Need advice regarding my admissions prospects for graduate school

  • #1
Fabes124
3
0
Hello everyone,

This is my first time posting here.
I'm currently a rising senior double majoring in physics and math at a top 10 (maybe top 15) research institution.
I'm quite worried about my admissions prospects and I'm wondering whether my application is competitive or not. More exactly, I want to know if I should apply this year or if I should maybe wait. For some context, by the time of application, I would have a 3.54 cumulative GPA, with a 3.39 physics GPA, and a 4.00 math GPA. During my sophomore year, I suffered through a very traumatic personal experience that made me do quite poorly in multiple classes. I have since retaken 2 of them, but I still have an F in junior lab. I have gotten straight A's ever since. Without that F, my physics GPA is 3.76 and my cumulative GPA in upper-level math and physics would be 3.85.
I would have also taken 4 graduate-level physics classes (qft 1&2, gr, and particle theory: dark matter) and 3 graduate-level math classes (complex analysis, algebra, algebraic topology), and I would have gotten A's in all of them.
I also have relatively strong research experience in theoretical physics (most of it in formal theory, but some in theoretical cosmology), with additional experience coming from reading courses in the math department covering topics like differential topology and representation theory, but no publications yet.
From there, I expect to have solid recommendation letters from well-respected professors.
I'm just wondering if that F and the retakes would greatly impact my chances of getting into top schools. Also, would I benefit from taking the physics GRE? Most schools don't require it and I have heard contradicting opinions from different people.
Should I apply this year or would I benefit more from just applying next year after having retaken the physics lab?
I'm a bit afraid to apply and be rejected from everywhere, especially since I know formal theory is very competitive. Any advice will be much appreciated. Thank you very much.
 
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  • #2
Sure, if you apply, you might not receive an offer of admission. But if you do not apply, you'll be guaranteed not to get in anywhere. It's not like you only have one shot.

Strong standing in third, fourth year and graduate level classes, tends to overshadow poor performance in earlier year courses. On the surface of your statement, it sounds like you had a bad experience, but have overcome that challenge. So it's not unreasonable to apply.

Of course, the devil is often in the details. What you're up against is a competitive scenario. You're going to be assessed against other applicants who have had stellar performances all the way through, and it's hard to toss out the person with a 4.0 GPA in favour of someone with a 3.5.

Fabes124 said:
I would have also taken 4 graduate-level physics classes (qft 1&2, gr, and particle theory: dark matter) and 3 graduate-level math classes (complex analysis, algebra, algebraic topology), and I would have gotten A's in all of them.
Do you mean you're planning to take 4 graduate physics classes and 3 graduate math classes in the coming year and plan to get As in them? Or do you mean you have taken these courses and have As in them? Sometimes we get questions on these forums from students who, after a disappointing performance, propose a hypothetical best case scenario, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, it's quite rare for the best case scenario to work out.
 
  • #3
Choppy said:
Sure, if you apply, you might not receive an offer of admission. But if you do not apply, you'll be guaranteed not to get in anywhere. It's not like you only have one shot.
This,

OP, your priority needs to be to retake junior lan and get rid of that F. Otherwise a lot of doors will close. "He got an F in undergrad lab - how will he pass graduate lab? And we can't very well have him TA labs - how will we support him?"

Taking a bunch of grad classes will not compensate for this. You will also likely need to tale them again in htad school. And there's a risk - one C and a lot of departments will conclude that you have demonstrated that you cannot handle grad-level work.
 
  • #4
Choppy said:
Sure, if you apply, you might not receive an offer of admission. But if you do not apply, you'll be guaranteed not to get in anywhere. It's not like you only have one shot.

Strong standing in third, fourth year and graduate level classes, tends to overshadow poor performance in earlier year courses. On the surface of your statement, it sounds like you had a bad experience, but have overcome that challenge. So it's not unreasonable to apply.

Of course, the devil is often in the details. What you're up against is a competitive scenario. You're going to be assessed against other applicants who have had stellar performances all the way through, and it's hard to toss out the person with a 4.0 GPA in favour of someone with a 3.5.Do you mean you're planning to take 4 graduate physics classes and 3 graduate math classes in the coming year and plan to get As in them? Or do you mean you have taken these courses and have As in them? Sometimes we get questions on these forums from students who, after a disappointing performance, propose a hypothetical best case scenario, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, it's quite rare for the best case scenario to work out.
Thank you for the advice! Yes, that makes sense. Of course, in case I do not get into any schools I would apply again after having retaken the class, but I'm just afraid that reapplying might also lower my chances, I do not know how much that affects admissions.

I had a very bad experience that unfortunately had a vast array of consequences, but I'm unsure how to bring that up in my application without making it sound like an excuse.

Also, I have already taken 3 graduate physics classes, and 1 graduate math class and had gotten an A+/A in all 4. I would be taking 1 more grad physics and 2 more grad math this upcoming fall, but the physics I would expect an easy A as I have already learned all the material, and my research project is based on my knowing the content so I've had quite a bit of exposure. The grad mat classes are a bit more difficult, but I'm assuming I do well on them. I have taken the undergrad version of both of them and gotten A+/A so I feel fairly confident in being able to learn the material and be successful in the classes.
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50 said:
This,

OP, your priority needs to be to retake junior lan and get rid of that F. Otherwise a lot of doors will close. "He got an F in undergrad lab - how will he pass graduate lab? And we can't very well have him TA labs - how will we support him?"

Taking a bunch of grad classes will not compensate for this. You will also likely need to tale them again in htad school. And there's a risk - one C and a lot of departments will conclude that you have demonstrated that you cannot handle grad-level work.
Thank you! I very much agree, unfortunately, that class is only offered in the spring, so I would only be able to retake it by the time of the next grad school admissions cycle. But yeah, I very much understand, it would be quite difficult to make a school take a chance on someone who might not be able to pass graduate lab.

Also, in the case of the TA, I have been an undergraduate Learning Assistant for the physics department and an undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the math department, would that maybe help me?
 
  • #6
Derpartments need TAs where they need them. If they need them in labs (and often that's the case) and you can't do labs, it's not so helpful if you can do something else. Do you blame them for favoring someone who can fill the needed slot?
 

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