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Rejected from all REUs. What am I lacking?

  1. Mar 20, 2014 #1
    I have, across the board, been rejected from all ten REUs that I applied to. A lot of them (CERN, Perimeter, SULI) make sense because of how prestigious they are, but I also failed to get into lesser know programs such as DAAD-RISE, Baylor, Columbia, Cornell, Indiana, Will&Mary, and Duke. I'd like to know what it is that killed me so I can try to improve it if I choose to re-apply next summer, or go to grad school.

    I am a Junior in an accelerated masters program, doing a BS in physics/math and an MS in physics. I have taken 18+ credits every semester since sophomore year, and my cumulative gpa is 3.5 (is this competitive?) and a physics gpa of 3.7. During the summer of my sophomore year, I worked in my university's nuclear lab doing random experiments on decaying isotopes as per the will of my supervisor; it was mainly calibration, checking attenuations of various materials, finding activities, and so on. I have done theoretical work in quantum mechanics with a different professor, where our goal was to provide an extension of Bohm Theory into Special Relativity (this has been put on the back-burner because the professor had to take the semester off due to illness). I have also begun my senior project with yet a third professor, in the field of chaos theory.

    I might not be the most amazing candidate in the world, but I think I have very reasonable grades and some research experience, so I don't quite understand why I couldn't have gotten into at least one program. What am I missing, and what can I do to improve my prospects?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 20, 2014 #2
    It appears there is a good amount of research being done at your university. REUs are aimed at those who do not have such opportunities.
  4. Mar 20, 2014 #3
    - How good were your personal statements? Those are pretty important as they help the REU admissions committee understand your motivation to seek an REU.
    - How good were your letters of rec? Those are sometimes more important than the personal statements.
    -A lot of REUs seek to improve research opportunities for those who may not have them. As mentioned earlier, it helps if you don't have a lot of research opportunities at your university, or are a minority/female.
  5. Mar 20, 2014 #4
    -I think my Personal statements were also good. I started off by writing a "base" letter, and then changed around some parts of it based on where I was applying (e.g., the emphasis, why I wanted to go to that specific program, what I know about the research).

    -I only saw one of the three letters of recommendation. I was very happy with it.

    -I am not minority by any definition of the word.
  6. Mar 21, 2014 #5
    I had a 3.8 and no research experience and i was rejected from all ten that I applied too. I didn't even apply to top schools like you did. One of my female classmates had a lower GPA than me and got into one I was rejected from...

    REUs can be very competitive.
  7. Mar 21, 2014 #6
    Mmm Pasta's answer makes the most sense to me. I have met two people who did REUs at Baylor and they both came from infinitesimal LACs. But I also know two guys at my giant research undergrad who have done research here who also got DAAD-Rise or another similar German REU, and the latter had weak LORs(don't ask).

    Did your SOP fit the program? Did you talk about condensed matter when it was for astrophysics or something?
  8. Mar 21, 2014 #7
    DAAD is not an unknown program by far, don't know where you got that idea from. Competition for summer internships is becoming increasingly fierce. CERN gets 160+ apps for less than 20 summer positions, last year (I was waitlisted). NRAO got over 200 applications for 21 positions just this year for their summer internship, roughly 180 last year (I got waitlisted both times). This is not their REU program, rather the one for recent graduates, but I presume they get even more applications for about the same spots if not less. I would not sweat it, REU's traditionally favor females and minorities, especially from smaller schools who don't have any research opportunities at all, that is why they exist. Take full advantage of what you have at your school.
  9. Mar 22, 2014 #8

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    One thing to keep in mind is that you have reached a point where even if you do everything right and nothing wrong, you still might not get into the program. If there are 100 "perfect" applicants and 10 slots, there are still 10 slots.

    The other has been mentioned - a lot of places show preference towards students for which this is their only opportunity.
  10. Mar 22, 2014 #9
    Columbia and Cornell also have pretty well known REU programs...
  11. Mar 22, 2014 #10
    First off, I would agree with the statement that even if you do everything right, you can still get rejected. A response that really resonated with me happened when I withdrew my application from an REU - the director of the program wrote that there were too many excellent applicants, all perfectly qualified, for not enough spots and that any qualified candidate truly is lucky to get into an REU for that reason. My mom always tells me that in another year, the opposite could have happened. You could have been accepted to all 10 in another year - sounds like you were qualified. Don't take it personally.

    Also, Cornell is one of the most competitive REUs. William and Mary is pretty competitive, too. So don't feel bad about those. Cornell had over 600 applications and I heard all the first offers accepted, so that's like a 2-3% acceptance rate. Don't feel bad! There are just a lot of really top students and a limited number of spots.

    TomServo: I think the small LAC is an intention of REUs, but I have found that it's not really true. I looked at the list of previous participants thoroughly and usually, half or more came from big schools like UCB or UMich.
  12. Mar 22, 2014 #11
    Thanks for the responses. I was just wondering why it was that I was the only person in my department that wasn't accepted into an REU program (2 got into SULI and 2 got into E3S at Berkeley). I was wondering what they could have done differently from me when my gpa and research experience were neither lowest nor highest in the group.
  13. Mar 22, 2014 #12
    I completely understand. I come from a very small physics program (with no graduate program), and I am a female with a 4.0 GPA. I only got accepted to one REU (Louisiana State, which I think is pretty unknown for anything). I, too, was very disappointed.
  14. Mar 23, 2014 #13


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    Have you asked to see their application materials to compare to yours?
  15. Mar 23, 2014 #14
    Louisiana State is known for gravitational physics. The person leading LIGO is a professor there.
  16. Mar 23, 2014 #15
    This and their solid state physics program is rock solid, no pun intended. I would not pass up the opportunity to go there even if this isn't what you want to go to grad school for, it is likely to be an excellent experience and a major boost to your grad applications.

    I'm starting to see an overarching theme here: most undergrads don't seem to know what lots of competetive schools are known for if they aren't brand-name top 10. I am thinking this leads to people greatly overestimating their odds of getting in to REU's and grad programs.
  17. Mar 23, 2014 #16
    I intend to take an extra semester here to earn my masters in physics through an accelerated program. This means that next summer, I will again be eligible to apply to a bunch of REUs/internships. Besides improving my grades (I've already decided that I'm getting all As from now on :p), is there anything concrete that I can do to improve my odds, or do I just accept that this is mostly based on luck?
  18. Mar 26, 2014 #17
    Just got a rejection email from SASP's summer program, in case a dead horse needs some additional beating:
  19. Mar 27, 2014 #18
    At least rejection letters are still going out. I think UC-Boulder said that they will notify applicants when all positions are filled, and I haven't received that e-mail yet, so...
  20. Mar 27, 2014 #19
    In my experience with grad schools, admission notifications come out much earlier than rejections, in order to give time people to accept/decline them and open up positions for people on waiting lists. This process usually happens well before March 15th, but can in principle go as far as April 15th/Tax Day, but this is very unusual. So if rejection letters are already going out for a program you're waiting for, I wouldn't count on getting an admission.
  21. Mar 27, 2014 #20


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    Yeah, I wouldn't think about it as being "rejected" but rather not winning a mini Lotto. There are so many applicants that more than surpass the requirements that in the end it all comes down to chance. From the few people that have talked to me about these decisions (in one case the person had finally to decide on a slot between 2 people), they seem to then look at your history and give preference not for the more qualified candidate, but for the less, as the REU is meant to BE EXPERIENCE, and its meant to help those that don't have the opportunity.

    Otherwise you'd have a snowball effect where whoever gets ahead earliest will always win, and this isn't fair.

    A tip if you try again next year:
    There is more than REU, there are summer schools as well (may only be a few weeks long). Keep an eye out for them.
    Ask your professors before application next year if they know of any of their personal friends/colleagues at different schools that have an REU program. Physics is a large percent about who you know. Professors went to school with their colleagues, did REU's with them, went to TASI/etc; its amazing how you become fast friends with all of them.
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