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Pointers needed in getting into physics grad school

  1. May 25, 2012 #1
    I aspire to getting into a reputable US physics grad school.

    As I'm aware of so far (correct me if I'm wrong), there are 4 main things grad schools look at:
    (in no particular order)

    1. Your GPA
    2. Your research experience
    3. Recommendation letters
    4. Your physics GRE score

    Do any of these stand out as especially important? Or are they equally important in the decision making process?

    I did not do very well in my first year courses (mainly due to laziness). Are schools willing to overlook subpar first year results granted I do well in later courses such as quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics?

    Also, I aspire to get into theoretical work. However, as an undergraduate I feel that it is quite difficult to do any serious theoretical research. Is it worth it to delve into experimental/lab work, or will it not be very helpful if I plan to get into the theoretical side?

    Since I plan to get into theoretical, are GRE and GPA scores more important than research experience?

    Thanks! Even if you can only answer one of my many questions, please provide your input! I will really appreciate it!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2012 #2
    I'm not on an admissions committee, so obviously I can't give you anything firm, but here is my impression from having applied and been accepted to grad school in physics.

    GPA (mostly your phys/math GPA) and PGRE can keep you out of a program if they show you don't have the background skills to hack it in the graduate classes.

    Once you're GPA/PGRE is above this loose 'threshold' your research experience as indicated in your letters of recommendation and/or publications become the primary consideration.

    Grades in upper-level math and physics are much more important than intro classes. An upward trend in GPA is viewed favorably.

    Any and all research experience is valuable as an undergraduate. Keep in mind that many students switch from theoretical to experimental (and vice versa less frequently). A group doing computational/simulation work might be a happy medium for you right now.

    If you will be really selling yourself as theory in your grad school apps, your PGRE and math background/grades become even more important.

    Good luck to you!
  4. May 27, 2012 #3
    Hey Factors of 2, thanks for the very thorough response! Really grateful that you took the time to to help me out.
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