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Admissions Is my grad school list too ambitious?

  1. Oct 11, 2017 #1
    I am a senior in a 5-year physics program (B.S. in Physics, Astrophysics concentration and minor in Mathematics) with a 3.65 GPA (3.72 in my Physics major) at a not-so-well-known private institution with fifteen months of full-time relevant (to astro) research experience, eighteen months of part-time (during classes) relevant (to astro) research experience, and six months of full-time, not as relevant (tried something outside of physics to give it a shot while I could -- didn't like it; back to astro!!), research experience. As result, I should have three+ great research letters coming my way. I have a great deal of involvement on campus and in our Society of Physics Students organization. I am waiting on updated PGRE results (almost certain they're higher), but my current PGRE score is 640 (37%). I have not taken the regular GRE yet. I am applying to Physics/Astro Departments for Fall '18 enrollment in pursuit of a PhD. Based on this info, and knowing that I want to pursue astrophysics (ideally with a concentration doing experimental/computational research on stellar dynamics of some sort, but I'm incredibly flexible on my astro project depending on the department), what do you think of my tentative graduate school list to apply to. Many of the schools I feel are reaches (I can dream, right?), but I'm not sure if I have a shot at any of these schools...it's important to me that I get into a program good enough to make the PhD in Astrophysics worthwhile.

    In no particular order...

    Princeton University
    University of Pennsylvania
    Columbia University
    New York University
    Cornell University
    Penn State University
    University of Colorado - Boulder
    University of Maryland - College Park
    Rutgers - New Brunswick

    Any advice based on knowledge of the schools/programs or your experiences? Thanks!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2017 #2
    Does your budget prevent you from also applying to some "safety" schools? You have 9 schools listed, maybe swap out 2-3 of them for "safety" schools and 2-3 of them for "middle of the road" schools. Astronomy departments have insanely small incoming class sizes, so be sure to take this into account when deciding between astro and physics.
     
  4. Oct 11, 2017 #3
    Hard to say for sure, but I would not be overly optimistic if your undergraduate school is ranked below 100 nationally. For the amount of research experience you have, one negative vibe that comes to mind is the absence of co-authorship on papers. The reputation of your recommendation letter writers will also come into play. I'd look them up on Google scholar and see how many citations their publications have, A recommendation letter from someone like this (https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=LGTxY1EAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=sra ) will mean much, much more than recommendation letters from faculty with less than 500 citations.

    Assuming your school is ranked below 100, you have no publications, and none of your letter writers is well-known, you definitely need to put a few lower tier schools on your list.
     
  5. Oct 11, 2017 #4

    eri

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    Yes. Your application is extremely similar to mine was 15 years ago, but I also had a publication in ApJL. I got rejected from every school ranked 50 or higher than I applied to (12 I think in all). It was my PGRE score that held me back according to them. Add a few more lower ranked safety schools. I attended a school with a 'small' physics + astronomy program, got my PhD in physics, and had a ton of opportunities in astronomy and physics based on that. The grad school doesn't have to be famous, it just needs to be really good at what you want to do specifically. A lot of great researchers are at state schools and aren't in the top 10.
     
  6. Oct 11, 2017 #5
    I have budgeted out to apply for ~10 schools...so I'd say I can afford to go as high as 12 (which is still a lot, I think). Do you know if schools with both physics and astro will allow me to apply to both in the same go? And if admitted only into physics, could switching over be easy? Thanks!
     
  7. Oct 11, 2017 #6
    Very helpful information; thank you! My school is consistently in the top 100 (but barely), and only one of my recommenders is on that site (>10000 citations). The other two I know are very solid researchers with good networks and some credibility, but as you say, they won't be as much of a household name. And yes, unfortunately no publications (one or two things in the work that won't get published due to the projects' timelines, but as I mentioned, I do have seven different conference presentations, two of which were talks, with organizations like APS). Thank you for your advice!
     
  8. Oct 11, 2017 #7
    Great advice! I'll look a bit lower in the rankings for schools that have specialties in my specific interests. Thanks!
     
  9. Oct 11, 2017 #8
    You may be a stronger candidate for grad schools ranked from 50-100, more or less the tier of schools like UGA and LSU. These happen to be two I am familiar with, but do your homework to decide which schools in this tier seem like a good fit for you. (Note, I'm an LSU grad and I've mentored students who went on to study at UGA, so I may be biased toward them.)
     
  10. Oct 11, 2017 #9

    radium

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    I think it should be possible to apply to physics and astronomy departments at most schools. At least two schools on your list actually don’t have separate astronomy departments, the physics department houses both. Also note that the main difference between being in one type of program versus the other is often just coursework and some other logistics. At many schools it is relatively easy for physics students to do research with someone outside of the department, so it is not uncommon for students in physics to have advisors in the astronomy department who may even have a dual appointment in physics.
     
  11. Oct 12, 2017 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    I would definitely increase the range of schools you are applying to.

    A 37-th percentile on the PGRE is not good. Couple that with a little-known school and you have a problem - the value in the PGRE is to normalize different schools that the committee may not have heard of, and in this case that works against you. For perspective, roughly twice the number of students take the PGRE as enroll, so if you are below the 50-th percentile, it's an uphill trek to get in anywhere.

    Students also consistently overestimate their letters of recommendation. "Best student this year" is an average letter.

    We don't have you app in front of us, so it's hard to know for sure, but based on what you posted, I'd broaden the range of schools I am applying to. I'd also increase the number. Do you really want to say "I wanted to get a PhD, but didn't get in anywhere - but I saved $75! And that's the important thing!"
     
  12. Oct 12, 2017 #11
    I'm surprised that isn't in your signature yet. Or do you have a keybind to paste it?

    Also, to OP: be sure to contact professors whose research you are interested in and visit if you can before applying. Since I also came from a small school that no one had ever heard of and had "meh" pGRE scores (750), I took a bit of a road trip and talked with individual professors and grad students about their research over my Thanksgiving break. I wouldn't say it was an efficient use of my time (about 30 hrs round-trip) but I think it helped.
     
  13. Oct 13, 2017 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    Are you suggesting I drop it? Look at all the postings here - everybody says they have "great" letters. Is that even mathematically possible?:wink:
     
  14. Oct 13, 2017 #13
    I'm not suggesting you drop it, on the contrary, I think it should be an auto-reply to posts with the titles containing keywords like "grad school", "chances", "admissions", etc.
     
  15. Nov 28, 2017 #14
    I'm not sure how these threads work exactly, but perhaps I can inquire for a second opinion from those who have helped on this thread before? I have updated test scores and school lists which I'd like to share and ask for new advice! See below.

    I am a senior in a 5-year physics program (B.S. in Physics, Astrophysics concentration and minor in Mathematics) with a 3.65 GPA (3.72 in my Physics major) at a private institution ranked in the ~90s nationwide with 15 months of full-time relevant (to astro) research experience, 18 months of part-time (during classes) relevant (to astro) research experience, and 6 months of full-time, not as relevant (tried something outside of physics to give it a shot while I could -- didn't like it; back to astro!!), research experience. As result, I should have 3 great research letters coming my way. I have a great deal of involvement on campus and in our Society of Physics Students (ex-President) organization, and have given two scientific talks in addition to seven poster presentations at various events/regional and national conferences.

    GRE
    V: 154 (65%)
    Q: 165 (89%)
    W: 4.5 (82%)

    PGRE
    770 (64%)

    I am applying to Physics/Astro Departments for Fall '18 enrollment in pursuit of a PhD. Based on this info, and knowing that I want to pursue astronomy with a focus on doing observational/experimental/computational research on stellar/planetary dynamics/evolution of some sort, what do you think of my tentative graduate school list to apply to. I realize these are difficult schools, but it's important to me that I get into a program good enough to make the PhD in Physics/Astronomy worthwhile.

    In somewhat of a particular order...

    Boston University
    Columbia University
    New York University
    University of Pennsylvania
    University of Maryland - College Park
    Penn State University
    Stony Brook University
    Dartmouth College
    University of Colorado - Boulder
    Rutgers - New Brunswick
    And thinking about throwing a dart at either Princeton or MIT

    Any advice based on knowledge of the schools/programs or your experiences? Thanks!
     
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