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Undergrad preparation for physics grad school

  1. Apr 7, 2010 #1
    At my school there are 2 basic undergrad plans of study in the physics department - regular physics and honors physics. The main difference is that the honors program is more difficult and each of the E&M, Classical Mechanics, and Quantum Mechanics are covered in 2 semesters. When I first started, I really wanted to do the honors curriculum, but since I only started majoring in physics my sophomore year, I realized it would take me too long to graduate. Since I am following a less difficult program with only 1 semester each for EM, CM, and QM, will that put at a disadvantage against other grad school applicants? Also, if 2 people from the same school are applying, 1 of them being honors and the other graduating in regular physics, will the person in honors get a significant edge in admission prospects. Any help on this would be appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2010 #2
    How much longer would it take to graduate from the honors program? I think spending an extra year in college to spread out your coursework is a good idea. I am not sure if graduate schools will prefer the honors program necessarily, but if two of you apply to college X, and exactly one of you is in the honors program, they might get the wrong impression that the honors program is selective -- and meant for students who have done significantly better than others in the freshman/sophomore year. That doesn't seem to be the case from your description. That's just a possibility..I'm not saying it will happen.

    Do you have academic reservations against the honors program? Like maybe you feel it will make things harder for you in college? I get the longer time to graduate argument, but most probably a PhD in Physics will take ~4-6 years anyway, so..

    Things you should ask yourself (and your seniors perhaps): which is a better program to learn physics in a better way; which program will give me time to study for the gre, agre and balance my coursework and projects with preparation for these exams; which is academically more fulfilling in terms of opportunities, etc.
  4. Apr 7, 2010 #3
    No, the Honors Program isn't selective, and I don't think graduate admissions committees will misunderstand, since I have done very well in my freshmen and sophomore level classes. I've talked professors and my advisor at my department, and they said that graduating in honors won't be a deciding factor in admissions. However, I still wanted to ask someone outside of my university.
  5. Apr 8, 2010 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    I think you need to be thinking beyond admissions and think about which program better prepares you for grad school once you get there.
  6. Apr 8, 2010 #5
    As a former member of a graduate admissions committee, I concur that the committee won't be looking for an "honors stamp" on your diploma (indeed many schools have only one degree track, or a BS track versus a BA track -- which is essentially the same thing as you have with the possible subtraction of a foreign language in your track).

    However, (in at least the committee I was on), they will be looking for competitive coursework and some research experience (two aspects typically found in an honors track versus a non-honors track (when there are such tracks). In the particular committee I was on, these factors impacted a "reader score" (3 committee members viewed an application looking for particular strengths and weaknesses that couldn't be reflected in provided numbers like GPA/GRE etc.... and the reader scores were highly weighted in final ranking of candidates.

    I also concur with Vanadium. You need to be thinking about what will serve you best in the long run, to get you through grad school and beyond.
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