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The Difference Between Sub 3.0 and 3.0 GPA for Grad School

  1. Nov 6, 2013 #1
    Since I am posting this on behalf of a friend (who's in a slight slump and could use some advice), I am probably lacking some information. However, hopefully you guys can get the idea.

    While my friend did well his first semester at the regional campus at his 50-60 ranked university, his grades slipped for a year or so when he went to live on campus. That, and due to some "medical" issues I won't go into. I don't know precisely how low, but he was on academic probation. However, now that he's made some friends in his major, his grades are improving. Currently, he has 3 semesters to go, since he has to do an extra year. However, he only needs to take 5 classes. While he might only take those to save money and focus on them, I recommended that he retake classes he didn't do well in (like an upper-level class he got a D in) to boost his grades. He said he thinks his GPA is around a 2.8 currently.

    Should he retake classes with that extra time, take new ones, etc? When applying to grad schools, how much of a difference does a 2.9 and 3.0 make? Is it worth taking the extra time/classes if you're on the edge? And on a side note, what kind of research does someone need to get into a less-selective university? (He was credited in a published research paper, should be able to get some research over the summer, and might be working on a project with his math professor, so he doesn't have a lot).

    Thanks for any responses, and I hope I'm not asking anything that's asked frequently, since I had some difficulty finding an answer to the 2.9 vs 3.0 GPA question, since I understand that's the typical cutoff.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2013 #2
    What Major is he in?
  4. Nov 6, 2013 #3
    He's working on a B.S. in physics, and ideally wants to do something with quantum mechanics/computational physics, I believe? Sorry, I forgot that just because it's called physicsforums doesn't mean that everyone's a physics major. :)
  5. Nov 6, 2013 #4


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    Typically a 3.0 GPA is used as a threshold for graduate school admissions, even in the "less-selective" universities. If you don't have that, the application won't make it through the graduate studies admissions filters.

    Now there's nothing magic that happens between 2.99 and 3.01. But that's where the bar seems to be and so yes it can be somewhat arbitrary, particularly when different places calculate it differently.

    So let's say your friend does get his average up and somehow gets admitted. What then? If he's struggled through undergrad, what's to keep him from struggling through graduate school? If he needs three semesters to take five courses, that's another potential flag. The work generally doesn't get easier in graduate school.

    So this is where he has to do a little self-assessment. We can all understand having a bad year, particularly if there are medical issues involved. But that does mean he has to demonstrate that year was an outlier and not the trend of things to come.
  6. Nov 6, 2013 #5


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    3.0 is also the cut-off for many companies that interview on campus; if you are below, you can send in the paper. If you are above, somebody will talk to you in person.

    So even if grad school is not a priority, a 3.0 GPA can be important.
  7. Nov 6, 2013 #6
    Oh, sorry, I should have clarified...one of the courses he needs is offered spring only and possibly a fall only. The only reason he'd go part time is to save the money since he doesn't need more classes. He's figured out the medical issues and is focused now, he just is kind of avoiding thinking about the GPA stuff so that he can move forward and not have the negative thoughts bring him down. It sounds bad, but thinking about it isn't going to help the situation, so it's kind of pointless?
  8. Nov 6, 2013 #7
    Interesting point. I've heard that there's not much you can do with just a BS in physics, but I guess it could be like English where you have to know how to sell it?
  9. Nov 6, 2013 #8
    Something magical does happen at least when applying for a job. It passes through one more filter in the electronic application system.
  10. Nov 6, 2013 #9


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    What kind of graduate degree is your friend interested in? Master's? PhD?

    Why does he want to go to grad school?

    It's delusional to imagine getting a PhD if he has an undergrad GPA this low.
  11. Nov 6, 2013 #10
    Ph.D, possibly a master's first, since going straight into a Ph.D is, as you said, unlikely. He wants to because he loves physics, had since he was in 8th grade (he's shown me the notes he taken over the years from reading Scientific American, reading Feynman/Einstein/the physics greats, etc. I'm not sure exactly what he wants to do with it (other than studying, as my knowledge of physics is admit-ably not much. I think he's close to getting a philosophy minor, if that goes to show the type of person his is? He wants to learn more and genuinely cares about it. It's not a pressure thing from his parents: as a matter of fact, they don't understand it, and therefore, don't appreciate it. It's his fall semester with 2 years to go and 3 complete, so it's still possible for him to turn things around, right? Obviously he's not getting into a top school, but he should have enough time to bring it just above a 3.0. Would it be very unlikely for a low-ranked/unranked school as well? Thanks for the honesty, though!
  12. Nov 8, 2013 #11
    I've seen lots of examples of people with sub 3.0 gpa get jobs, get into post-baccalaureate programs, and go to graduate school. What they did was have things on their resumes/CV's that made up for the lack of GPA. I don't have a 3.0 overall for instance (but I do have a greater than 3.0 in my physics major with strong grades in my upper division courses) and I have several research projects spanning 2 departments (engineering and physics) and I've represented my school abroad for the McNair program, and I am being paid to tour a rather prestigious engineering school for master/phd opportunities. Obviously attaining and maintaining (and exceeding) the 3.0 for overall helps but if one doesn't have this, than it can be worked around.
  13. Nov 8, 2013 #12
    I disagree, I've seen people with sub 3.0 get into fairly good phd programs (they are of course outliers but still), they have things making up for it.
  14. Nov 8, 2013 #13
    That's great, are you graduating this year? It's good that you didn't let grades hinder you, when they really aren't the best indicators of what someone can contribute.
  15. Nov 8, 2013 #14
    I'm graduating in spring yeah, the thing is if you don't have the grades some doors will be closed to you no matter what you do. Some doors will stay open but you will have to jump through hoops and do extra work to make up for it. It also helps that I have several strong recommenders and now kind of a nice network backing me up.
  16. Nov 9, 2013 #15

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    It is very, very difficult for someone with less than a 3.0 to be admitted to grad school. I won't say there aren't exceptions, but it would be like someone under 5' 6" playing in the NBA. It happens, but not very often.

    In graduate school, less than a B is failing. You can't get under a 3.0 without doing that, and graduate school is harder than undergrad.
  17. Nov 9, 2013 #16
    I think intuiting an overall undergraduate GPA below 3.0 to meaning the grad GPA will be below 3.0 in any and all cases is incorrect.

    I've seen people get admitted to masters in their home institution with 2.4's for instance (they had multiple projects and strong in major GPA under their belts), and than got 3.8's in their masters.

    I don't think it's quite as rare as your 5'6" person playing in the NBA, though I'm not saying it isn't difficult.

    Examples of programs made for student to get around the gpa barrier include APS bridge program, where people who show promise (such as in research) but are missing some things basically do a masters and have themselves trained to take the physicsgre and improve their chances of being admitted to a real phd program.

    Columbia for instance has such a program, and their admittance criteria for GPA is a 2.7.

    In the industrial realm there are also examples, Lockheed Martin sets their cuttoff at a 2.8, same with NASA (for internships at least).

    Again I'm not saying it itsn't difficult, but it is possible.
  18. Nov 9, 2013 #17

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    I didn't say it was true in any and all cases. But so what if it were?

    The job of the graduate admissions committee is not to give people second chances. It's not even to enroll the best possible class - even if the records don't show some people's accomplishments. It's to get a class that's "good enough", and one of the most important aspects of that is "able to pass the qual". They look closely at anything that suggests the applicant can't, and C's or worse at the undergraduate level strongly suggest that.
  19. Nov 9, 2013 #18
    Some posters responses are extremely predictable before they even posts.

    To the OP . the guy needs to build his others like PGRE , research and networking ( I've overheard a professor networking to a grad committee member about getting in to some grad school during march meeting and the committee member became convinced about admitting this student and was only concerned about passing quals but the advocating professor had dealt with those concerns by the end of the conversation and it sounded like the student was going to be admitted)
  20. Nov 9, 2013 #19
    I'm curious about who this is directed to.
  21. Nov 12, 2013 #20
    Does he have any research connections? I have a friend with atrocious grades who got a gig at NIST for a summer REU because of his advisor's connections. Of course, a summer REU is not a graduate school admission but according to him, there are people he's networked with who are willing to try and get a spot for him on account of his superb research.

    If this friend of yours is truly desperate to go to graduate school, that may be a good chance.
  22. Nov 12, 2013 #21

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    Graduate schools use the same electronic filters. The validity of those filters is arguable (there's no difference between someone with a 2.99 versus someone else with a 3.01), but that's not the point. That 3.0 bar is intentionally low, so it doesn't matter if it's a bit artificial. What graduate schools and top-notch employers really want is a GPA of 3.5 or higher. The purpose of those automated filters is to drastically cut down the number of candidates that people need to investigate.

    Top-notch graduate schools receive far more applications than there are openings. That said, graduate schools have it easy compared to industry. Professors and advisors strongly discourage students from applying to schools that are out of their league. That first filter doesn't exist for job applications. Top-notch employers are inundated with job applications. There are no professors or advisors to tell people that a job at Google is out of their league. Google is so overwhelmed with applications that it hires about one half of one percent of all applicants.
  23. Nov 12, 2013 #22
    If I recall grad physics programs like MIT receive something like ~1000 applications which is why grad programs dont use them for grad applications except possibly UCs. Most grad programs still do paper applications with possibly a front end electronic system managing the paper.

    Unlike industry it is really easy to find out who is looking at your applications for a grad program. Every single university professors email address is publicly accessible. The only committee member you would need to guess is the occasional grad student that takes part in committees at at only a few schools.

    To be honest even in industry if you networked to know the right person you could probably get someone to pull it across at least the initial filter and in some cases all filters.
  24. Mar 3, 2014 #23
    Sorry to necro this, but thanks! He wants to stay there for his masters and turn things around, ideally, so should it be feasible since he already knows the professors/department? While it's a pretty big school, it's got a fairly small physics program. He's done some work the summer after his freshman year, and is going to be working on a project this summer with his department. If he took intro to astronomy or other classes that count as physics but aren't difficult (like physics electives?), does that factor into his major GPA?
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