Importance of undergrade grades for grad school

In summary, the individual is a new member of a forum seeking guidance on their academic journey towards a BS in Physics with minors in Mathematics and Astrophysics. They aspire to attend graduate school for a PhD in Astrophysics and pursue a career in research. They have faced challenges, such as being out of school for 10 years and having to retake basic math courses, but have maintained a high GPA. However, they are concerned about their performance in their first General Physics course and the potential impact on their major GPA and chances of getting into graduate school. They seek advice on the importance of grades and whether a C in a major course is acceptable. Despite these challenges, they are determined to pursue their passion for Physics.
  • #1
Hello, I am new to this forum, I appreciate any help and guidance anyone can give me.

I am currently working towards a BS in Physics, with minors in Mathematics and Astrophysics. My goal after my BS is grad school for a PhD in Astrophysics, and am interested in a career in research. The minor in mathematics is actually a freebie, since my Physics major requirements already fullfill the Math minor at my university.

I am a predominately straight A student with a 3.89 gpa. I started college back up after being out of high school for 10 years, so I had to retake some basic math courses to catch myself back up.

After 1.5 years, I am just now getting into General Physics 1, which is a Calculus based class. I could not take it until I had the Calculus 1 prerequisite, which is why I am just now starting with it 1.5 years in.

I started out very well, got a 98% on my first exam, and maintained a 96% class average. Things look very dismal now after taking my 2nd exam. I haven't received my score back yet, but I am not very optimistic, I know I did poorly. This exam could potentially tank my class average down to a C, which looks horrible considering Physics is my major, and this is just a General Physics course.

My question is, how important are grades to get into graduate school? Are Cs in your major courses acceptable, or am I kind of screwed now? Perhaps I am jumping the gun on this, but I am really worried at this point that maybe my goals may have been set to high. I am wondering if I need to rethink my options. I really love Physics and want a career in the field, but I'm wondering now if that is no longer a realistic goal. This Physics course is the roughest I have taken so far, and has been causing me large amounts of stress. And I know this is just the beginning.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks for reading, sorry about the length.
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  • #2
If your in-major GPA ended up averaging to a C, there is no chance of getting into graduate school. Even with a B average (3.0), I'd say the chances are quite slim. You should be aiming for something like 3.5+.

Two small pieces of advice...

1) You're just now taking your first physics class? What makes you so sure that you'll want to continue doing this for seven or eight years of your life? The reality of physics is a lot of hard, grueling computation and banging heads into walls (or keyboards). If your first physics class is giving you trouble...

2) But at the same time, don't panic. It's just one course, and even if you do get a C there is more than enough time to turn that around. Much more important that thinking about graduate school right now is focusing on what went wrong on this exam and how to fix it.
  • #3
I think I got 2 Cs early on in a couple "easy" math classes, but turned it around and got pretty much straight As and A-s in upper division math. Those early grades may have raised some eyebrows, but in the end, it didn't matter. I am at a reasonably high ranked place working with a famous adviser.

A math prof here tells the story of failing calculus.

So, it could go either way. Hard to say.

I don't know if physics always has to be full of grueling computation and banging heads into walls. There are many different kinds of physics.

I'm into mathematical physics (actually, I am more of a pure mathematician, but sometimes I masquerade as a physicist) and, for me, it's mainly about the ideas. But it still isn't for the faint of heart.
  • #4
Like Nabeshin said: nothing is lost. If you do bad in only one physics course, then there is still hope. That is: if you get good grades in upper-division courses then the grad committee will see you as somebody who can handle physics. But it is vital to get better scores on your next courses. And do try to limit the loss here. Can you manage to get a B out of it??

However, having a C in a general physics course means that something is wrong. Try to investigate what is wrong. Did you make enough practice exercises?? Do you question things enough?? (asking questions to your prof, to this forum or to yourself is vital!) Do you understand the concepts?? How do your other classmates find the material?? Do you make enough use of resources (like office hours, TA, other classmates, this forum)?? Why did you score bad on your test, what was the problem?? Do you like physics enough?? etc.

Think about it until you find out what is wrong. It's only a general physics course so nothing is lost. But change your study habits NOW! You're obviously doing something wrong, and it's your task now to find out what that is.

Nothing is lost right now. But do take the opportunity to reflect on your performance...
  • #5
Don't let a midterm examination discourage you or even remotely depict the final outcome of your grades. You still have the opportunity of raising your mark via the final.

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