Importance of grades for acceptance as PhD?

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Hi there,

I am currently finishing my second year of a 3-year bachelors in Engineering physics at the Technical University of Denmark. My plans are to get a masters degree in theoretical physics from the University of Copenhagen, and them I am thinking of going abroad for a Ph.D.

Until now, I have only received the best possible grade in Denmark, but today I got my first "B", the next best grade. Seeing that I plan to apply for top schools when going abroad, it got me thinking:

Is an all-A grade transscript nescessary when applying for top grad scools, or is it acceptable with other grades in between?

And how do grades weight compared to say, recommendations, research experience, exchange programs (I have a semester a Caltech next year).

I really have no clue, that's why I am asking. Any thoughts are welcome :)

Best regards,
Mikkel
 

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  • #2
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In my experience, there's less straight-A students in Europe than there are in the US/Canada. In fact, when I first studied back home, and later went on a study exchange to a different, also European country, I haven't heard of a single case where the student only received the highest grades throughout his/her whole undergraduate career or was on track to do that. I realize this is anecdotal evidence and that it doesn't mean there aren't any, but still... On the other hand, stumbling upon a straight-A student in the latter two countries isn't such a rarity, albeit doing so is quite an achievement, as well. But you have to realize that there's no curving in European systems, at least not to my knowledge. That means no one has to get the highest grade. If everyone falls short of that cutoff point for the highest grade, there's not going to be a curve pushing the best person above it. So the nature of the beast is quite different, and there's no fallback of outperforming your fellow students. It doesn't matter where you rank in relative terms, it's how well you do in absolute ones. Being a straight-A student in such a system is much much ... much harder than doing so in one that does apply the curve, and the universities realize that. They know there are different systems, so I think they look more at how you did within that particular one's framework, and don't necessarily try and translate your grades into theirs.

In short, don't stress it. You're doing great if you only have one "B", and while I have no first-hand experience with Physics or Engineering as far as grad school is concerned, I know people getting into grad school at top universities in other fields, and doing so with imperfect GPA's. If anything's going to keep you from getting into a particular school, it's certainly not going to be one "B".
 

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