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Should I apply for grad school

  1. Nov 28, 2006 #1
    I'm about to graduate next Fall and I'm stuck on deciding whatever to apply to grad school or not. I'm a physics major ATM and would like to go to grad school for physics but that doesn't seem to likely. I only have about a half a year of research experience (probably about 1.5 years by the time I graduate) and ony a physics GRE in the 70th percentile.

    But the bigger problem is my GPA is only a 2.35 and will probably be only a 2.6ish by the time I graduate which doesn't seem to be sufficient for any grad school.

    My best option is to finish college with my physics BA and just try finding a job. Most likely join up the military and train to become an officer but that somehow feels like I wasted time and money in college.

    Does anyone have some suggestions on what I should do? Are there any jobs for someone with a BA in physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2006 #2
    You may still be able to go to graduate school if you have a decent amount of research behind you. Additionally, you could take a post-bac while you are working in industry to make yourself a stronger applicant for graduate school.

    Also some jobs will teach you many of the techniques required for research and even some companies will help you, after working for them abit, pay for and work towards your graduate school, as it makes you a better asset for the company. (This is what my friend is doing when he graduates...he is heading to IBM).
  4. Nov 29, 2006 #3
    I concur with ^_^physicist's response above. After I went to undergrad, I later worked for one of the military research laboratories (as a Civil Service researcher)... which made my application for graduate school stronger. They also paid for an MS degree while I was working for them... but note: because it was through the military, I had to be careful about education forms, as many of them required so many years of service for so many years of education (like ROTC programs), so we had them changed since I WAS doing useful work at the time of my schooling.
  5. Nov 29, 2006 #4


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    There is, however, an issue that hasn't been addressed here.

    If you have a GPA that is that weak (I'm making the assumption that your physics GPA is also around that value and not significantly higher), then while you may be able to get accepted into a graduate program that would love to get some of your money, what are the chances of you surviving not just till the end, but to make it through the qualifying exams? No amount of extracurricular research activity can help with that.

    Presumably, your weak GPA is a reflection of your understanding (or lack thereof) of physics. So I think you need to take a hard look (i) if you REALLY can do physics and (ii) if you are simply wanting to pursue a graduate degree just for its own sake and not because you actually want to do physics.

    These are things that only you can answer and address. It would be wasteful if you spend 2 years in grad school and cannot get through beyond the qualifier. You would have wasted at least 2 years of your life with nothing to show.

    If you are still determined to go to graduate school, I suggest you start very modestly and go to not a Ph.D granting institution, but rather a program that offers only a M.Sc. in Physics. There are plenty of small schools that offer that. What this will give you is ample opportunity to at least re-take a few undergraduate classes that you feel that you need re-take. The 2nd time around should be easier and should give you a better perspective on how things fit in the bigger picture - something that a student learning it for the first time would not be able to see. Get good grades, and get your M.Sc. Then, armed with not only a poor undergraduate grades, but with strong grades from your Masters degree, your application into a Ph.D program would have more "teeth". You can easily point out in the application that you have made a significant progress since your mediocre undergraduate degree. And not only that, at least you are now well-armed with a deeper understanding of physics to at least give yourself a fair chance to survive graduate school.

  6. Nov 29, 2006 #5


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    Good advice, Zapper!
  7. Nov 29, 2006 #6
    Oh, my weak OVERALL GPA ( the 2.35) is due to my general ed classes, such as history, social science, etc. I have a 3.3 physics/math GPA. My OVERALL science GPA isn't that great either (it's about a 2.7 ATM but may go up if I continue to get As in my physics courses) because I didn't do too well as a chemistry major which caused me to go after a physics degree (which is easier for me).

    It's my other non-physics/math classes that are bringing me down a bit. I'm averaging As and B+s in those classes and like Cs and Ds in my other courses. But I'm not sure if that even helps my application.
  8. Nov 29, 2006 #7


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    Ah, then that's DIFFERENT!

    When you apply, make sure you STATE your physics GPA. It does make a difference that you are performing way better in your physics classes than in others. If your physics + mathematics GPA is even higher, state that too!

    However, that is still weak for many highly-competitive schools. Still, it doesn't rule you out of many other good schools around, especially those with a smaller graduate program that do need students.

  9. Nov 29, 2006 #8
    I concur here. Also then: be SURE in the personal statement to stress research experience, try to ask for recommendations from those that really KNOW your research experience and perhaps also suggest that THEIR letters note that your performance in PHYSICS classes is higher than in other courses. MAYBE even mention in your personal statement that your physics performance is higher than overall... or MAYBE NOT. I'm not sure there... it depends on the reader (they would probably notice just by looking at transcripts)... although I think a FACULTY recommendation stating this would be good (that way it doesn't look like YOU are offering excuses.. just that a faculty members that thinks you are qualified is covering you).

    The grad school selection process I was involved with HAD separate spots in the application for overall and physics GPA (which were weighted differently in our selection process -- an equation with GRE's (subject/ verbal/ quantitative), GPA's, etc.), gave more weight to the physics GPA than the overall. HOWEVER, to be admitted to the graduate SCHOOL, you needed a 2.75 or higher. Something to keep in mind as you look to apply.
  10. Nov 29, 2006 #9

    Chris Hillman

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    College: what purpose does it serve?

    Hi, fizziks,

    To echo a point raised by some other respondents, it is important to know whether your physics and math grades are high but your GPA was brought down by poor grades in other topics. If so, it might be easier than you fear to get into some grad program. (OK, I see now that you clarified this--- I'll let the academic physicists here comment on whether 3.3 sounds low for your physics GPA.) I presume from your mention of "GRE" that you are an American undergrad considering applying to American graduate programs, incidently. Here too, it is important to know whether your physics GRE score is lower than one would expect from your physics course grades.

    Sounds like you might be a bit depressed about the options awaiting you upon graduation. I hope your opportunities are more promising than you suggest, but I echo the concern that applying to grad school primarily as a way to keep out of the American military is probably not in your own best interests! (You did mean the American military, did you not? If so, applying to join the military might not be in your best interests either, unless you have strong convictions favoring the wars in which the U.S. is currently engaged.) The first year of graduate school could be a miserable experience if you are not well motivated and well prepared.

    As for the question of whether college is a waste or not, I tend to think it is invaluable (although economists can and do try to put a value on a liberal arts degree by comparing lifetime earnings of college graduates with non-graduates), but while a college education is likely to greatly improve your future enjoyment of leisure activities like reading, visiting museums, and so on, and should also encourage you to become a well-informed voter, it might help to bear in mind that the primary social function of college appears to be delaying entry of young persons into the job market. I sometimes used to tell my students that in America, "college is welfare by another name for the scions of the middle class". Think of life as bookended by college and social security. In between comes the time when society, having done so much for you, expects to get something back, hopefully turning a profit in some sense. But there are surely other ways to give something back than by offering yourself up as an IED backstop (which seemed to be the mood in which you mentioned the military option).

    Chris Hillman
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2006
  11. Nov 29, 2006 #10
    Yeah, I meant the US military. I love the military and did ROTC in college but had to drop it to focus more on my classes. I just feel that a bachelor's degree in physics doesn't offer you much. Somewhat like a psychology degree. Your career options are so limited, that you would need to obtain a doctoral to do anything.

    I also attend a top public university, but I'm not sure if that would help in my application process.
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