How much power does a professor have to get a grad student in?

I was just wondering, If my undergrad advisor knew someone at a university that is currently looking for graduate students to help with his research and I talked to him and he liked me and such, but perhaps my test scores were too low, or gpa wasnt 4.0, or something just wasnt in the top 95th percentile to get into said school. How much power do they usually have to get you in? Do you have to be admitted by the school first, then they can pull you to their group, or can they actually have an effect on your admissions? I wouldn't really think of asking the professor how much he could do to get me in, cause it seems then like im using him to get to the school rather than being actually interested in his research (which i am).

If you're answer is "depends on the school" then what percentage of schools do you think allows professors to make these decisions. I guess it doesnt matter to hide it, the school is University of Michigan and its not necessarily physics department but them AND the geology department. Id have to work somethign out there but thats another issue.

What do you know from experience?


- K Healey


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It does depend on the school and the professor.

The professor would have to contact the admissions office, perhaps with a letter of recommendation, or some kind of request for admission, but it would still be up to the admissions office. It will also depend on the weight of the professors recommendation. The higher the professor, i.e. the greater his or her repuation, the greater the weight of his/her request for a students admission.


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Generally speaking, professors have a great deal of weight in the admissions process. On the other hand, if you have some major roadblock -- very bad ungraduate grades, etc. -- you may still not get in.

- Warren
Well, my grades are 90% on a scale of 100; I believe that converted to a 3.25/4.0. My test scores are the major problem. I have decent standard GRE scores (600 Reading, 770 Math, 5.0 Essay) but below average Physics GRE (620). I don't know why I did so poorly on it. I studied for it, but found studying new material difficult (My school didnt offer nuclear/particle physics so I had to learn that on my own).But I have what I consider wonderful research experience (2 years co-op at Sandia National Labs, a research-based undergrad thesis with Sandia, two internationally published articles and conference articles, and i have even more research experience at my school for senior projects where the results were published, but I, for some reason, received no credit though I did all of the Raman tests and calculations). I thought before I wouldnt have had a problem getting in, but its way more competitive than I had originally thought.
hmm I believe your grades convert to a 4.0 (very good) in the US 90% means A (ususally)


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i do not what cases others know about, but in my view (as a professor) a professors power is quite limited. I cannot get anyone in whose scores do not merit it, nor would i want to, as that is dishonest, unfair to deserving students, and even a disservice to the student who is not well prepared to do the work.

looking at your record however you seem well prepared, and i am sure your profesor would feel justified in recommending you. but that is all they can do.

Some times I may have some influence in the case of a strong student, with good grades, who wants to work with me. But that is not with the admissions department, only with the math department in the case of awarding a stipend to a student who has already gained admission on his own merits.

At other schools I know of this is also true. I have tried to recommend good students to friends of mine at Chicago and Columbia, excellent students who I thought they would like to have. The response has alwaYS BEEN that they have no power or influence at all over admissions.

so it may depend on the school, but I know of no schools myself where it is true. of course admissions is a several stage process, and professors do have some influence at the departmental level, just not so much with the admissions office.

once i was able to persuade the honors office to reconsider a student for inclusion in the honors program, who waS ALREADY a student, and had been omitted for a technical reason from honors. thats about it.

where we do have a lot of influence, almost total, is in writing letters for students. what we say pretty much determines the reception of that application at the departmental level where they apply, but admissions looks more at test scores than we do.

so to get in the door of the school you need test scores. to get into the department and get support, you need recs from profs. thats pretty much it in a nutshell.
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At many schools, getting admission (from the school's admissions committee) is probably fairly easy. The bigger hurdle is getting financial support (teaching assistantship, research assistantship or fellowship), which is usually controlled by the department.

When I went through this many years ago, I applied to four grad schools. All of them granted me admission, but only three of the physics departments offered me an assistantship.
Thank you all for your help and advice.

As for my grade, I think the 3.25 is what I was told I had after my school (Kettering University) went through and calculated my GPA from percent using a scale for every single class. I WISH it would have rounded up to a 4.0, but I don't think they'd let that happen, since then over 50% of the students at KU would have had a 4.0. (82% was cutoff for academic probation)
ah I see

thats a prety slim distribution right there, why do they cram all the grades into the 82-100 range?
Well they don't really. They just grade everyone in every class on normal percentiles. What you get is what you get. Then they just made the cutoff 82% because they want the school to be difficult. You can get classes lower than that, so long as your average stays above. I think its worse when you have everyone graded on the A/B/C system. In our school theres a difference between someone who gets a 94% and a 99%, while in most schools theres no difference. It allows the school to see the true value of each student, whereas the GPA system is more approximate.
I'd say there abou equivalent, because on the gpa system a C usually represents anything above a 70 (after curve) and below an 80(after curve), so there would be a larger spread in terms of the percentiles.

also you have to maintain a C average in most american schools in order to stay in. So really it just widens the distribution a little bit, so a person who might get a 90% in the (australian?) percentile system might get an 85% or B in the GPA system as thats approximatly half way between the lowest acceptable grade and the highest possible grade.

personally I think we should run off an even wider distribution and make 50 the lowest passing grade that way you would be able to see who is really good and who is ok.
my stupid school gives out A minuses for 90-92 %
haha I've gotten a B+ for 90.2% because apparently "too many" people did well on the final exam...


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the worst i heard of waS MY ROOMATE WHO WAs in an easy cALCULUS CLASS FOR HIM, as he ALREADY KNEW THE STUFF better than the prof was teaching it, SO he SKIPPED CLAsS, GOT A B+ ON THE FINAL AND THE PROF gaVE HIM a D- for the course.


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the worst i heard of waS MY ROOMATE WHO WAs in an easy cALCULUS CLASS FOR HIM, as he ALREADY KNEW THE STUFF better than the prof was teaching it, SO he SKIPPED CLAsS, GOT A B+ ON THE FINAL AND THE PROF gaVE HIM a D- for the course.
There's something wrong with your keyboard :)
Or at least there was something wrong with it two years ago.

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