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How to get into physics grad school

  1. Aug 4, 2009 #1
    Hello PF.

    I have a bachelors in pure math. I've always gone back and forth between physics and math, but math always challenged me more. Not that physics isn't a challenge, just that math as an undergraduate challenged me more. So I always left the physics classes after the freshman ones to take another math class that I found more challenging.

    Ultimately this was foolish, because I like the end result of doing theoretical physics research more than math research.

    My question is, how do I get into a physics graduate school with a bachelors in math, and only the freshman courses in physics? It may be important to know, I did take a few mathematical physics classes as an undergraduate, along with some electrical engineering. I am not blind to what physics entails is what I'm saying.

    The only paths I see are these, 1) get a BS in physics, and it will be a decade or so before I can afford to do that so I rather get there sooner 2) go into a program that lets you catch up in graduate school, but I don't know of any such physics programs.
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  3. Aug 4, 2009 #2

    it's only hard if you're not willing to make every cell in your body work/want that post graduate degree. it's a matter of how badly you want it, if you want it bad enough and put in the countless hours of work that comes with graduate degrees you will get it.
  4. Aug 4, 2009 #3


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    If you only had intro physics, then you have an extremely large amount of physics material to catch up on.

    Why there may be programs that might admit you conditionally and let you catch up with the necessary courses, you need to consider one important factor: you have to pass the qualifying exam usually by the end of your 2nd year of graduate school. Not knowing your ability, I can't tell you whether it is possible for you to cram that much physics in 2 years. I know that I probably can't.

    I https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=64966" back in 2005 because this type of question comes up every now and then. I think this might be a good thing for you to do your own self-evaluation to see how much you have to catch up on.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  5. Aug 5, 2009 #4
    What makes theoretical physics research seem more attractive than mathematics research to you?
  6. Aug 5, 2009 #5
    I myself am in the same situation since my UG degree is in math but I want to get into physics graduate program- I have only take 1 physics course (freshman mechanics).

    My suggestion to you after doing some research here on PF as well as talking to schools is to apply to a master's program where they can admit you conditionally contingent upon doing some additional physics courses at the UG level in addition to your curriculum for the masters.

    The downside is that you will be paying graduate tuition for undergraduate courses, as well as only doing 2 years at the school you go to for a PhD- since you will be doing 2 years at the school you go to for a masters, so you won't get to know your professors at the phd school for that much of a long time.

    What I am doing is a second bachelors in physics- this way I will get a strong foundation in physics coupled with my math degree. I would also have more research opportunities this way since I would be learning the material at the same pace as others so I would be at the same research level as others.

    I tried doing the masters in physics but honestly because I only had UG mechanics it was very difficult to follow, and I felt very behind everyone else who mostly all had quite a few physics courses and/or degrees under the belts.

    So my suggestion to you is do a second bachelor's in physics, do research during your second bs, then apply straight to a PhD program.

    Good luck and keep us posted!
  7. Aug 6, 2009 #6
    Why do you have to get the BS in Physics?
    My wife is a Dentist now....and her undergrad was pre-law. When she decided she wanted to go to Dental school, she went back and took the science courses necessary for entry into Dental school. She never actually completed a degree in any field of science.

    If you have the BS in math and have taken Physics I and II, you could go back and take Modern Physics and perhaps E&M your first semester, Thermodynamics, Classical Mechanics, and Quantum the next....and probably have enough to be accepted into a graduate program after that.

    If you can't manage that many classes, if you could handle one class a semester and work through the summer, you could still have enough Physics on your transcript within a calender year to validate applying to grad school, given your previous BS in math.
  8. Aug 6, 2009 #7
    A graduate school, maybe yes if your GREs are high enough. A top- or middle tier- graduate school? Probably not. My advisor is on our university's grad school admission board and they don't even consider applicants who don't have research experience and a LOT of undergrad courses, not just the bare bones. Of course, I could be completely wrong but those few courses are the VERY barest minimum.
  9. Aug 6, 2009 #8

    Yes, I would imagine that is obvious. I'm speaking for his particular situation as a student with a previous BS in Mathematics who is wishing to attend graduate school in Physics and has implied that starting over in a BS program in Physics would take too long.
  10. Aug 6, 2009 #9
    Except admissions committees don't give a hoo-haa what your degree is in; they care about what courses you took. I can't imagine them making any exceptions because an applicant has a degree in ______.
  11. Aug 6, 2009 #10
    Yes, but he has a degree in Mathematics, which is why I chose that over Sociology or General studies.
    I'm just trying to give the guy my opinion. He said he was foolish to get the degree in math and wants to know what he can do to get into graduate school for Physics. If you think that having a BS in Mathematics with Physics I, Physics II, Modern Physics, E&M, Analytical Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and Quantum Mechanics I isn't enough for him to get into a graduate program for Physics, then tell him that. I'm not the one concerned about what level of hoo-haa my degree will give an admission committee.

    "I" feel that he's likely to find a program to accept him in that circumstance, provided his gpa and PGRE are good. Maybe his lack of a Waves and Optics course will exclude him from all programs? There are a few Physics grad students at my University with degrees in Applied maths and minors (or more) in Physics. They spend their first semester or so taking an upper level undergraduate physics course or two. We may be the only program that does that, I really don't know.

    He hasn't responded to this thread anyway. Perhaps he's realized the situation is hopeless.
  12. Aug 6, 2009 #11
    ^It's not hopeless and I didn't mean to rain on everyone's parade. I did say he could get into a graduate school, but to be realistic; a lot of the top-tier ones want those courses, no ifs or buts. He still has a shot at an acceptable one, but I see a lot of these threads and people are under the illusion that they're going to get into CalSci or Berkely no problem. I'm just suggesting picking some lesser-known programs to give him a better shot. Stranger things have happened and it's no reason to give up but he's really be better off going back for a BS.
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