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How much does GPA matter?

  1. Sep 26, 2012 #1
    Hello all,

    A little background, skip to the end if you don't want to read:
    I am an undergraduate at a small state university WITHOUT a physics department. I got bitten by the physics "bug" after two semesters of freshman physics and have been delving into the other branches of the science ever since (so for around 3 years now). I really want to pursue graduate studies in physics, and as of now my main areas of focus are in theoretical physics.
    I'm getting into research and one of my former physics professors has been sort of an "advisor" to me because of my interest in pursuing a career in it. I've been a teaching assistant and tutor for general physics I and II, and I was supposed to do an REU this summer but due to family issues I had to put it off. I'm intending to do one in summer 2013. I'm going to be an undergrad for at least 2 more years, so I'm going to do one the summer after as well if I can.
    I'm not one of those people who has ever been all that concerned with getting straight A's, but moreso with having a complete comprehension of the material in my classes. Meaning: I've had a few C's and a good handful of B's, but I understand the material as thoroughly as the students who got A's, and better in some cases. I also work full time and am the only source of income in my family, so in earlier years I had a few days where I chose to work instead of finishing an assignment.
    My GPA is a 3.37 overall. Does this affect my probabilities of getting into a graduate program in physics? I've yet to take the GRE or Physics GRE but I'm confident my scores will be high.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2012 #2


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    What physics courses have you been able to take beyond General Physics? Most grad schools will expect you to have taken at least intermediate/advanced level courses in classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics / statistical mechanics.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012
  4. Sep 26, 2012 #3


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    I fail to understand how you have full comprehension of the material and yet get C's and B's. Do you just refuse to submit coursework?
  5. Sep 26, 2012 #4
    test taking anxiety. at my undergrad school (top 50) 2 tests were 90% of the grade.

    to OP, what are you interested in?
  6. Sep 26, 2012 #5


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    GPA is the single most important factor in determining admission to graduate school, in my opinion.

    There are other significant factors of course such as performance on the PGRE, reference letters, and research experience, but from what I've seen they tend to act as higher order corrections. For example, if a student has 3.4 GPA with great references and research experience, she might be competative with another student who has a 3.5 GPA. She's not likely to be competative with a student who's applying with a 3.9.

    Admission committees also pay attention to the courses these are in. A student with a 3.9 who's only take a few intermediate physics courses may not be competative with a 3.7 who has challenged himself by taking a full gamut of senior and possibly even graduate level courses.
  7. Sep 26, 2012 #6
    what type of physics did you do?

    does this mean that those with interdisciplinary and applied interests should shy away from physics and go to engineering/chemistry/biology
    instead if they have lower GPAs? I specifically mention these because in these fields, research experience seems to have a higher weight compared to GPA.
  8. Sep 26, 2012 #7


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    I'm in medical physics, but I don't think it varies all that much among subfields.

    If you have interdisciplinary interests then it would seem you should apply to interdisciplinary graduate programs.

    When I've looked over graduate applications (not as an admissions committee member, but where I work they solicit feedback from everyone in the department) there often seems to be a significant correlation between GPA and the other factors. I've always figured there is something of a Pygmaleon effect to it... a student asks a professor for a reference letter, the professor looks up the student's GPA, and bases the letter on that... the student then gets the the REU based on the strenght of the reference letter...

    Keep in mind I'm not answering the question of "what can I do to maximize my chances of graduate admissions, given I have a lower GPA", rather "how much does GPA matter?"
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