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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.

    http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4274

    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
     
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