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How to be attractive to physics grad schools

  1. Sep 15, 2012 #1
    Hi I am a freshmen at university and I would love some advice on looking more attractive to graduate schools. (i have looked around on the forums and talked to professors individually about it, but I figured the more opinions the better)

    I have been studying really hard and making A's on exams and quizzes

    i have joined the physics society, and 2 different groups that help minority students work towards a doctoral or masters within STEM
    I am starting to do research this first semester with a professor who is doing research in the field I am most interested in.

    And if I have research done by this time next year i will have an opportunity to present it at a national conference.

    I plan on applying for REU's this summer and the next.

    My question is what else can i do to be more attractive to grad schools? I have really high hopes of going to a university like Caltech, MIT, or the University of Chicago, but I also understand how competitive they are and would like the best chance possible of being a competitive student.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2012 #2
    I think that's a bad attitude to have. Be active, passionate, compete with yourself and progress, maintain a possitive attitude. Other things, such as a prestigious graduate school, will come as a result with practically no direct effort towards them.
  4. Sep 16, 2012 #3
    It doesn't necessarily have to be a prestigious grad school, I'm just trying to make sure when the time comes to apply to grad schools I have the best chance possible of attending my dream school (whatever that may be). I didn't try very hard in high school and I was disappointed when i couldn't get into the college i wanted to the most, and I am just trying to make sure that won't happen again.
  5. Sep 16, 2012 #4


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    I think you're doing the things you need to do....get good grades, do research, publish if you can, be active in your field. I would also look into taking graduate classes in your senior year (and make good grades in them as well)...do well in the GRE and you've got your bases cover
    EDIT: work with a couple faculty members throughout so they can write good letters if recommendation when the time comes to apply to grad school. Oh, and relax and enjoy the intellectual adventure awaiting you
  6. Sep 16, 2012 #5


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    I think the OP has a great attitude. There is nothing wrong with being methodical and planning ahead. Doing that does not conflict with, and in fact enhances, the result of being passionate or "making progress"
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
  7. Sep 16, 2012 #6
    Sometimes...this type of attitude can also be counterproductive in the sense that it constrains other important activities and behaviors (social life, hobbies, staying fit etc.).

    To the OP, I wouldn't start worrying about this now (I'm in college too, so I understand). Just get good grades, stay active and enjoy your first year.
  8. Sep 16, 2012 #7
    Don't get me wrong, I spend plenty of time socializing, Working out at our fitness center, and seeing my family. I consider my life to be well balanced, I just also want to be competitive when it comes time for grad school. My long term goal is to be s tenured prefessor and I know how hard it is to get any kind of position in academia, so I want to do the best I can to be the most qualified for the job.
  9. Sep 16, 2012 #8
    Right on. Well, I have as much as personal experience with applying to grad school as you (none), but I can give advice. I've grown up with professionals in all fields of science and I've done a fair amount of research so I know a thing or two. The most important thing is obvious: grades. Beyond just grades, a variety of factors come into play. Course workload is good, but not as important as you'd think. Unlike high school where acing eight AP classes is essential, colleges tend to favor taking a few great classes and nailing them. Recommendations from professors is another important thing. When doing so, it's best to ask for recommendations from professors in whom you see the most personal connection, appreciation for your talent, and respect in the physics community (although you're 4-5 years away from worrying about this so I wouldn't worry).

    Last -- but definitely not least -- do undergraduate research. At some schools like the one I'm at (UCSC), undergraduate research is easy to find because of the fact that it's highly regarded for undergraduate physical science/engineering research (public research institute). For schools that aren't public research based, I'm not sure. I've heard mixed things which means that it probably varies significantly from school to school. One thing I do know is that getting published reserach/work as an undergrad looks great to grad schools.
  10. Sep 16, 2012 #9

    king vitamin

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    You don't need to rush into grad school preparation just yet, I don't think you really need to obsess over finding research until you're further into your studies (though I guess starting early can't hurt). The extracurricular stuff has almost zero bearing on grad school apps (though they might help with NSF fellowship type things). The number one advantage to impressing application committees is impressing a professor with research. Even one glowing recommendation can make an enormous difference, and I think they're what distinguish the students who get no rejections.

    There's also the obvious: GPA, PGRE, GRE. Those numbers have importance, and in that order (GPA will especially impress if you have lots of advanced electives/grad coursework). Maximize them. Once again, this is obvious; if your application without the numbers looks like somebody else's application, but your numbers are simply higher than your competitor's numbers, you win. People complain about this system, which is funny because it's obviously the only way the admissions committee can function.

    I sympathize with the post because I did subpar in high school and was barely accepted into my in-state public school for undergrad. I was also determined to succeed, and ended up being accepted into every graduate school I applied to (all top 15's). I was also able to party on weekends, make tons of friends outside physics, date girls, and play in a band that did fairly well locally. Obviously I'm still extremely far away from being a tenured professor, but it's good to know that your entire life isn't dictated by how you did in high school.
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