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Low gpa, any chance of getting into a good grad school?

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  • Thread starter iScience
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  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

i'm a physics major at a tech school. my cumulative gpa is a 2.78. my physics gpa is somewhere between a 3.6~3.7. mainly the physics classes i didn't do well in were the physics labs 1 & 2, and the classes in general i didn't do well in were my humanities classes. REU's are out of the question because my gpa is so low, i wouldn't get accepted anywhere; i've been jumping around research groups in my school because i just didn't find i was doing to be very interesting. i'm in a research group right now though; some professors tell me i'm utterly screwed to get into grad school, and that not even UCF would accept me. other professors tell me that i have a shot at a good grad school if i can produce results in research.

more opinions would be appriciated.

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Simon Bridge
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There are always exceptions but you have to be pro-active about them.

Depends on the grad school, and if you can can get noticed despite your gpa. Colleges like people who can do good research, maybe get published. I know a few people who did well in grad school despite poor undergrad grades - but none of them got into the top projects.

I wouldn't bet on getting into a top grad school with those grades ... but you can still make your mark from a poorly regarded one.
  • #3
Vanadium 50
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Both you and Simon have fallen into the trap of assuming your GPA is immutable. If you are a freshman or sophomore, you have 2-3 years to improve it. That can bring it up to a 3.4-3.7.

If you are a junior, you have an even bigger problem: judging by the questions you have asked here, you are unprepared for graduate school. You're not ready, and jumping into it before you are ready won't help.

Furthermore, "jumping around" research groups because you're bored and doing poorly in classes you aren't interested in raises a big red flag. You do realize that most of scientific work is boring, right? Yes, discovering the Higgs boson was interesting. Testing thousands of photomultiplier tubes is not. Measuring the response of thousands or millions of electronics channels is not. Working out a step by step assembly sequence so nobody's scaffolding interferes with anyone else's is not. Big red flag.
  • #4
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In most cases you need a 3.0 undergraduate GPA to be considered for graduate school. It's a competitive process after that, but without that 3.0, you don't even get to line up with the other runners - even if you have a couple of publications to your name.

As Vanadium pointed out the next major issue is jumping around research groups because you're not interested in the work. The question you need to ask yourself is why graduate school would be any different.

It's not impossible to overcome these. Dragging a 2.8 over that 3.0 line isn't unrealistic if you've already demonstrated the capacity to do really well in your other courses. And maybe you just haven't found the right fit for you yet. You can't be expected to get things perfect on the first try.
  • #5
35 years ago I was in the same position. I eventually got into a graduate school (not a top 20 but a respected one). Here's what worked. First off, I worked hard to make Dean's list my last semester. This actually brought my GPA to only 2.3. (I also did an REU my last semester), I had talks with professors before the last semester telling them of my intention to do well in courses. They practically freaked out.

I got 55% on the physics GRE. Remember taking it on a Winter's day. Bus was late, I did not drive. My shoes were soaking wet throughout the test and for several hours afterward. 55% is not too bad.

I took a job for one year . While working I knew I needed good recommendations. I was making good money. I went to the school and told them I would pay tuition to take Math Methods in Physics at the graduate level (in 1978 this cost only 500 dollars). Later I asked the professor ( he is extremely well regarded ) of the course for a good recommendation. He gave me one (I got a B+ in the course and worked full time and overtime when my employer required me, I had no choice ).

Later the admission committee told me working a year showed maturity and doing well in a graduate course and making Dean's list attested to my continued commitment.

With all that, all three schools I applied to accepted me. One did not have a PhD program at all but I found out they could allow me to transfer to a doctoral program at a nearby school, if I did well. Instead I went to the best one that accepted me

A year later I was in the doctoral program after having passed my doctoral qualifying exams, one of three to pass about ten more failed. It was a lot of tough work but it was doable.

I hope it can be done today but remember this was 35 years ago. I wish you well.

But here is the problem: The jumping around you are currently doing ,I did in graduate school. Eventually, even though I passed the exams and did well in coursework, it was better that I leave. I wore out my welcome.

Luckily I found employment, that even allowed me to continue my graduate study (one course at a semester).
The second time through graduate school (almost 20 years later), I was more successful. Had to take all those exams again. I committed to one research group no matter what.

Moral of the story: Graduate school may be achievable but you may have to adjust your timetable. Ask yourself if you want to do it. The "perfect" research group probably doesn't exist. I know I never found it.

I know I only saw the glamorous side of successful physicists. I did not see the difficulties in grant-seeking, the years of post-doctoral study required, the difficulties in publication. Many principal investigators and leaders of the research group need to be excellent managers but cannot even keep their hand in the day to day calculations the members do. You may not want to commit to this career.
I have no regrets but I think I should have kept my eyes open (as a few senior physicists suggested).
Good Luck

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