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Programs PhD in the US

  1. Feb 15, 2008 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm a 4th year (Honours) physics student from Australia thinking about applying to do a PhD in the US.

    I'm aware that I'll need to take the GRE exam, but I'm otherwise quite ignorant about the procedures involved. For example, when to take the GRE and how early must it be taken prior to commencing a PhD. At what time of the year do US PhDs typically start work etc. Also, do these requirements vary substantially from one university to university?

    Is there anyone here that has any experiences in applying to US PhD programs that they could share with me? Are there any websites set up for this purpose?

    Last edited: Feb 15, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2008 #2
    First of all, best wishes in your graduate applications.

    I would recommend you go over to physicsgre.com. A lot of the people on this site end up getting into the programs they want to get into. Some kids get into MIT, Cornell, Caltech, etc., so it's a much better resource than physicsforums since it is more specialized.

    Ok, so here goes. You will be applying to Physics PhD programs and that will require that you take the GENERAL GRE and the GRE Physics subject exams. In the United States, the General Exam can be taken at anytime, but it might differ in Australia. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to take the General GRE the October you are applying to graduate schools and the Physics GRE no later than December of that same year. Physics GRE, along with all GRE subject exams are only offered 3-4 times a year; October, November, December, April (i might be wrong about one of the months).

    Aside from having to take the GRE's, all that is required are transcripts, personal statements, letters of recommendation. It really isn't terribly different aside from the GRE's. Find out from the ETS website the procedure for international students taking the GREs.

    Again, good luck!
  4. Feb 15, 2008 #3
    Hi JasonJo,

    Thanks for the info.

    So if I were to take the GRE in October '08, when is the soonest in 2009 that I could apply to graduate school in the US? How many opportunities are there to start PhD programs throughout the year and how long in advance must one have completed the GRE?
  5. Feb 15, 2008 #4
    Ok, i'll give you as an example, how I took my GRE's.

    I'm currently a senior, about to graduate in May. I applied for grad school for Fall 2008. For Fall 2008, a lot of PhD programs had deadlines like December 15 2007, or Jan 2nd 2008. So if you want to apply for Fall 2009 admissions, take the GRE's in October/November/December 2008. This is the general rule of thumb for when to take the GRE's.

    Also MOST, not all, graduate PhD programs do not have Spring admissions.
  6. Feb 15, 2008 #5
    Since, there is generally no spring intake. What do October test takers usually do in the intervening months prior to commencing their PhD?
  7. Feb 16, 2008 #6
    Finish their senior year and possibly take a summer vacation. :smile:
  8. Feb 17, 2008 #7
    I have a feeling that I'm not going to be sufficiently prepared for the GRE for Fall '09 entrance.

    The time of the exam (October '08) is going to be the busiest period of my year. Before which I'll be taking some fairly intensive coursework: quantum mechanics, relativistic QM, QFT, particle physics general relativity and more particle physics.

    So I probably won't be able to find the time to revise enough.

    What would you say my options are. Maybe I should start a masters degree in Australia in '09 and apply for the Fall 2010 entrance?
  9. Feb 17, 2008 #8
    Honestly the GRE is nothing to fret over. The verbal portion is somewhat problematic for us science types, but getting an average score is all you need at most universities since as a physics major you're practically guaranteed 700+. A super high score isn't very important, in my opinion. Most schools simply use it as a basis for denial if it's too low.
  10. Feb 17, 2008 #9
    Again, I really REALLY recommend you going on physicsgre.com, there was an international student who got into an Ivy League for Physics on that website. Before you make any rash decisions, please do visit this website.
  11. Feb 18, 2008 #10
    I haven't decided yet JasonJo, but I have been looking at that website you sent me. Thanks again.

    I'm going to talk to my Honours thesis adviser on wednesday to get his opinion.

    In the meantime, let me just get one thing straight: American universities only accept fall intake right? So Fall'08 and Fall'09 are my only windows of opportunity.

    By the way JasonJo, from reading some of your posts I think we share similar (related anyhow) interests, did any of the schools you applied to accept students other than in Fall? I haven't yet done a comprehensive review of universities, mostly looking at the top ten ones but maybe I'm too ambitious.
  12. Feb 18, 2008 #11


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    Well, you could start studying well before October in the summer to start getting prepared. That should hopefully not be too long before the exam that you've forgotten everything. I'd like to say that's what I did, but between organizing a conference, doing research and taking a class all summer I didn't really get around to studying for the GRE's too much... I did all right, though. The quantitative section shouldn't really be much trouble for you, though it would be good to brush up on your vocabulary to improve your verbal score. It's hard to say about the writing section; I'm generally not a bad writer so I got a 5.0 on it without too much practice (I think the two gre general practice tests on the ets site were my only practice for that part). To practice for the verbal section I used www.number2.com

    As for the phys gre, I guess that depends on how confident you are about your physics ability and what kind of score you're willing to accept. My fall semester was also insanely busy, as the aforementioned conference was held in October, so between that and five courses I didn't get too much of a chance to study for the test - I did four or so practice tests, and in the end netted a 750 on the test. Decent, but not fantastic. I wish I could tell you how much this has mattered for my applications so far, but I've only heard back from uiuc (admitted) and yale (turned down, but it seems like they turned down a lot of people this year, looking at the forums on that physicsgre site) so far. Research experience should hopefully help fill in some gaps if your gre score is in the 700 range.

    I suppose if you have ~$120 to burn you could take the test and if the score isn't so great, opt to retake it again next time and not apply to grad schools that year. It might be an expensive gamble, though.
  13. Feb 18, 2008 #12
    The problem is that the vacation is already over and classes on quantum and relativistic quantum started today.

    Yes I know I should have thought about this earlier when there was still time in the summer break (better late than never I guess).

    Ok. As far as research experience goes, I have one paper published in Phys Lett A, another soon to be published in Phys Rev and one more to be submitted. I am the principal author for all of them. Plus many international conference proceedings. These are all in plasma physics.

    My honours thesis is in theoretical particle physics and is of very short in duration so I don't expect to produce any publications out of it immediately.

    Does this count for much in terms of applying to bigshot universities? I've yet to discuss which I should apply to but I'm ambitiously looking at the top 10 right now.

    Do American universities like brag material? I presented at a conference in first year undergrad and won best student presentation against PhDs and I've presented at another conference independently in third year.

    Any honest opinions would be appreciated.
  14. Feb 18, 2008 #13
    Hey Stokes,

    I can tell you for certain that none of the schools I applied to accept Spring admits. The reason being that in the USA, you need to take a grad course sequence, i.e. Real Analysis I and II and then you take the quals. So admitting someone in Spring does not make sense since they cannot take any of the "I" sequences; those are all offered in Fall. Hope this makes sense.
  15. Feb 18, 2008 #14
    Hey jdstokes, although most programs will only formally admit people for the fall semester, you might be able to start as a "summer research student" in somebody's lab prior to enrolling officially as a graduate student. If I were you I would e-mail some people whose research interests you, explain your situation and ask if they might be willing to consider employing you.

    You could also try working for a lab or a professor somewhere in NZ or Australia for 6 months before you head to the US. I know many people who have done this. If you have enough money, you could also just travel and see the world!
  16. Feb 18, 2008 #15
    I've done quite a bit of traveling already so I'm not busting to go straight away.

    I've also been told that one of the worst things to do is stop thinking about physics and maths for a long period of time.

    The thing is, that even if I somehow made it into the Fall'09 program by doing the GRE this year, I would still be hanging around doing nothing for a while. I then have two options; stay in Melbourne or go back to my previous supervisors in sydney and try to squeeze in a master's degree in the intervening time. That or try to find a job in the real world!

    If I miss the GRE this year, then it sounds from what you guys have been saying that I would need to apply for Fall'10 entrance. Thus I could spend the year of 2009 doing something (like a masters degree or an Honours degree in pure maths or maybe both). But that all means more money and delaying a 5 year PhD program by yet another year.

    Too many decisions! Hopefuly I'll have a clearer idea after speaking to my current supervisor.
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