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Some questions about applying to graduate school

  1. Apr 6, 2014 #1
    Hello all,

    I realize I may be a bit early for this, but I don't want to screw it up. I'm a junior in undergrad (physics major), and I'd like to begin thinking about graduate school. Usually only one or two graduates from my physics department go on to graduate school, so when I ask my advisors these questions, I typically get an "I don't know". I've been looking around on this forum as well as other physics forums, and been looking at the Applicant Profile threads on physics-gre.com. Anyway, I have a 4.0 GPA, some research experience (3 publications, 1 in phys rev A), and I'm a Goldwater scholar (and a female, if that matters), so I'd like to think I stand a chance at getting into grad school. Anyway, I have the following questions:

    • For an advanced mathematics class, would an admissions person rather see that I took it pass/fail or should I risk taking it for credit and getting a B?
    • I have a publication in mathematics in an undergraduate research journal from doing math research for a semester. Should I include it on my applications even though it may imply that I give up easily on research projects? (I don't - I found out I couldn't get a math degree so I stopped doing math research)
    • How difficult is it to get an application fee waiver? (my FAFSA information is based on my parents' income, but I am not financially dependent on them)
    • How many graduate schools does the average person apply to? (I have a friend who recently applied to fourteen, and got into only one - I don't want to end up like him)
    • Is it normal to visit places you've been accepted to? If so, how do you juggle visiting places and the workload present in the last few semesters of undergrad?
    • How important is the pGRE? No one at my school has ever gotten above a 715. And I'm looking at the forums and noticing that people are getting 900+ scores and still not getting in anywhere.
    • I am doing an internship this summer at FNAL. I would like to ask my mentor for a LoR but I'm afraid that he will forget about me by the time I go to apply to grad school.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2014 #2
    -Not very likely, I would start saving up ASAP for all the fees, exams, and extra score reports you'll have to get. I'd expect to spend anywhere between $2000-4000 in total (probably on the low end side, since you probably aren't taking the TOEFL nor need as many as 15 applications if you pick your schools with some care).
    -Americans with good grades, probably under 5-8. Everyone else 10 and above, I applied to 15.
    -Yes. No idea on the 2nd part, as I had already graduated when I visited, but people manage to do it.
    -Very, but its relevance is heavily dependent on which school/dept. you apply to. You must've noticed that many of the 990 folks at that forum are applying to fields that are going through budget cuts like HEP and apply almost exclusively to top schools that get 10-15x more applications than spots available. A good fraction also happen to be internationals, which hurts their chances.

    Maybe you could be the one at your dept. to one-up that number? I'm the first in my dept. (abroad) to go to a US grad school in several years, and my PGRE score wasn't even that great. Spend months preparing and take the latest practice exam in a realistic scenario ASAP to diagnose where you're at, then hit the problem books like there is no tomorrow. Your priority should be PGRE-prep for the coming 5-6 months. I would put off research completely now, especially since you already have more than enough experience, and no additional experience will help you if you do poorly on the PGRE.

    Everything is pulled from Halliday Resnick, to a lesser extent some of Griffiths' books, except the problems are less quantitative and more conceptual. To work on speed (which is 99% of what the PGRE is about), try a book like REA's physics problem solver. And as much as it jives with the teaching philosophy in physics, you better know your equations cold, do not even think about deriving them during the PGRE. As far as you're concerned, r x p ~ hbar.

    Do worry too much about the pgre samples from the 80's and 90's, they are very different from the ones being administered now. You'd be better off retaking the latest PGRE sample exam once every month or two under test conditions and you'll get more out of it.

    -Ask your mentor about it now, maybe even ask him to write the letter for you while you're still fresh in his memory
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
  4. Apr 6, 2014 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    The problem is not the GRE score. The problem is that your school is not adequately preparing their students for graduate school. Don't confuse cause and effect.

    I think you need to think about what your long-term goals are, and whether the school you attend is helping you achieve them or not.
     
  5. Apr 7, 2014 #4
    If you are insinuating that I should change undergraduate schools, that is simply not an option for me. I strongly regret going here even though I was accepted to a Big Ten school after high school, but now I have a full ride scholarship and it simply would not make financial sense to go to a different university.

    In addition, I do not think the issue is that my school doesn't prepare me for graduate schools, since in the past decade or so we have had two people go on to Ivy League schools and do very well. However, the way that our curriculum is formatted, you do not take many advanced classes (E&M 2, QM 2, etc.) until your last semester, the one after the pGRE. In addition, the way our curriculum is set up, in order to take Mechanics II, I would have had to take it before Mechanics I, so it simply is not an option for me to take.
     
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