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Odd academic situation and graduate school admissions

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  • Thread starter hlin818
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

To elaborate on said situation - I went to a top 50 US public university for a few years majoring in math and during this period of time I had no significant interest or motivation in school, much less any graduate school aspirations. I didn't do *horrible*, but my gpa was about a 3.1. I took some time off from college to uh, soul search and I proceeded to move to another state and was fortunate enough to transfer into a top 30 university with a fairly strong physics program as a physics major. It was there that I discovered my passion for physics which gave me a lot more motivation in academics all around.

Over the next four years I racked up a ~3.88 GPA with a double major in physics and mathematics at my new university, retaking all of the old math classes I didn't do so well in and showing that I could understand the material. I did 3 summer REUs and an honors thesis that led to a publication. I have the typical awards people get for a strong GPA, some tutoring experience, and what I believe to be strong recommendations from professors who supervised my work and I got a 890 (86 percentile) on the PGRE.

I'm really hoping to get into a top ten program but I am very worried that my less than ideal performance at my old institution will kill my chances. Will it? Please be brutally honest. I'm interested in exp. rather than theory.
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I really don't think that this will kill your chances. In fact, if I was reviewing your application, I would consider it as a good thing, since it shows inner motivation and ability to progress.

However, getting into a top10 program is extremely competitive. You should also consider less prestigious schools, but which are strong in your particular field of interest.
 
  • #3
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No, it in absolutely no way killed your chances.

Now whether you're guaranteed a top ten, I don't know? But you are definitely a competitor.
 
  • #4
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Thank you to both of you, that is reassuring to hear.

I'll be sure to apply to programs outside the top ten. To be honest there are a lot of schools I would want to go to outside of the prestigious ones but from the research I've done it seems that obtaining a teaching position in academia is extremely prestige-centric - nearly every faculty member at universities and colleges in the USA seem have gone to Harvard, MIT, Princeton, etc although it seems like there are many less prestigious programs in the 10-20 range that are a lot easier to get into yet seem to be doing near equivalent amounts of research.
 
  • #5
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I think you should explore some of the other career options that will be open to you with a PhD in Physics (industry, military and non-military government labs, policy positions etc). Becoming tenure-track faculty at a decent research institution is your least likely outcome so make sure you would enjoy some of the other job possibilities. As you pointed out, tenure-track faculty come overwhelmingly from top 10 institutions, and even for top-10 graduates the competition is fierce.

On a brighter note, I think you will experience little or no negative effects from your shaky start/time off. I have an even weirder situation (actually got a degree in Neuroscience with a crazy transcript e.g. 1 semester with nothing but fine arts, one semester with 3 F's - then totally kicked butt in a second bachelor's in Physics at a different institution) and I've still been told my application is 'very strong' at a handful of great physics programs.
 

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