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Admissions How to get into a top graduate school from an unknown university?

  1. Apr 7, 2016 #1
    I am an international student and I was admitted to UT Arlington with 100% tuition scholarship for fall 2016. The reasons why I couldn't make it to a better university are lack of guidance and lack of funds. But now, I will have all the guidance in the world since I'm going to an American university.

    I know all the important criteria for admission to graduate school:
    1) High GPA and class rank.
    2) Great recommendation letters.
    3) Substantial amount of research experience.
    4) Decent GRE scores.
    5) Good statement of purpose.

    However, I had a few queries regarding my admission for graduate school and it would be highly appreciated if you guys could help me out:

    1) As I'm going to a university which isn't at all known for its Physics department (although, most professors there graduated from a top university), what are the options I can pursue for research? I will definitely ask the professors there if I can help them in their research as a research assistant right from my freshman year. However, if I'm coming from an unknown university, won't it reduce my chances of doing better researches are better institution? How can I solve this problem?

    2) What exactly should the timeline of my 4 years be? I understand that I'll have to study very hard and all, but I'm thinking about internships and research experience. Should I go for internships every summer? Can I take my winter vacations too? What exactly should the timetable be of the next 4 years of my life?

    3) Coming from an unknown university, how much will the name of my university matter and hinder my chances of admission, if at all?

    I highly appreciate your time and effort and hope to get some quick and helpful responses.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2016 #2

    jtbell

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    In some countries, the "prestige" of your undergraduate institution may have a major effect on graduate school admission. The US isn't like that. Here, getting into grad school, in physics at least, is far more about what you do and accomplish than about where you went to school.
     
  4. Apr 7, 2016 #3
    It's very possible - I am a senior at a university that is unheard of.... most graduates don't go on to graduate school and there are only a couple faculty. There were a lot of difficulties because I had no one to tell me about REUs, or taking the physics GRE, or that I could apply for fellowships and scholarships - without this forum and a lot of Google searching, I wouldn't have known about any of this, so you're on a good track already!

    I had to work my arse off to prove myself to graduate schools by doing even more research than necessary through REUs and internships (I did one REU, and one SULI internship), and i also recommend this path, although you will find it difficult to find internships your first summer so you may just want to do research at your home university.

    However, it's very possible for you to distinguish yourself among peers at top-notch schools. Since I was coming from a school that no one has heard of, I aimed extremely low in terms of graduate schools and got in everywhere... now I see that this wasn't necessary, so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. That being said, I also got into my "lottery ticket" schools, like Berkeley, Cornell, etc.

    It definitely can be done, you just have to be extremely motivated and diligent.
     
  5. Apr 7, 2016 #4

    TeethWhitener

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    This is an important point that I'll add my 2 cents to. I myself was an undergrad at a large well-known school, but I went to grad school with a lot of folks from smaller, less well-known colleges and universities. One of the most useful things that you can do to overcome this lack of knowledge is to find a mentor: a faculty member or even a grad student who's gone through the process and can inform you of various opportunities and guide you in what you should be doing. Even having gone to a big school, I still had no idea what I was doing until I was fortunate enough to join the research group of a professor who took me under his wing and helped show me how the whole process of preparing for grad school worked.
     
  6. Apr 7, 2016 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Also, please note that the word "unknown", in references to schools in the US, is undefined. It may be unknown to many outside the US who are not familiar with the school system, but it may not be unknown to others in the academic world. To many, Purdue university, University of Washington, USC, University of Florida, Williams College, UMass, SUNY-Stony Brook, etc.. are all "unknown schools". Yet, to many of us, these are well-known and respected schools. Those from outside the US often tend to be aware of only those often appearing in the media, such as MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, CalTech, etc., without realizing that there are hundreds of schools that also producing students capable of going into many prestigious graduate schools.

    So yes, if you have the grades and the qualifications, you CAN get accepted to some of the most competitive graduate schools in the US.

    Zz.
     
  7. Apr 7, 2016 #6
    Thank you so much for your response. I'm actually impressed! My university literally has 10 times the professors for Physics (mostly from top universities) as you did in your college and now you have an option to go to UCB!

    It seems as though if one can work very hard, he/she can really make it to a good graduate school. Though, I did not quite understand this particular point of yours, could you please elaborate?

    What wasn't necessary and what mistakes?

    Also, it seems that REUs for me will be very limited since they are for Americans only. Their funds come from the NSF and hence, most of the REUs are reserved for American citizens or permanent residents only (which I assume means the green-card holders). What can I do to get some research experience while at the university?
     
  8. Apr 7, 2016 #7
    I understand. I, myself, have researched quite a bit and got to know that even the universities and colleges you mentioned along with many others are great institutions and would be as good as going to a "top" school. However, I think we can all agree that UT Arlington is really not all that known. I mean, I know a Physicist (now at MIT as a PostDoc) who grew up in Dallas and hadn't even heard of UT Arlington. She had to Google it to make sure it really existed. Even though it's an R1 research institution; I believe it gets its reputation not from its researches in the Natural Sciences, but from researches in Engineering.
     
  9. Apr 7, 2016 #8
    My mistake was aiming low as far as graduate schools. Since almost no one from my school goes to grad school, there were very few data points for me to look at so I was safe and applied to very low-ranked schools. Had I done it again, I would've applied to better or fewer schools (12 applications are quite pricey!).

    Also, as an international student, though you can't do REUs you can apply for other internships, such as those at national labs (try the SULI program, for instance).
     
  10. Apr 7, 2016 #9

    ZapperZ

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    No, even SULI programs require US citizenship/permanent resident status.

    What the OP should do is find out which faculty members have research grants. Many of these research grants, especially from NSF, includes funding for students (typically graduate students). But in some cases, and this is true if the institution is predominantly an undergraduate institution, here is money allocated for undergraduate student, or the PI may allocate some funds towards that.

    There are also other summer internships that accept international students. The one that I'm familiar with is the Lee Teng Summer internship in accelerator science. That internship only requires that you are at a US institution.

    Edit: I just realized that the OP has full support already. So essentially he/she can work for free. A lot of faculty members will take someone like that.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
  11. Apr 7, 2016 #10
    What do you mean "full support already" and that I can "work for free"? My scholarship covers only my tuition, also, faculty members of my university? I believe that many others were also admitted to my university with a 100% scholarship.
     
  12. Apr 7, 2016 #11

    ZapperZ

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    Let's step back and go to the beginning again.

    You indicated that you have "100% tuition scholarship". You also did not indicate that you are seeking research work to include financial assistance. That is why I indicated that you might work for free, i.e. without being paid.

    If this is incorrect, then please clearly state if your participation in doing research work must also include some form of a stipend. Most undergraduates that do research work very seldom get any tuition waver as part of their work.

    And yes, it would be silly for me to tell you to go look for a faculty member at a different university. Working and getting paid from a different university than the one you've been admitted to will also be a violation of your student visa.

    Zz.
     
  13. Apr 7, 2016 #12
    I do not think that I will need any financial assistance for my research. If I'm able to afford the living costs during the semesters, then doing the same during the vacations should not be a problem.

    And really? I won't be able to work under a professor at a different university if I'm getting any sort of financial assistance for it? While I can afford the living costs, it would've really helped had I gotten a stipend for my internship.
     
  14. Apr 7, 2016 #13

    ZapperZ

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    Look, it isn't MY decision that you can or cannot work elsewhere. Look closely at what you are able to do under your student visa. Check with the international office at your school! And if I were you, I'd pay very close attention to this because you do not want to mess around with ICE during this particular time.

    So then, I am right. You CAN work for free! So I'm not sure what issues you had with my original post. And yes, I understand that it will be nice to have a stipend and getting paid for what you do. But if all you care about, for now, is getting research experience, if you can't find someone who is willing or has the funds to pay you, then you might want to tell them that you are willing to work for free for a limited amount of time.

    I'm not so sure why this is confusing.

    Zz.
     
  15. Apr 7, 2016 #14
    Okay, I got it. I got confused by the part about my working for free. When you said that, I thought that I won't have to spend money instead of the other way around.

    So I should just look up faculty members at various universities and contact them individually, correct? Is there any other way of getting some research experience?
     
  16. Apr 7, 2016 #15

    ZapperZ

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    {Banging head against the table}

    Where exactly did I write in all of this that made you think that this is what I recommended?

    Zz.
     
  17. Apr 7, 2016 #16
    Also, you said that it'd be silly to work at a different university and getting paid. So I thought that I can work at a different university and not get paid and that should be fine. There's where I got the idea.
     
  18. Apr 7, 2016 #17

    ZapperZ

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    I restricted THAT to only within your university!

    Oy vey!

    Zz.
     
  19. Apr 7, 2016 #18
    Okay, now I am confused! Let's get this straight ( :D ):

    1) I can work at my university and still get paid, yes?

    2) I can work at another university, but I will have to pay for it myself, else it'll be illegal, yes?
     
  20. Apr 7, 2016 #19

    ZapperZ

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    Yes, but with permission. Check with your international office. I do not know which student visa you will have.

    No! Besides the fact that this is not common (i.e. why would someone from a different university hire a student not from that university, when that faculty member has other undergraduate student around at that school? Think about it!), there are many other issues associated with this (safety, etc.) that is involved. You may be able to do work involving someone from another institution, but this is usually through someone at your own school, via some research project, etc.

    I hate to describe some more because it appears that everything seems to be misinterpreted here.

    Here's what I want to make VERY clear:

    1. You are moving TOO fast!

    2. Wait till AFTER you have enrolled in that school, spend a semester or two to get acclimated with the environment, and just concentrate on school work first. You are not even there, and yet, you are already making all of these plans!

    3. Make use of your academic advisor. He/she will have MORE info than I can ever give you about what you can do at your school, and who you should talk to if you are still interested in doing research work.

    4. Whatever you do, double check with the international student office at your school to make sure you do not violate your visa status.

    Now, have I made myself clear this time?

    Zz.
     
  21. Apr 7, 2016 #20
    Perfectly! And yeah, that makes sense, I am planning things too fast. Thank you so much for all your help. :)
     
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