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Courses Low GPA, Some Experience & Guidance?

  1. Apr 2, 2017 #1
    Hey all,

    So I just joined this forum, thinking it might be a good source of advice for something.

    I'm a Junior year Physics major at a decent state university school, and I have a GPA of 2.87. I had a few internships in High School and a summer/part time coding job for some planetary geologists at Goddard mostly streaming their processing workflows with basic to intermediate scripting and programming, where my mentors emphatically like my work.

    I also volunteer to run a major space industry gala annually where I've met folks like Buzz Aldrin, a US Senator, and the likes, and run the campus Astro Club. I'm also a Resident Assistant and am well liked there, and have saxophoned for NFL team marching bands and developed a quirky hobby of learning languages.

    I am fairly concerned about getting into Grad school. Since I'm paying for my tuition I'm taking a guilt free 5th year to crank up my GPA, but constantly struggle to understand and perform well in my Physics and Math classes after hours of pain sometimes, and in particular am worrying about getting a first F somewhere this semester despite using office hours and the like.

    I breezed through Chemistry and don't really think I'm a hardcore math robot anymore, but can't switch out of Physics and still graduate in 5 years or less. I'm thinking of getting into planetary, geology, or atmospheric, but there is no department or any knowledge of the former 2 at my university, and don't know if they like my GPA or experience. Or maybe I'm wanting to close the Physics door too early?

    Any guidance on either surviving both a Physics undergrad and getting into grad school in some of the areas I mentioned earlier? At this point, I'm really craving for my full time place to be one that values me and I value back as much as my original goal to be in space science.

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2017 #2
    Please excuse me for not giving individual advice. I hope the following comments on this disturbing topic will be helpful in general.

    I've noticed there is a common problem faced by students who ask for this kind of advice on PF. Many students are not prepared to make good decisions about their future. It's not the fault of the students. They simply lack adequate information. So students should not feel bad about themselves. The system is the problem.

    Sometimes students lack adequate information about their own aptitudes, and about how they compare with their future competition. This is entirely the fault of schools in my opinion. Perhaps mother will say you can be anything you want to be, but it's up to the schools to teach reality. There should be aptitude tests and tracking to steer students into the education they will benefit from the most.

    Sometimes students do not know enough about the opportunities that will be available after they graduate. I wish there was a national online service -- run by the government, not by private industry or schools -- to help students figure out what is the past, present, and future demand for a certain type of graduate. It's a tragic waste to dedicate four years to a bachelor's degree, maybe in addition several more years in grad school, only to finally realize there are no jobs in your field.

    I would prefer a more planned system in which we not only have tracking and apprenticeships, but a well grounded plan for each student, including possible job assignments after graduation. The uncertainty we have now is stressful and wastes a great deal of human potential. It causes a lot of unhappiness.

    Here's one thought of a practical nature for all the undecided people. Unless one is absolutely fanatic about a certain field, and is 100% determined to become a master of that field, then I would suggest casting a wide net in the search for opportunities before making a commitment to many potentially unprofitable years in school.

    For example, I hear there is a strong demand for medical technicians. Perhaps people with a strong interest in EE or physics should consider a program for radiological technicians? It's something to look into at any rate. This is just one possibility. I'm sure there are many.

    Concerning GPA, it may be wise to raise it by taking easy courses. That's not "cheating," it's just being practical. I would imagine it's tough to get into any grad school with lower than a 3.0.

    Finally, if you do have your mind set on grad school, it's a good idea to prepare well for your GRE exams. In my experience it helps a lot to prepare. In addition, if you have a stellar GRE, that will compensate to some extent for your GPA.

    Of course this is just my opinion, not individualized advice, and as always YMMV.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2017
  4. Apr 2, 2017 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    What is your endgame? What do you want to do for a living?
  5. Apr 2, 2017 #4
    I want to end up somewhere in the space science world, perhaps at Goddard or something. I don't any particular strong inclinations for a field (although I've had the most success and connections with planetary), whatever that's going on with my undergraduate education would be unbearable.
  6. Apr 2, 2017 #5


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    Generally speaking a 2.87 GPA isn't going to cut it for graduate school in physics. In most places, you need a 3.0, just to be considered. Even then "just crossing" the line is not likely to make you competitive. You have to remember, that most of the people in graduate school are the ones who did extremely well in their undergraduate courses. So if you do get in, you'll be on the low end of the distribution amongst your peers - at least as far as undergraduate grades go.

    That said, a GPA is not necessarily the be-all and end-all measure of a student. So it might be worth looking at WHY you're earning the grades you are, and if there's anything you can do to improve them.

    This is all great stuff. Most isn't going to help you much with graduate school though. So from the point of view of someone who knows only what you've posted, one thought is that perhaps you're doing too much on the extra-curricular side and not putting enough time into your studies. Cutting ALL of the extra stuff out may not be the best idea, but have you thought about or tried scaling it back to give you a little more time to concentrate on your studies?

    One thing to keep in mind about this kind of strategy is that it can backfire. Sometimes the "easy" courses are a lot harder than you might have thought. It's possible to get caught up in a course that's more challenging than you expect and made even more challenging by the fact that you didn't want to take it in the first place.

    Of course. I can certainly understand that as a student trying to break into a field, you don't always get to feel the love. One tip though is that this feeling of value really needs to come from within you. If you're hoping for external signals that you're a valued contributor to a program, it's probably going to take a while for them to come. And often whether or not they do has less to do with the field you're in and more to do with the people that you eventually work with and for.
  7. Apr 3, 2017 #6
    As Choppy said, many (perhaps even most or all) grad schools have a firm 3.0 minimum GPA for admission.
  8. Apr 3, 2017 #7
    Thanks for the replies so far.

    Something I definitely see from all of this is that bringing my GPA would help out a lot, and that starting some GRE prep this summer would probably do me a lot of good. A 3.0, which isn't too far away, wouldn't make everything better, but seems to be the boundary between a weak application and satire.

    To avoid diving deeper into TL'DR territory I didn't mention how the Ravens band was in the past, and that the whole space gala only uses me one night a year. I am going to step down from running the Astro Club though, mostly for my sake as that can be a bit much at times. The remaining sounds more manageable

    I am particularly curious about better study habits/strategies, and in the longer run, what my prospects would look like if I jumped to geology, chemistry, atmospheric, or some sort of computer science in the space science world. What could I do as a Physics major in my situation?
  9. Apr 3, 2017 #8
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