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Rejected from all schools

  1. Mar 16, 2008 #1
    So I'm a big-headed idiot and only applied to top schools. Friday I got my last rejection letter from all the physics programs I applied to (it was UCLA's). I'm guessing it was because one of my weakspots as an applicant showed up on two-three of my recommendations (I'm lazy). I wasn't expecting on getting into any of the top schools but I figured UCLA would be fine. I guess I was wrong.

    I'm still dead-set on going to grad school. I'm thinking of applying to mid or lower-tier master's program, not making the same stupid mistakes, completing it and then trying again next year. Are there any programs that would take applications this late? Any other suggestions?

    -I'm domestic
    -Georgia Tech Physics B.S.
    -3.55 GPA (highest honors)
    -REU at UCLA, and 2 other semesters of research experience,
    -Physics GRE: 820
    -GRE Quant: 740
    -GRE Verbal: 680
    -GRE Writing: 5.5
    -I've been tutoring full time (40hours a week) for the past 3 years.

    I'm still 20 so I'm not too devastated (graduated in 2.5 years). I figure worst case scenario I might start PhD program on time, or a year late than the usual.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2008 #2
    It's usually good strategy to apply to some weaker schools you are absolutely certain you will be accepted to just in case the better ones don't want you for whatever reason.
  4. Mar 16, 2008 #3
    How does one graduate in 2.5 years while working full time as a tutor? That is an amazing feat to me. How could a lazy person pull this off? Props to you.

    I will say that your GPA is pretty good and that alone shouldn't keep you out of any schools. Your GRE scores seem to be good enough, but your quantitative score might be a bit on the low side, but again I don't think that alone would keep you out of any programs.

    However, I would say that if 2 or 3 of your recommenders said you are lazy then I would definitely not rate your chance of admission very high. I doubt they would outright say you are lazy though. If they really thought this then they probably wouldn't write you a letter in the first place.
  5. Mar 16, 2008 #4
    Plus, you might be accepted into a better program but they might not have the means to fund you whereas a lesser program might have funding for you.

    Since you graduate 1.5 years earlier than most people you could maybe get some relevant industry experience before going back to school, or maybe you could get some more research experience and get some publications out. This will certainly boost your odds at getting in somewhere. Also, in the meantime, study for the GRE (general and physics), retake it and get an even better score.

    Also, do you have a clear understanding of what you are interested in? Grad programs like seeing people that are determined and have very focused interests in mind. Do you know of specific professors you would be interested in working for? Maybe you could try contacting them.
  6. Mar 16, 2008 #5
    you could also take some more advanced graduate classes, which will make you more appealing to a graduate program.
  7. Mar 16, 2008 #6
    They went probably went something like this:
    "While µ³ may achieve high grades, he never shows up for class, only turns in about half the assignments, rarely on time. However, he gets just high enough on a final to make an A except for the times he doesn't and gets a C".

    I can't really take more graduate classes if I'm not in school (I just graduated). This is why I'm asking if there's any place that's weak enough to accept me this late, but competitive enough that I have a good chance to get into a good grad school with a Master's given that I don't slack off again.

    In all my SOP's I included specific people, groups, and research I would like to partake in. Although I may have not really decided what I want to do, I made sure to not make it seem that way to the programs I was applying to.

    Either way, thanks for the advice leright.

    Anyway, if anyone is interested here's the long story of how I may have screwed myself over:

    At my REU at UCLA, they never gave me a time to show up. So in the beginning I would show up around 9-9:30 and leave at 5pm. I started noticing that no one seemed to care so by the end I was showing up at around 11am-2pm and leaving around 4pm. I was however still getting a lot of work done and meeting regularly with the people I was working with. At the end the project I spoke with the advisor for the REU. He said he understood that not everyone works the same way and that it appeared I still did good work so I asked him for recommendations. I asked if it was possible for me to work there the following Spring before grad school starts since I was graduating in December and wouldn't really have anything to do in spring. They said that was fine contingent on grants coming through so that they could afford to fund me, and acceptance, which they said shouldn't be a big hurdle.

    However, I failed to turn in the required paper until 6 months later. The project I was working on was a program that compiled data from a billion instruments/simulations from different servers in order to perform a particular calculation. I finished what was originally planned out for me to do pretty early (3rd week), so naturally we kept coming up with more ways to extend the program to collect a wider variety data and be more versatile and include data analysis. I didn't technically finish the project (latest outline of it). They said this was ok. However, an incomplete program is useless so I suggested I'd finish it from home. The various servers I was using were constantly changing and updating and every time I fixed a bug, an old piece of the program would break until it got to the point where my progress was in the negatives. It didn't help that the two grad classes I signed up for were kicking my ass (I was so used to easy undergrad classes; didn't think it'd be that different), on top of having to work 40 hours a week to pay rent so I would only work on the program maybe twice a month. Regardless, In the e-mail exchanges with the professors I was doing the program for I kept telling them that I was "almost done". By January, my ssh accounts expired and I was too embarrassed to try to get them re-instated. They too gave up and stopped e-mailing me.

    Naturally, I'm sure word of the incomplete project and 6 month late research paper got around to graduate admissions.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2008
  8. Mar 16, 2008 #7
    wow 3.55 from gatech and no acceptance good thing i gave up on physics
  9. Mar 16, 2008 #8


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    Well, it would be pretty strange for someone to write a reference like this. However, if you knew that the references would be poor, then why didn't you go to someone else for a reference? Also, if you openly admit to never turning up for class, and only handing in half of your homework, rarely on time, then why are you applying for the top grad schools? The only way you'll get in, if you admit that you're lazy etc. is if you're a genius. Now, your letters don't really hint at that, and your GPA doesn't say that either.

    I think the most important thing here is to ask yourself why you are applying for grad school. Are you just applying so you don't have to go and get a job, or do you really want to work hard and get a PhD? It's not an easy path, and I promise you you will fail if you don't drop the attitude of not turning up to class and not handing in work. The grad schools you have applied to have probably seen this, and so don't want to waste time and money on you!
  10. Mar 16, 2008 #9


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    It's not surprising really; you must not have read the part in the OP about him only applying to top schools. These schools have the pick of thousands of students, and so do not go by grades alone!
  11. Mar 16, 2008 #10

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    I hate to be a party pooper, but what makes you think even a mid-tier or low-tier school will have you?

    If the letters of recommendation are as you say - and based on your description, I think they might be even worse ("He works on what he wants to, when he wants to - sometimes that's enough and the work is good; sometimes he finishes months late, if he finishes at all.") this could be trouble. Reading past posts, you mention you got a D in a class you didn't think was interesting, and then a W on the re-take. This would only seem to confirm via the official transcript what the letter writers are saying.

    The problem here is that the life of a graduate student involves hard work, long hours, and often the only way to make progress is to simply plow ahead on a part of a project that isn't glamorous, exciting, or even particularly interesting - it just has to be done. If your letters say that this isn't the sort of environment in which you thrive, this is going to be a problem for every grad school, not just the top ones. Every single one of them.
  12. Mar 16, 2008 #11


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    At this stage, my next move would be to consider a graduate program at my previous institution... possibly applying elsewhere after a year or so. In addition, I'd consult the faculty there, especially those who wrote those reference letters.

    (You also might check... were your applications complete?)
  13. Mar 16, 2008 #12
    those seemed like pretty good qualifications even for a top applicant
  14. Mar 16, 2008 #13


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    Maybe so, but I don't think that these colleges will simply look at "I did 3 semesters research experience" but are more likely to look at the letters of recommendation that the supervisors write about the students. By his own admission, these will not be good, and thus heavily weigh down his applications.

    Further, something I didn't notice before, but if the applicant has time to tutor for 40hours a week throughout the whole of his degree, then surely he would be expected to have grades very close to 100%. The arguement would go something like "if you have enough time to work full time (which is basically what tutoring is) then you surely need no more time to work on your studies; i.e you would be a perfect student."
  15. Mar 16, 2008 #14
    Many universities offer non-degree seeking student options. It's a separate application entirely, usually much more lenient than the normal degree-seeking application process. A non-degree seeking student is usually accepted with no funding, but are allowed to take classes that do not apply toward a degree, but may possibly be transferred to a degree-seeking program. However, once you prove yourself after a year or so, you have the option of applying as a degree-seeking grad student with a stronger application, and if you stay at that institution, those classes will count.
  16. Mar 16, 2008 #15

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    More so than most people realize.

    The grad school admissions committee is not trying to find the students with the most gold stars next to their names. They are trying to find students who are likely to complete graduate school, and go on to become researchers themselves. Letters that say the student has done poorly in an environment as similar to graduate school as one can get will be considered very seriously and will get a lot of weight.

    It might well be better to strike all mention of the REUs and to get letters from completely different people.
  17. Mar 16, 2008 #16
    One of my recommendations actually got misplaced. They (UCLA) were nice enough to write me an e-mail notifying me so. I wasn't expecting on getting into any of the other top schools.
    I'm only doing this as a last resort. There's a reason I graduated in 2.5 years, and it's not because I wanted to show off.
    This is kind of what I was banking on. Guess it didn't work... durr
    Well for the two professors I took classes with. I was scoring near 100's on most the tests/finals/homework sets (the ones I turned in), when the averages where in the 50'-60's.
    It's not that I don't work hard. Last semester I would pull 2-3 all-nighters in a row alternating between work and homework sets for grad classes at least once a month and it actually turned out to be one of the more enjoyable of my semesters. It's just I have an almost-compulsive tendency to avoid hard work (the tedious kind), if it seems like it is avoidable or if it seems like I can get away with it. I never went to class because I can learn faster from reading/working through the textbook than from attending the lecture, which is usually pretty straight from the textbook anyway. Well I guess it finally caught up to me. Attitude dropped. I do want to get my PhD, because I do want to go into academia, and I don't mind at all working hard for it. and so...
    I'm going with this. I've been going through as many schools as possible looking for a potential school that will take me. Monday morning I'm going to call a few admission departments and see if it is even worth applying.
  18. Mar 16, 2008 #17
    I had a friend who's gpa and other such things had branded him as lazy, in order to fix this he canceled his graduation plans and spent an extra year retaking the upper-divs he worked hard and got all A's, now he's in grad school
  19. Mar 16, 2008 #18


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    My own supervisor thinks I'm lazy. He described me as lazy and just wants to do what he wants to do. I skip quite a bit.

    I love mathematics though. I think that is what it is that he knows and that when I do my own thing, I don't want to do anything else. When I do my own thing, I just want to keep doing that period and I do it well.

    I know one of the graduate students here. He's really excited for me to come next year so we can talk mathematics. I'm excited (always have been) too now because for the first time in my life I found someone around my level and actually wants to talk math! I waited years for that kind of moment.

    Note: I start graduate school next year.
  20. Mar 16, 2008 #19
    why don't you just apply to a low tier school?
    if you are saying staying where you just graduated is last resort, why not send in an application to a few low tier schools?

    that way you can see if there's any schools that are accepting you and possibly work your way up from there. Maybe take classes for a year or 2 at a lower tier school then transfer to a phd program at a middle tier school that offers your area of interest ( at this point the tier doesn't matter as much as thinking about what you want to research and where that type of research is being funded)
  21. Mar 16, 2008 #20


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    Nobody writes a recommendation letter like that. But, it might have been a very bland, unenthusiastic letter, which can be just as bad, such as "I am writing this letter on behalf of... who took my ...class in ....semester. He received an A in my class, which covered topics such as.... " If you hardly ever showed up for class, how could they write much more than that about you since they have no idea who you are? Get letters from people who KNOW you.

    STOP! Here is the point where you have an important question to ask yourself. WHY did you slack off the first time around? Why were you not motivated to show up for classes or to get an A on EVERY exam, not just enough to scrape together enough points for the final grade? Are you REALLY motivated by this subject and to work hard, and will you REALLY not slack off again? Get a job for a year and do some deep thinking about what you really enjoy and what motivates you. If you aren't so excited about a subject that you can't bear to miss a lecture on it, and are only interested in doing enough work to get a good grade, but not to really dig in and learn it for the sake of learning it, then you really don't belong in grad school.

    Did you get any interviews? Unless you're a pro at acting, it would be hard to come across truly enthusiastic about a research area if you're just going through the motions listing them for the sake of applications and not because it's something that really interests you. Again, if you're so uncertain of what you want to do, why do you want to go to grad school? How are you sure you want to go to grad school? When you find the area that really excites you and you can't stop talking about it, THEN consider grad school.

    Again, I'm seeing a common theme here. "Nobody seemed to care"...including you. Contrast this with an intern I had last summer...I don't tell people what time to show up either unless it's something I need to be there to show them...she was usually in the lab before I got there in the morning, was willing to stay late into the evenings if necessary, came in on weekends if necessary, and if she didn't have work to do in the lab, asked for relevant research articles to read in her spare time to better understand the subject of our research. THAT is grad student type behavior, and although I haven't yet convinced her to go to grad school, I have arranged for her to work with us after she graduates this year, because I really WANT her in my lab, and if she did decide to apply to grad school, that's what I'd tell people on reference letters, that she is so great I want her in my lab...I don't even know or care what her grades look like, because I've seen her work and her dedication and know how quickly she grasped the concepts of the research project we were doing. THAT is what graduate programs are looking for, someone who is SELF-motivated.

    Sounds like a lot of excuses. I know I'm being harsh here, but I think you need to take a step back and look more objectively at everything you're writing here and think really hard about why you are even applying to grad school at all. What I'm seeing here isn't someone who really wants to go to grad school, but someone who may be truly undecided about what they want to do and is trying to use grad school to avoid making a decision yet.

    That's a BIG RED FLAG! Again, maybe you aren't sufficiently prepared to handle graduate level work yet. You realize that grad students have more than two classes at a time AND are expected to be actively doing research as well? My experience with graduate level classes was they were easier for me than undergrad classes...because they were all focused on subjects I LOVED learning about, and were all my strong areas...that's why I chose the subject I did for grad school. When you love a subject, it's just so much easier than all those undergrad courses you take just because you need to fulfill requirements for graduation.

    And what assurance would ANY program have that you wouldn't quit part-way through your next project? That's not laziness, that's quitting. In research, it's common for things to take longer than expected, for progress to seem more like regression, for unexpected obstacles to pop up...a good candidate perseveres through all of that and still gets it done. Late isn't a big deal, but completely giving up and not even keeping in touch with your advisor IS a big deal.

    My suggestion at this point is NOT to apply to another graduate program, but first get your act together and figure out what you want to do and why you want to do it. Take a few steps back and find something that really does motivate you to get up in the morning. Consider these rejections as a second chance to avoid making a huge mistake of committing yourself to a long time of doing something you really don't enjoy as much as you're desperately trying to convince yourself you do. Trust me, there IS something out there you really want to do and that will really motivate you, and when you find it, if it requires graduate training, THEN you will apply to grad school and get your admittance.
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