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How important is a senior thesis for graduate school applications?

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  • Thread starter S_Flaherty
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  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

At my university the program for a B.S. in Physics does not require students to take a senior thesis course, but I have been told it is recommended for people who want to go to graduate school in Physics. I'm not sure if I want to take the course because I have no idea what I would write the thesis on, but I'm sure that if I took the course I would have guidance. I'm just looking for some general opinions from people who did or did not write a senior thesis and are in graduate school now.

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Depends on the school.
University of Auckland does not require a senior thesis before grad school - but they do not offer honors at BS (BSc) level either: students are expected to complete a MS (MSc) before starting a PhD. The MSc is a 2-year post-grad program with 1 year pure research resulting in a thesis. Other colleges offer a BSc(hons) which adds a year to the BSc course and may include a dissertation or a thesis. A thesis is strongly recommended if you want to do a research doctorate... but great grades and a reputation for being good at practical work will get you by.

If your school recommends a thesis, then a thesis you should do.
You will get guidance - keep your ears open: there will be opportunities to pick up a topic from the school's research programs.
  • #3
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Reasons that doing a senior thesis project will help you if you're considering graduate school:

(1) Reference letters. There is much more referees can say about you if you've done a thesis project with them, compared to if you simply took one of their classes. They can assess your work ethic, your passion for the subject, your practical skill set, etc. - all of which are imporatant dimensions of a person that aren't always accurately reflected through GPA.

(2) Research experience. You don't need to do an official REU. A graduate thesis counts. And sometimes it can even lead to a publication, which also bolsters your chances for acceptance.

(3) Personal experience. A senior project is one thing you can do that will help give you a glimpse of what life as a graduate student will be like. Even if you end up hating it, I think it's far better to figure this out in the final year of undergrad than once you're committed to a PhD.

Also along these lines, I might add that really projects are what physics and research are all about. Courses are just preparing you to embark on them. If you don't want to do a project, why exactly was it you began studying physics anyway?

(4) Skill development. These kinds of projects can often help you to develop skills that you can use in graduate school and even market if you decide to leave academia.

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