #6
    I think grad school application is just a lot different than undergrad, since they are looking for professionals (instead of some general knowledgeable persons).

    Firstly, high school courses cannot compare against university courses. In high school, if you spend the effort, you get an A, in college, that's not the case. To be honest, I can pretty easily ace any reasonable physics courses, but would probably fail any of those literature analyzing classes no matter how hard I try.

    Secondly, you can go much much... much further in a subject than you can ever imagine, so there is no way you can know everything the university has to offer in the subject of your interest. In high school, pretty much AP classes are the highest, or some intro college classes if you got the extra $$... but in university, you can be taking graduate courses, doing research with top scientists. The amount of available materials in physics alone is like a couple thousand times all that combine in a high school (probably even more than that). You are expected to learn all of high school material (quantity wise) in about a year.

    Thirdly, grad school admissions don't care so much about your volunteering, extracurriculars... they care about what you can bring to the academia, to research. Afterall, this is going to be your life and you better have something to show in these areas.
  8. Dec 29, 2008 #7
    It's really hard to get into the best schools for undergrad if you aren't extremely well-rounded. Some highly qualified people get rejected from schools like MIT because MIT doesn't want a one-dimensional undergrad class. These same people who got rejected for undergrad have a much better shot at grad school because the focus is on proven ability in one area.

    Bottom line: It's easier for some (I would even say most), harder for others.
  9. Dec 29, 2008 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Graduate and undergraduate admissions are totally different. Undergraduate admissions are handled by the admissions office, and they have to select ~1000 students (obviously, depending on the size of the school) out of ten or twenty thousand applications. Graduate admissions are done by the department, and they may have to select a dozen or two out of a couple hundred applications.

    The fraction of people who go on to grad school is smaller than the fraction who go to college, so of course it's harder. Also, there are 4000+ colleges in the US. Pretty much everyone who wants to go to college can go somewhere. There are 189 schools that offer a PhD in physics. Twice (maybe three times) as many people take the GRE as there are slots in graduate school - so not everyone who wants to go can.

    As far as the top schools, they accept maybe 100 people from the US. That means you need to be in the top 100 nationwide.
  10. Dec 30, 2008 #9
    I think another thing to remember is that just because a school is strong in undergraduate does not mean it will be strong in your specific field of research for graduate school. So keep in mind that although Harvard(just for example) is obviously a great university for undergraduate studies, there are many other schools that I would choose over Harvard for, say, Electrical Engineering.

    Just keep in mind that, relatively speaking, a strong college does not make a strong department.
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