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Physics Graduate School Chances

  1. Sep 25, 2012 #1

    I go to a College with a small physics department and as a result I do not have a very helpful adviser (I don't blame him we have only a handful of professors and after one left, this new one got charged with being an adviser all of a sudden).

    Because of this I am a bit in the dark when it comes to what I should expect. I don't know if I'm being foolish in applying to a PHD program, or if I should try a master's.

    Here are the facts:
    I have a 3.0 major average. I have received a few A's, a couple of B's and B+'s however, I received a C in an introductory physics class when I was getting used to mathematics (I was always a purely liberal arts student beforehand). Since then the only other bad grade I received was a C in ordinary differential equations (I went back over the summer and studied up on the subject, I am now confident in it). Other than that I have all A's in my calculus classes, and partial differential equations. My overall college GPA is a 3.5.

    I did research in an optics/imaging laboratory over the summer, and I am sure the professor was happy with my help. He can get me a good recommendation. I believe I can get 2 more good recommendations as my professors were always fond of me and I got to know them outside of the class speaking about the material we cover in office hours.

    I am currently taking Quantum Mechanics, Atomic Physics and Solid State Physics classes, and in 3 weeks I will take the Physics Subject GRE. On the General GRE i received a 161 on the quantitative section (out of 170 on the new scale).

    My dream is to get into the PHD program at the CUNY graduate center in NYC, which is ranked 63rd in the country.

    My question: With all that, am I being foolish in trying applying? How would you put my chances? Right now I feel like EVERYTHING is riding on my Subject GRE, is this accurate?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2012 #2
    Follow your dreams. Applying is never foolish.
  4. Sep 28, 2012 #3
    Thank you, I most certainly will. I fear I was unclear in my original post. I do not plan to not apply. I certainly will try. I simply hope to get some feedback on my chances, given my record. Right now I'm in the dark with how difficult it is to get into a program ranked 63rd in the country.

    This anxiety of not knowing is killing me slowly on the inside xD
  5. Sep 29, 2012 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    First, the 63rd number is all but meaningless. Ranking is more about the size of the program than anything else: large programs have more opportunities for the people doing the ranking to recognize good work than small schools.

    Second, it's impossible to guess what will be going through a particular admissions committee's mind. Sometimes they focus more on one aspect of a portfolio and sometimes another.

    Smoking the GRE is a very good idea. 3.0 is not a strong in-major average, and it is on the line between passing and failing for graduate school, where the courses are more difficult. Professors who are fond of you because you see them out of class will write average letters. The letters will say good things about you, but they will not stand out from the crowd because they can't. A letter that will stand out will describe specific accomplishments that you have made.

    Finally, if the "anxiety of not knowing is killing me slowly on the inside" you should consider a career outside of science. A career in science is absolutely filled with this: "will my paper be accepted?" "will my grant proposal be funded?" "will my equipment arrive in time?" "what if it rains?" If this is slowly killing you, you will be miserable as a scientist.
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