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Staying a 5th year?

  1. Feb 27, 2008 #1
    So it seems like I will not be getting into graduate school. I am considering staying a 5th year. As of now, I am all set to graduate in May, on time. But I really want to go to graduate school and I think staying a 5th year is ideal. Here is my plan:

    - Take a year long sequence in graduate Topology and graduate Algebra along with 2 year long independent studies with a theoretical physics professor along a geometry professor with MIGHT lead to some sort of publications or presentations.
    - Retake the GRE Subject exam this in October (i got a 35% percentile, which is probably the real reason why I didn't get into any grad schools)

    The benefits:
    If I am able to do well in the grad courses, do well on my GRE math and do well in my independent studies, I would have a great GPA, great GRE scores, possibly 2-3 publications (I will already have one by the end of this semester on an open problem in topological dynamics). I think this would definitely vault me into a top tier undergraduate student and definitely get into a grad school.

    The problems:
    1) Would grad schools hold it against me for staying a 5th year?
    2) I cannot afford to live on campus and go to school. I might be able to pull off staying a 5th year and COMMUTING. But the commute is 2 hours each way, 4 hours just for traveling. I go to a state school, so I can take out a loan to cover the tuition. And I think I can save up enough money to cover the transportation and food expenses. All in all, I think I would need ~ $3000-$4000. It costs roughly $15,000 for me when I stay on campus.
    3) If I stay the whole year, then I would be applying for 2010 admissions, meaning when I'm done with my 5th year, I have a whole year of not going to school. I might get rusty and actually forget a lot of what I learned. However, I also could work and start to pay off the debt I would incur from staying a 5th year.

    I don't know guys, I still am waiting on 2 or 3 schools for admissions, but I just don't think I am going to get in. I already got 11 rejection letters.

    It's really a mess to stay a 5th year, but I just am so hurt that I might not be going to grad school this September. This is what I have been working for so hard, and I feel like it's been taken away from me.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2008 #2
    Plenty of people take a year off between undergrad and grad school.

    Is there anyone at your current school who might be interested in employing you as a research assistant for a semester? That would give you a break from school (and tuition).

    Maybe you can talk to the people who wrote your reference letters and ask them to suggest what schools might be a good fit for you.

    Good luck!
  4. Feb 27, 2008 #3
    1) I don't think so. Students tend to change majors in college, and I don't see how it is bad that you needed an extra year to finish college as a bad thing. In your case, you are taking classes to prove you are graduate school worthy. As long as you have good grades/test scores/recommendations, I don't see being a 5th year student is bad.

    2) Will you be going to class everyday? Four hours of commuting per day is a long time. That four hours could of been better off studying, working out, relaxing, instead of driving and yelling at traffic. The average work commute is no where that long (like 30-45 minutes one way). I think 2 hours for one way is pretty extreme. You must factor in constant rising gas prices too. But if 9k beats out 15k for living on campus, then I think it'll work out to some degree.

    3) You can work and study at the same time. To keep up with things while paying off the debt.

    Don't aim too high. Look at realistic goals and colleges. I didn't waste my application money and time to try for Harvard, MIT, berkeley, etc. Instead I looked at realistic schools that I could get in. I got in 4 out of 7 which isn't so bad.
  5. Mar 1, 2008 #4
    I don't think I'll be going to class everyday. So here are my two plans so far:

    Plan #1 - probably too ambitious and I will most likely WON'T be doing this:
    A year long independent study in geometry and general relativity with the hopes of publishing a paper in geometry of black holes, with a mathematics professor. (My professor already agreed to this if I stay 5th year).
    Another year long independent study with a very prominent physics professor at my school on a to be determined topic (hopefully gauge theory, but anything this professor suggests is fine). I have a meeting next week with this professor to discuss the possibility of me indep studying under him.
    Take grad Topology I and II
    Take grad Mathematical Physics I and II

    I think I'm going to only take 1 grad course sequence, which is Plan #2.

    My questions now are:
    1) Which is more beneficial for me to take, Top I and II or Math-Physics I and II? I'm assuming grad schools would rather see me do well in Top I and II, but I'm tempted to take Math-Physics I and II. Another note is that, next year Math-Physics I and II probably will be a 2nd or 3rd year grad course, so I'm leaning towards Top I and II.
    2) Does anyone here have experience getting some sort of financial aid being a 5th year college student? Can I take out a Stafford loan in my 5th year? Should I take out my Stafford loan this year, since I didn't use any of it and save it for next year?

    My commute is 2 hours each way, but it's all on a train. So I won't be driving and I'll be able to study actually 2-3 hours a day since I will have nothing else to do on the train.

    I'm planning to schedule my independent study meetings the same days of my grad course, so I'll only really have to go to school 2 times a week. This should really cut down on costs and allow me to maximize the time I spend studying at home.

    I am very concerned about how much I am willing to sacrifice to get into grad school. I'm wondering, what if I don't get in again? If I don't get in this time, I think it's time to call it quits and start looking to do something else. Coming back another year when I'm all set to graduate, doubling the amount of debt I'm in and then having to sit out a whole year to wait for the 2010 admissions decisions to be made is a sacrifice. But I don't really have that many career options. I don't want to be an actuary, I don't know what the hell else I would do if I were to graduate right now. However, I am confident that if I can pull off my plan, I will definitely get into a good grad school.

    3) What do I do during this summer? I'm thinking about getting a head start on those independent studies but I'm also thinking about working and taking it easy little bit.

    4) With my 2 independent studies, I can choose how many credits I want to register for. Would it look BAD, if I register them for 1 credit each? The purpose of doing this would be for tuition, it usually is 3 credits per course, but let's say I agree to meet 2-3 hours a week, but I only register for 1 credit? I would pay significantly less money, but would grad schools frown upon this? My gut feeling would be, they would not care since if I do well in the independent studies, I'll get 2 great letters and maybe 2 publications. Grad schools would care more about those 2 factors than the fact that I cheated on credits for tuition purposes.

    I'm very concerned about the next step I take.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2008
  6. Mar 1, 2008 #5


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    I'm a bit confused: why do you have to apply for grad school starting 2010 if you stay on at your university for another year? Can you not just apply for entry in 2009?

    I think your plans seem quite promising especially if you have a professor agreeing to supervise you for a year long project. The first thing I'd do, however, is to go and talk to the one or two professors who wrote your references, tell them that you didn't get into any grad schools and ask them if they know of any obvious reasons why you didn't.

    As to the decision of courses: it depends what you want to do at grad school, and what actually is included in "mathematical physics." I presume that you're in maths department, right? Are you applying to physics departments to work on theoretical physics?
  7. Mar 1, 2008 #6
    Good questions, these are questions that I asked myself, but here is my rationale:
    1) If I stay a 5th year and apply for 2009 admissions, by applications are due in December 2008. If I stay a 5th year and apply for 2010 admissions, my applications are due in December 2009, what is the big difference? My independent studies would be complete and my letters of recommendation would be that much stronger. Plus, any publications that might be happening will be done by then more so then if I apply for Fall 2009 admissions. I am really doing it so that I can get as strong of a graduate application as possible.

    I just got rejected from 12 schools, and I want to do everything I can to make sure there are absolutely no questions about my application. I know it is not the most efficient way to go, but I think this is the best way to sure up any weaknesses in my application.

    If I had to guess why I didn't get into graduate school:
    1) Horrendous GRE math subject exam score. I mean bad, let's just put it at that, sub 50% percentile. I did terribly and this is probably the main reason I didn't get in.
    2) A lot of graduate schools seem to be tighening their budgets, I've heard this from numerous schools and numerous applicants. UCSD usually takes 25 students and this year they are taking 12. So many schools are marginalized and I am affected because I am a marginal admit to a top program due to my GRE score.

    Now it seems like my GRE score is the main reason I didn't get in. I'm wondering if I should apply for Fall 2009 admissions now. If I study all summer, really do well on the GRE math exam, I mean like 85-90% percentile, I will still have a great GPA and a publication on an open problem in topological dynamics. Perhaps if I can convince my professors to start the independent studies in the summer, continue into Fall and then I would get a 'year-long' independent study under my belt. Hmmm... there are a lot of options.

    2) I am applying for math PhD. I would like to apply for some Physics PhD programs but I would do terribly on the Physics GRE exam and have not taken a single Physics course in my undergrad.
  8. Mar 1, 2008 #7


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    I suppose it makes sense, but then you've got a year to "waste" and you've got to explain why you are not in school when you are applying for grad schools.

    Firstly, I'm sorry to hear you didn't get into any of your schools (I don't think I've said that yet!). However, perhaps you didn't apply to the correct ones. For example, I would expect any student capable of getting into Yale to be able to get into Stanford and Berkeley etc.. so I don't really think there is all that much point in applying to so many schools that are on the same level. You should remember to include some insurance schools there: your "insurance" schools seem still very very good schools.
    Well, there's your answer then with the GRE subject test. How come you didn't resit the GRE math test; they're run a few times a year aren't they? If you sat the last possible one, however, then I can see why.
    I'd go for 2009, just for the reason that I'd want to get through as quickly as possible. If you want to stay in academia, then the quicker you can get on the ladder with a postdoc the better! I'd also be wary of what I mentioned before: you need to explain why you took a year off.
    Yea, that's a good point. Perhaps if you were applying for theoreitcal physics they would accept a maths subject test, but I'm not sure about that one at all!
  9. Mar 1, 2008 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    My graduate school class took two (of fourteen) students without physics degrees. I believe both students were within a course or two of a double major, and I believe both had to make up the deficits in their preparation. I cannot imagine a student who had never taken a physics undergraduate course (or the Physics GRE) being admitted to a physics graduate program.
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