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Insights The US Graduate School System - Comments

  1. May 21, 2015 #1


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  3. May 22, 2015 #2
    Very helpful post!
    I have a question regarding the 2nd paragraph - what's the difference between a B.A. in physics and a B.Sc? I thought that the two are identical and the names are a semi-arbitrary choice of the university? Is there a significant advantage of getting one over the other? (in the U.S. at least?)
  4. May 22, 2015 #3


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    There's no standard distinction between B.A. and B.S. in the United States.

    Some schools (such as the college where I did my undergraduate) offer only a B.A. in physics, some offer only a B.S.

    Some schools offer both a B.A. and a B.S., in which case the B.A. may be less "rigorous" in terms of physics courses, or it may simply include a larger number of "general education" classes outside of physics, for example in languages, history, etc.

    I'm pretty sure graduate schools in the U.S. don't pay any attention to the precise title of the bachelor's degree, but instead look at the actual courses that you have taken and how well you did in them.
  5. May 22, 2015 #4


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    Another point that I think I should make... in the US, there is not even an official standard for which courses a B.S. in physics should require! (likewise for a B.A.) Different schools can (and do) require somewhat different sets of courses. If a school strays too far from a sort of general consensus pattern, then their regional accrediting agency is likely to question their requirements and make them justify them or even change them, but this still allows for some variation.

    In some fields, professional organizations publish standards that schools can adhere to, voluntarily, for their B.S. programs. For example, the American Chemical Society has this:

    ACS Approval Program for Bachelor’s Degree Programs

    Schools that meet these requirements can advertise themselves as "ACS accredited". However, the American Physical Society does not have a similar program.

    Yet another point: in the US, course requirements for a degree are usually intended to be mininum requirements. Students can and do take courses beyond the ones that are specifically required, even beyond any number of elective courses that they are required to take, depending on what they plan to do with the degree. I have the impression that in some countries, degree requirements are very complete and rigid, so this may cause some confusion.
    Last edited: May 22, 2015
  6. May 22, 2015 #5


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    It's somewhat arbitrary I think. It even happens with some masters degrees. My graduate program actually did not offer an M.S. (or M.Sc.) in physics, only a masters of arts (M.A.) or a Ph.D. The M.A. degree did not require a thesis component. So perhaps this is why it was not called an M.Sc.

    Additionally, one could not even apply to the program with the goal of leaving with the M.A. You had to apply to the PhD program and either declare the M.A. "along the way" to the PhD or leave the PhD program after getting the M.A.
  7. May 24, 2015 #6


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    First - thanks so much for putting this out there - many don't know it.

    The other issue with applying to graduate programs in the US from outside the US is countries like the UK, India and Australia do not have 4 year Bachelors. Some of these are recognised as equivalent (eg a 3 year degree from Oxford) - but some are not. I know Australian 3 year Bachelors generally are not - but you can get 4 year degrees by doing a double degree or an honours year - these are recognised. My suggestion if you are in one of these countries is do either an honours degree or a double degree in physics/applied math. But getting a Masters first is probably even better because that will give valuable experience in research work and only takes an extra semester over a four year degree.

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