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Safety schools

  1. Feb 16, 2013 #1
    When applying to grad school, a rule of thumb is to apply to "safety schools". I am wondering does that mean these schools we apply to may not have our desired programs?

    I live in Canada and I am interested in mainly differential geometry for grad studies, but there aren't many grad programs with a focus in the subject; at most I could name four universities: UBC UofT, Waterloo, and McMaster with a focus.

    But these universities are all "top tier" in the Canada. Other universities have Geometry groups, but they don't focus in Diff Geometry.

    If you are applying to a math grad school that don't have a focus in your area does that mean you can't do your Ph.D (what I want) in that university?

    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2013 #2

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    "Safety school" is an undergrad concept. There aren't really safety schools at the graduate level - if a school offers a PhD, that means its pretty good.
  4. Feb 16, 2013 #3
    I don't think the term "safety" refers to the quality of a school, so much as how "difficult" it is to get accepted. There are certainly a few physics graduate programs that have 80+% acceptance rates in the US, while others have below 10%, so I don't think its a meaningless distinction, even if they are all "good".

    To the OP, you can do a PhD anywhere the accepts you, though if a university that accepts you does not do the type of research you are interested in, you will either have to 1) research something else, or 2) find a way to research what you are interested in (this may prove to be very difficult). If you state in your application that you are interested in a certain type of research, and that research is not conducted at that particular university, I have a hard time imagining that has *no effect* on your application, but it certainly doesn't mean that you *can't* be accepted to the school in question.

    But I'm just an undergrad so whatever.
  5. Feb 17, 2013 #4

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    80%? :bugeye: Where?
  6. Feb 17, 2013 #5
    I've combed through at least 50 US grad programs in the past year with AIP reported stats and I've never seen an admissions-applications ratio over 30-40%. In some cases, where the admissions % is that high, the actual number of enrollments is lower, possibly because no/minimal financial support was offered.
  7. Feb 17, 2013 #6


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    Some people get multiple offers, and they can obviously take only one.
  8. Feb 17, 2013 #7
  9. Feb 17, 2013 #8
    Uuuuh, how reliable is that information? I have trouble believing it. Do you have some official sources from the universities that agree with these numbers?
  10. Feb 17, 2013 #9
    Nope, that is my only source. I don't have an issue believing it because it is information compiled by AIP, which is of course very reliable. I believe they have each school send them the information yearly. Also, the information seems pretty intuitive to me. However, if you don't feel that it's reliable then that is understandable.
  11. Feb 17, 2013 #10
    I agree with Takuza, it's from the AIP. I can't think of any other organization that would be more in touch with physics grad schools, maybe US News and World Report but they seem to only rank schools, at least the free version.

    P.S. - Why the "Uuuuh"? That seems pretty condensing even online, and even more so for a Mentor.
  12. Feb 17, 2013 #11

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    Those numbers are not very reliable: not that the AIP isn't, but that this table is a mix of different things - and that the numbers in the table don't always mesh with the numbers in the profile.

    Most of the >80% schools do not have PhD programs, so they are not "safety schools".

    I know that Colorado State asks students not to apply to the University until the Department has looked over their application and gives them a green light. So those numbers are not comparable to other numbers. I wouldn't be surprised if other places did that. One place I am familiar with has the University filter applications: if an application is incomplete or below certain thresholds, the department never even sees it.
  13. Feb 17, 2013 #12


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    yeah, obviously some schools are harder to get accepted to than others, so depending on your stats, some schools could be "safeties" and others "reach".
  14. Feb 17, 2013 #13
    No idea why you interpreted that as condescending... Maybe it's just me, but I don't see it as such.
  15. Feb 18, 2013 #14
    Maybe it is just you. :wink: It just seems unnecessary to add fillers like that online.
  16. Feb 18, 2013 #15
    Interesting, I never heard of such a thing. How do you know this? Do you have a reference?
  17. Feb 18, 2013 #16
    You're probably right. In either case, if Takuza feels that I was rude to him, then he should know that that was my intention. So I apologize to him for any rude or condescending tones in my posts.
  18. Feb 18, 2013 #17
    Just check out their webpage,


    They have you "apply" then if you pass a preliminary investigation they have you actually apply.

    That was one of my safety schools. :wink: I didnt even bother visiting it.
  19. Feb 18, 2013 #18
    The concept of safety school does still exist in the sense that places like Stanford are popular and fill up their quota pretty quickly with lots of strong applicants since lots of people apply; a school like ASU actually can't get enough good graduate students so they probably accept people with less stellar applications. Even still none of the grad students at ASU I've met are dummies or lousy students, from what I've gathered/talked about they all had pretty good apps.

    EDIT: And a school like ASU sort of winds up funneling graduates into industry, presumably because none of the faculty are networked enough to get them into academic positions, although I have found one ASU PhD working at UT Austin when I googled around for it. So the wisdom goes that if you want an academic job, particularly in something like theory, you ought to find a place with a famous advisor to have a shot at it.
  20. Feb 24, 2013 #19
    So say I am really interested in PDEs and Diff geometry; obvious PDEs is much more popular. If I do my Ph.D on PDEs, can I do research later in Diff Geometry? Should I still apply to universities that don't offer either? That's what I meant as "safety"
  21. Feb 24, 2013 #20
    I'll again state that I am just an undergraduate, and there are people more qualified to answer this than me. With that said, obviously you can research something different than your PhD topic post PhD. To use your example, of course a Ph.D in PDE's can do Diff Geo work after graduation. The practical question (and perhaps what you were really asking) is, who will hire you to do so when it doesn't seem to be your area of expertise? That is something I can't comment on.

    As far as if you should apply to universities that don't offer your research interests, that seems like the type of life-choice-analysis that only you are qualified to make for yourself. If you simply cannot imagine life without a PhD and you are desperate to start as soon as possible, applying to "safety" places certainly sounds like a good decision.
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