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Programs PhD qualifying exams

  1. Sep 12, 2009 #1
    Out of the following list of schools, I was wondering which ones have a "weeding-out" qualifying exam, and which ones have a qual that's just more of a formality?

    UC Berkeley
    U. of Chicago
    U. of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign
    U. of Maryland, College Park
    U. of Pennsylvania
    U. of Washington
    UC Santa Barbara
    Johns Hopkins
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  3. Sep 12, 2009 #2

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    Why would any school that has a qualifying exam that's just a formality bother to have one at all? This is a lot of work for the faculty.
  4. Sep 12, 2009 #3
    Believe it or not, I've heard of such schools. I have a friend at UND who says that their PhD qualifier consists of nothing but introductory physics problems. At my school, the qual most certainly isn't a formality, because a significant number of people have failed out on the qual. However, we do have a rubber stamp in the form of the oral prelim. I don't know that anyone's ever had to leave because of the oral.

    Granted, an oral is a lot less work on the faculty than a written qual...
  5. Sep 12, 2009 #4
    Well, I've heard from very reliable sources that at Stanford, something like 99% of the students pass the PhD qual. (And by "very reliable sources" I mean Stanford grad students and advisors with whom I worked for several weeks this summer.) They said the qual there is more of a sort of initiation process for new grad students, to make them feel like they've earned the privilege of being PhD candidates.

    The reason I ask about the other places is that I just want to be sure that wherever I get in, I'll most likely be able to stay there.
  6. Sep 12, 2009 #5


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    well if you make it into Stanford's grad school...that should say a lot about you as a student and your capabilities

    I don't think stanford takes in below average quality Ph.D. prospects :tongue:
  7. Sep 12, 2009 #6
    Which leads me to formulate a hypothesis as to why 99% of Stanford's students might pass the qual. I think that in general, all PhD qualifiers are of about the same difficulty (except for UND, I guess). If you've seen about fifty Lagrangian problems, you've seen them all. There are only about five or six basic questions you can ask that concern two particles interacting via their spin. And there are only so many ways a nucleus can decay. I'd wager to say that Stanford's qual and the one at my department are about the same.

    Here's the thing: Stanford doesn't accept below-average students. No offense to my department...but we do. So the qual will weed out more of our students than theirs. That would explain why the qual seems "harder" at certain places.
  8. Sep 12, 2009 #7


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    Exactly. The point I was trying to get across was that the OP's decision to use Stanford as an example to prove his point doesn't exactly work to his favor.
  9. Sep 12, 2009 #8
    The qualifying exam here at Cornell is (so I've heard) quite easy.
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