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Should I be aiming higher?

  1. Jul 6, 2012 #1
    I just received an open invitation to enter a masters program in physics at San Francisco State University this Fall. I am city college student with a BA in music/computing art, and I suppose that it might be tough to get into top-tier programs without a BS in physics or engineering. On the other hand, I have an almost perfect gpa after 2 years of STEM classes and I've got good extracurriculars and internships on my resume.

    I am excited by the prospect of studying this Fall, rather than having to wait a year while I apply to other, "better", schools. I also like the fact that the school is in the bay area, and I wonder if there might be positive aspects to being part of a smaller program.

    I am turned off by the fact that SFSU does not really have a reputable program, as far as I can tell. I want to be challenged, and I worry that, because it is an easier school to get into, my peers would not "raise the bar" to the levels that they might at other more notable schools.

    Any perspectives on this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2012 #2
    What stem courses did you take in 2 years? You mean 2 years of UD courses, correct?
  4. Jul 6, 2012 #3
    I am guessing you have to take some physics courses to understand it even more that way you could a masters in Physics which will help for jobs in industry.
  5. Jul 6, 2012 #4
    Jorriss, you're right, it was all undergrad stuff, probably putting me at the level of an incoming Junior engineering student. I've taken calc I-III, linear algebra, differential eqs, 4 semesters of physics (mechanics, electromagnetism, waves and thermo, and modern), and smattering of engineering and programming classes. Also Chem 101A and 101B, and OChem 1 and 2.

    Karim, they told me that I would do 1 year of undergrad coursework before starting any graduate courses. I hope that in 1 year I can get caught up - I know that I'm missing a lot by not getting a BS. Is physics a competitive degree to have "in industry"?.
  6. Jul 6, 2012 #5
    If that's the case, I would just stay with the SFSU offer myself and just work very hard.
  7. Jul 6, 2012 #6
    Thanks Joriss. Might I ask what your background is so that I know who is giving me advice :)

    This does feel like a "one bird in hand is worth two in the bush" type of situation. I guess I'm just wary of taking the first offer.
  8. Jul 6, 2012 #7
    I just finished a bachelors and I am going to a PhD program in chemistry. I just commented what I would do, not what I know is best through lots of experience.
  9. Jul 6, 2012 #8


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    If you will be taking a year of undergrad courses anyway, you could still apply elsewhere this fall. SFSU would be there as a backup. The question you asked--should I be aiming higher?--depends on your proficiency in physics and math, mightl be easier to judge during your next semester of "real" physics classes.
  10. Jul 6, 2012 #9
    Thank you Marcus. To be clear, I am not enrolled in an undergrad program. The only way for me to take any more classes (i.e. "real" physics classes) would be to enroll in a masters program. Keeping SFSU as a backup is a good idea, but if I do not accept their offer then I will have to wait a year to take any more courses.

    I guess I could take some courses through the "open enrollment" program the have - this might allow me to determine my proficiency in physics and math. However, this is an expensive option and does not allow a great work schedule. Also, I have straight A's in math and physics at City College - is that any indicator of my aptitude?
  11. Jul 6, 2012 #10
    It definitely doesn't say you're not cut out at least.
  12. Jul 6, 2012 #11


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    Sorry to say, I'm not familiar with the program at City College (or SF State, for that matter).
  13. Jul 6, 2012 #12
    Marcus, are you suggesting that I enroll in the Masters at SFSU and then re-evaluate after a semester of "real" classes? Then if I think I could do better, try to enter a different program?
  14. Jul 6, 2012 #13


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    Yes, I was thinking that if you are taking only undergrad classes your first year that it might be ok to transfer before starting the actual masters...
  15. Jul 7, 2012 #14


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    I think you should consider yourself lucky to have gotten into this program. You haven't taken anywhere near as many physics classes as most people trying to apply to physics graduate programs have taken. How good were your physics GRE scores? Almost all schools will require the physics GRE, and I can't imagine you did well on it with such a limited background. I'd say if you want a PhD to be in your future, SFSU is your best bet, at least for the masters. For reference, I have a PhD in physics and am a college professor.
  16. Jul 7, 2012 #15


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    In this thread:


    you'll notice that my original argument that getting accepted into a graduate program may not be that difficult, considering that there are many different levels of schools in the US. Still, I'm a bit surprised that you have received such an acceptance, considering your educational background.

    So I went to SFSU website and looked at their Masters program, and as expected, they have a Comprehensive Exam that you must pass to continue to be a candidate for the Masters degree. I am guessing that you know about this already, and the other requirements for the degree. Thus, my advice in the thread that I linked above is still valid. I would strongly advice that you not only try to find old comprehensive written exams, but also find exams from the advanced undergraduate classes that I am certain that you have to take. Figure out if you are even ready to go through such classes. Note also that as a graduate students, your "passing" grade is significantly higher than a typical undergraduate (usually a "B", but sometime maybe a "C", but certainly not lower than that!), depending on the school and the program.

    My fear here is that they are accepting you into the program to get your money, and that they'll spit you out after 2 years because you couldn't make it through their exams.

  17. Jul 9, 2012 #16
    Thanks Zz,

    Thank you for doing this research. I hear what you're saying, and I guess it comes down to whether or not I can make up for lost time and pass those exams. At the same time, won't this be a problem regardless of where I go for an MS? It would be ideal if I could get a BS first, but this is not an option for me. Your concern seems to be more about whether someone without a BS can pass the exams, but I'm sure that it's been done. Am I wrong?

    As an aside, I have a great interest in computing and I want to be employable as well as educated :) The physics department chair has assured me that I would be able to take enough CS classes to be competitive in a programming job, and I already have a bit of experience in software. Any opinions about the ability to pick up enough CS skills in a physics MS program to go work as a programmer afterwards? Ideally I want to use computing in science (perhaps pursuing a PhD after the MS in a field like Oceanography, Geophysics, or something else where computation is highly valuable), but it would be nice to be able to work in industry if needed. I have also considered doing an MS in Computer Science, but it just sounds less exciting that Physics.
  18. Jul 11, 2012 #17
    I am moving forward with the MS program. I'm almost in, and it seems like the best compromise for me. Thanks for everyone who read my post or offered advice. If you have anything more to add, please do, as this may be a useful thread for someone else (though Zz seems to already have addressed most of the issues here).

    I've also started a new thread asking about the possibility of going from an MS at SFSU (though I just called it a CSU) to a prestigious P.h.D program. Please offer thoughts on that topic here or at the new thread, which is here: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=620218
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