1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Should I even bother applying for grad school?

  1. Aug 4, 2013 #1

    I know there's a sticky on top of the page kind of about this but I read through the thread and I have a pretty particular case that which isn't really addressed.

    I just finished my undergrad studies, received a B.A. a few months ago in May, and I was thinking about going to school for physics which has always been a passion of mine. But my BA isn't in science, engineering, or math; it's in film.

    I'm not wanting to get in to grad school without any knowledge though. Recently I took the physics GRE and I scored a 940 (90%); since high school I've self-studied math and physics (thanks a lot to itunesU and some books) in my free time.

    I majored in film, which is something else that I love, at USC, the highest rated film school, but I was never able to double major or taken any "unnecessary classes" that didn't count towards my degree due to my financial situation. The amount of math and science classes I have under my belt is minimal, but I was never bothered by it because I got my fix, so to speak, on my own through self study. Once I started on a film track there was just no way I could afford to do anything but film and now that it's just not possible for me to go back and get a B.S. in Physics or Math even though I'm sure I could breeze through the classes with what I know. If I wanted to go back to school the only way would be grad school.

    I wanted to know if anyone here thinks if I should even apply to grad school. It seems as though most universities won't even consider me due to me not even being a physics undergrad major. I know I'm at a major disadvantage but I was going to study some more and try to up my score to a 990 if I could. Still I don't even know if I should bother and just let my passion for physics just remain that. What do you guys think?

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    A multiple choice test is not the equivalent of a BS. I don't think any school that won't take you with a 940 will take you with a higher score.
  4. Aug 4, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I doubt any graduate school would seriously consider your application.

    Most departments will consider other degrees, but generally this means other degrees that have a strong physical science component. Examples include: engineering physics, physical chemistry, electrical engineering, materials science, and applied mathematics.

    Just for the application to make it to the admissions committee requires that you have (or will soon be awarded) (I) an appropriate undergraduate degree, (II) a minimum GPA within that degree (generally about 3.0), (III) at least two reference letters from professors in the field who are familiar with your work and who have been in a position to assess your potential as a graduate student. In some places (most in the US) they also require scores from the GRE.

    Once you have all of that you can enter the competitive selection process. That does not guarantee you admission... just that the admissions committee members will take a serious look at your application.

    The point of the GRE exam is to serve as a mitigation tool between students from different programs. How do you assess a student who finished middle of the pack in an extremely challenging program amidst highly competitive peers against another who finished top in a graduating class of two at a small liberal arts university?

    The GRE, because it is a common exam, helps to level the playing field.

    It is not, however, a substitute for a four year undergraduate degree.
  5. Aug 4, 2013 #4
    have you thought about alternatives? like working, and taking classes part time? maybe at a small college?
  6. Aug 4, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Good that you read Zapper's thread.

    So you need to go talk to folks at a school you're interested in attending, and get those exams that Zapper mentions.

    You're in a much, much better position than most. As you might guess, we get lots of people here with various degrees who are interested in physics grad school, and we refer them to the link above...then never hear back. So let us know how it goes! And good luck!
  7. Aug 5, 2013 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor

    At this point, if I were you, I wouldn't apply. You'll just be throwing away your money. Your main problem is presenting a convincing case that you can succeed at grad school in physics. Maybe you have managed to learn sufficient physics and math. How can you show that? Simply presenting your GRE score and claiming "I know my stuff" isn't going to cut it. Other students have evidence of their abilities reflected in their transcripts, and they can get letters of recommendation from professors who are familiar with what's needed for an advanced degree in physics. It doesn't sound like you're in a position to do that yet.

    Raioneru, I think, has a good suggestion. You could take classes part time. In my neighborhood, for instance, UC Irvine lets anyone take regular classes through its extension program. You don't have to be accepted to any formal program; you just have to fork up the money. I'd expect other universities would allow you to do the same thing. Take the upper-division physics core courses: classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, math methods, stat mech, and electromagnetism. If you breeze through them, great — now you'll have proof in the form of a grade that you know your stuff. If you don't, you'll learn what you need to know in preparation for grad school. Plus you'll get to know professors who can write letters for you when you are ready to apply to grad school.
  8. Aug 5, 2013 #7
    Thanks everyone, I really appreciate your guy's opinions!

    I had a feeling a decent GRE score wasn't going to cut it. Maybe taking classes like that is an option, although it looks like those kind of programs vary greatly. Some would let me into the classes but wouldn't let me get a grade for the class and some won't even let me take actual classes. I don't even know if they would let me into upper level classes without lower ones on a transcript. It's something I might look more into though. If I did take some of those upper level classes and receive recommendations would that be enough to convince a committee that I know my stuff or are they still looking for an actual Physics degree? It feels like even with upper level classes under my belt it'd still be a tiny chance that I'd even be considered.

    Thanks for the reply, I really appreciate it. I was going to do that since I did well on the physics GRE. I'm still going to do it for the hell of it but it does seem to be more for myself than anything. Even if I end up doing well on the test it wouldn't matter as I don't have a degree in a field related to Physics so I still won't be considered.

    I thought about it. But, I'm 23, and tbh I feel old lol. If I went back to school it would be at least another two years until I finish a Physics degree, and that's if I go full time and do summer classes. I'm struggling with whether or not I want to spend another two years in college, taking classes in which I know the subject material just to get it down on a transcript. I suppose it would also help me get teacher recommendations and such. Either way, it seems the only way to go to grad school in Physics is to actually go through and get an undergrad degree in Physics.
  9. Aug 5, 2013 #8
    if this is really what you want to do, if becoming a physicist is something that's going to make you happy in the long run, THEN YOU SHOULD DO IT. Your age is irrelevant as long as you have a sound plan, and the means to support it. There is always a way, it depends on how bad you want it.
  10. Aug 5, 2013 #9
    Your PGRE score is very impressive, especially for a non-STEM major. The problem is that the PGRE covers -largely- first and second year intro physics. Anything beyond that (stat mech, QM, atomic, solid state and nuclear) is tested on very superficially.

    I second the suggestion to take core upper division undergraduate or even graduate courses in core subjects at a university close to you that you can afford, if they allow it. I know more than a few offer this possibility, OSU and UCI being two, so do your research. OSU specifically states on their website they take performance in this mode of study into very high consideration when considering applications to their grad program.
  11. Aug 5, 2013 #10


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    I agree with Raioneru. 23 is not even old. I don't really know how it works in the U.S. but if this is really something you want to do, then go for it.
  12. Aug 5, 2013 #11

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Any place that accepts you is going to require you to take these classes. If this is a problem for you, you might want to rethink this.

    More to the point, a couple of books may get you an ability to score well on multiple-choice tests, mbut it does not make you qualified for grad school. You need to be thinking "How do I get qualified".
  13. Aug 5, 2013 #12
    Hey there, I'm at USC too. :)

    I will tell you this though. I did meet a guy on campus who got his undergraduate degree in history and was at USC getting his masters in Mechanical Engineering. So I would definitely say it is possible.
  14. Aug 5, 2013 #13
    Thanks for your reply man!
    I am thinking about how I get qualified, I've been discussing how to do that with everyone and weighing my options. And in light of the fact that I need to start from square one and get a degree in Physics seemingly no matter what, I am rethinking it; like I said, I struggling with whether or not I should go through with it, however I guess that is something no one else can help with. However, some have just suggested I take advanced courses, get to know the teacher, participate in research and that in itself would make me qualified without the B.S. degree.

    Also, I learned physics by watching, studying, taking notes, and completing the exercises and exams, if available, over the past several years through ItunesU by studying:

    PHYS 221: Introduction to Modern Physics
    Thermodynamics & Kinetics by MIT
    Physics I: Classical Mechanics - MIT
    Physics II: Electricity & Magnetism - MIT
    Physics III: Vibrations and Waves - MIT

    Classical Mechanics – Fall 2007
    Quantum Mechanics – Winter 2008
    Special Relativity – Spring 2008
    Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – Fall 2008

    This isn't a full list. I've watched and studied these and several other physics courses not including math classes like Calc, Differential equations, and Linear Alg along with some books. I've done this since high school. I don't want you to be under the impression that I got a couple physics for dummies books, read through them in a few weeks and then decided to try my hand at the GRE and happened to do well. I like learning and I've watched all of these course numerous times during the past 4-5 years. Does this make me qualified for Grad school? I guess not. But I was hoping, maybe a bit naively, that it might help a little bit and that I wouldn't have to sit through Calc 1 through 3 and Classical Mechanics and other classes in which I know I already have a decent understanding of the material.

    Raioneru and BruceW are right, I'll just have to sit and think hard about everything and my options and go for it if I really want to do it. I appreciate everyone's suggestions, especially about trying to take a few advanced classes! Just one last thing do you guys think I would be considered if I managed to take more advanced classes, got letters of rec and everything , or is a BS in Physics the only way to be qualified for admission? Thanks!

    And thanks for the encouragement btbam91, fight on! haha
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2013
  15. Aug 5, 2013 #14


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    yeah, glad to have helped some. And I would say that for sure the vast majority of students take a 'standard route'. So how many (if any) take a completely non-standard route? I have no idea. I have not heard of anyone doing an advanced degree without doing an undergraduate degree first. But maybe it does happen in some rare cases. I guess an academic would know the answer to this. (i.e. one who actually is in charge of graduate admissions in some university department).
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook