Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Undergrad Physics in 3 years?

  1. Jul 26, 2012 #1
    So I am about to begin my third year of undergrad physics at a private school with a relatively unknown physics department. Because I came into college with a lot of AP credit, I am able to graduate at the end of this year with BS degrees in both physics and math. I have an excellent GPA and am expecting a PGRE score in the 750-800 range, based on practice tests.

    My worry is that I won't have sufficient physics research experience heading into grad school. I just finished an REU in theory/computation, and will continue to work on my REU project upon returning to my college. I am told that if I get results on my project, there is a reasonable chance that I can get them published.

    Unfortunately, this is my only research experience. As a NCAA student-athlete, it is pretty much impossible for me to do research during the school year, since my sport+classes+homework take up so much time.

    I want to get into a top 20-30 physics grad school. Should I delay graduation and stay in undergrad for a fourth year in order to gain further research experience? Or will one REU with a possible publication be enough for the admissions committees at these competitive grad schools? Appreciate any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2012 #2
    I would take a look at the applicant profiles and admission results on physicsgre forums. Here is the link from last year to get you started.


    You can try to find profiles similar to yours, but not many people graduate in 3 years. Is there a way for you to apply this year, and if you don't get into the schools you want, stay an extra year and apply again?
  4. Jul 26, 2012 #3
    I know that I have to have chosen my spring semester classes by December and I have to apply for graduation in mid-February. So it seems to me that I will have to decide when I will be graduating by December or mid-February at the latest, which I think is before I will have heard back from grad schools. There may be some way around this, but I don't know what it is.
  5. Jul 26, 2012 #4
    Then you should probably talk to an adviser at your school who is familiar with how the system works.
  6. Jul 26, 2012 #5
    I would say don't try to graduate in 3 years. I know someone who was in pretty much your same exact shoes, 3 years and they got a physics and math double major. They had a 4.0 at a decently respected/known university, and great research experience, etc. They didn't get into any PhD programs except the one at their same undergrad university. He ended up doing a master's during the 4th year, applying again to schools and going off to a different school after the one-year masters.

    Given two candidates, the one who stayed the extra year and took grad level classes/got more research experience is a much better choice to offer acceptance. Grad schools won't really care how long it took you to get your degree, so graduating in 3 years really gives you no benefits, and will hurt you compared to similar candidates who stayed that extra year.
  7. Jul 26, 2012 #6
    Wow, sounds like the grad schools were pretty harsh on your friend. Thanks for sharing; I was hoping someone had been in a similar situation and would share his/her experience.

    I didn't initially plan to graduate early; it sort of just happened that after 3 years I will be done my physics degree. When I realized this, graduating early did become attractive, mainly because I pay approximately $20-25k a year at my undergrad, and saving myself a year of that expense/debt seemed like a good idea. But it seems like maybe grad schools aren't so understanding
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook