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Courses Low gpa (2.4/4.0) in 3rd-4th year courses: is grad school in physics even possible?

  1. Jan 11, 2012 #1
    Hi all,

    Could anyone recommend any Canadian university offering a master's in physics that is likely to accept students with subpar grades in their upper year courses but who do have some research experience? I guess the top tier schools like University of Toronto or McGill are probably out of the question, but are there schools in the middle range that may accept students in such a situation? (e.g. Ottawa, SFU, etc.; how difficult is it to get into these places?)

    The reason why I ask is because I have a cumulative gpa of 3.3 (which I admit is not very impressive to begin with), but my gpa for 300-400 level courses is only ~2.4 (gpa for 100-200 level courses are 3.8). I am a physics undergraduate at U of T and I expect to graduate by Dec 2012. My marks have been low recently mostly because I was feeling burned out and losing motivation; I often handed in late assignments and did not study enough for tests. In any case, I know I should have worked harder, and I have in fact done well when I did so, even in upper year courses (a number of my low marks actually came from math courses, not physics). I suppose taking an extra semester or two to boost my gpa may be one option, but having already spent 6+ years in undergrad (including a one-semester break), I am worried that this might make my application look even worse (or maybe it doesn't; do graduate schools look at the number of years spent in undergrad?).

    One bright spot is that I have some research experience, with 2 papers for which I am co-author and 2 more pending publication (but two of the papers are in chem/medical, not physics). In fact, part of the reason why I did poorly is because I spent too much time doing research and not enough on courses. Looking back though, it seemed like a pretty silly thing to do since, from what I've heard, your gpa matters the most for graduate school admission.

    Are there any institutions that would accept someone in this situation? Is there anything I can/should do to increase my chances? Or should I just face the fact it's too late to right the ship? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2012 #2
    Re: Low gpa (2.4/4.0) in 3rd-4th year courses: is grad school in physics even possibl

    (I'm assuming you are talking about physics Ph.D. programs, other graduate programs are different.)

    Let's step back for a moment.

    If you feel burned out and have no motivation now, why do you want to go to graduate school when things are going to be 100x worse? In graduate school, you are going to be under a lot more pressure and more stress, and you'll be under less supervision, which means that if you do nothing, no one will do anything until its too late.

    So why do you want to go? It's not as if you can expect to make a career of academia or anything like that.

    It's unlikely, and they may be doing you a favor. If you are going to swim across the English Channel, and someone thinks that you are not going to make it, then keeping you from trying is doing everyone a favor.

    Now if you *really* want to go to graduate school, you might want to stay an extra year or two, but before doing that I'd really do some thinking about why you want to do it.
  4. Jan 12, 2012 #3
    Re: Low gpa (2.4/4.0) in 3rd-4th year courses: is grad school in physics even possibl

    Thanks for the reply, twofish-quant.

    Well, I was actually thinking about an M.Sc. (hence the word "master's" in the first sentence).

    I originally had two main reasons, one of which I now realize is irrelevant: first reason was to leave open the door to the possibility that I might find a field in physics I feel passionate enough about while working on the M.Sc., in which case I would hopefully try to improve my chances of being accepted to a better Ph.D program by working my tail off while doing the master's. But looking at it again, I can see that this is unlikely since I have already done research in 3 different areas and none of them interested me greatly (although I did not hate them either). I guess I have been holding onto that vague idea, of working in the ivory tower that I had when I first entered university, for too long.

    Another, more practical, reason for wanting to go to graduate school was to improve my chances of landing a decent job in a physics-related field. (I have enjoyed studying while I was motivated and focused, and I would prefer to get a job in physics, or at least one that involves problem-solving.) I suppose this is possible with just a B.Sc., but I figured a master's degree would broaden my choice in terms of the kind of jobs I can get (and would probably help in the salary department as well =D). Besides, I have been hearing a lot of people say that it's hard to get a job in physics nowadays with just a bachelor's degree, but I am not sure if this is true or not...

    I should probably be looking at other options as well - such as going for a quick diploma at a college to beef up my resume, or just hitting the job market cold - but I just wanted to know if graduate school was also a viable option.
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