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Unexpectedly rejected almost everywhere, Please explain

  1. Mar 18, 2013 #1
    Quite unexpectedly I got rejected almost everywhere. Please take a look at my profile (http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=5081), and share your opinion. Why do you think I got rejected at virtually everywhere? What went so disastrously wrong? There are already some feedback, but I think it wise to have the point of view of as many wise persons as possible. Thanks a lot for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2013 #2


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    It appeared that you only applied to "brand name" schools and did not give yourself ample backups by applying to good schools that may not have the same "high in-demand" status.

  4. Mar 18, 2013 #3


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    Rather than rely on the opinions of a bunch of random strangers on the internet it would be much more insightful for you to contact the people you spoke with when you visited the schools you applied to.
  5. Mar 18, 2013 #4
    As an International student living outside US, I didn't have the chance to visit the schools I applied to, so unfortunately I have no such point of contact. I did ask for feedback from the grad schools that rejected me; but so far MIT, Chicago, Cornell, and UMich refused to divulge any information; and it is quite likely that others will give similar reply, that is if they reply at all.
  6. Mar 18, 2013 #5
    I'm in the same boat. I have a strong application, but I aimed too high and didn't leave myself enough backup.
  7. Mar 18, 2013 #6
    It is very hard to pull this off without coming off as arrogant over the fact that you got rejected. There is a reason that no department has responded to it.

    You have a few problems.

    1) You pretty much naively bought into the notion that going to a top 10 school doesnt mean you have to network. There are the perfect 5.0 at MIT students with 990 PGRE and first author publications that might not need to do much more than send an application for everyone else networking is a key skill. Get to know professors in committees in other schools. Get to know their research and establish communication so that you are a person rather than a few sheets of paper.

    2) Network. People are naive in thinking that physics and theoretical physics are places where soft skills that a Sloan student would know are important. This is not true. Get to know professors, department secretaries and support staff ie everyone. If you know people in the process they will give you feedback like the one you are emailing and calling for. They dont care enough to give some random person feedback but if you actually know them they will.

    3) Apply to more schools.
  8. Mar 18, 2013 #7


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    This is perhaps part of the problem then.

    You don't necessarily have to go to every school you apply to, but it does help to talk to or email some people there - potential supervisors, the graduate advisor, other graduate students, someone you may have a connection to such as an alumni, etc. This also helps you to make your decision on whether or not you want to apply in the first place.
  9. Mar 18, 2013 #8


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    I disagree.

    In a job interview, even if you don't get the position it's good etiquette to contact the people who interviewed you afterwards and thank them for their time. It's perfectly reasonable to ask for any feedback they'd be willing to give.

    If you visited or phoned or emailed and spent some time speaking with a particular professor who may have been a potential advisor you could send a quick note saying just that.

    I agree that it's much more difficult to do if you haven't first established any point of contact.
  10. Mar 18, 2013 #9


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    This sort of thing is very culture-dependent.

    Interviewing in industry in the UK, I have NEVER been contacted by an interviewee in that way (except perhaps if we met somewhere by chance within the company, after they had been offered a job and had accepted it).

    And given the UK law on discrimination etc, if I had been asked for feedbick from a rejected applicant I most certainly would NOT have given any.
  11. Mar 18, 2013 #10
    I'm sorry you haven't gotten into the schools you wanted to.

    The issue is surely your lack of safety schools. The problem with assuming "you'll get into one of them" is that they have very similar admissions criteria. What that means is a group of people get in almost every "world class" program to which they apply, and a group of people get in almost nowhere. Unfortunately for you, there are enough of the first group to take most of the spots in the "world class" programs. That is where safety schools come in.

    If you don't get into Santa Barbara try to get a research assistant position somewhere and try again next year. Next time apply to some safety schools. And UT Austin and SUNY Stony Brook are not safety schools.
  12. Mar 18, 2013 #11
    Yup. It may seem obvious but there is a culture difference between the process of applying for graduate school and interviewing for a job and in particular for physics where interviews arent even part of the grad school admissions process like other fields (biology comes to mind). The same rules dont apply. If you want real feedback you are going to need to get it from a personal relationship (a professor from your institution asking people he knows in another institution or a professor you directly know from another institution).

    If I was the OP and had a great relationship with one of my LOR writers I would try to meet with them and ask them for advice. If you have an excellent relationship with them and he/she happens to have an excellent relationship with people at UCSB you might be able to get some help.

    I would also note that MIT outputs a particularly large amount of grad school applying graduates which might not help your case (A lot of people graduating with the same UROP experiences and classes all applying to the same schools where they arent going to just take MIT grads.
    Physics isnt EE(*EE takes a large proportion of MIT undergrads for its grad program )).
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2013
  13. Mar 18, 2013 #12
    Out of curiosity. Is ordering your results based on US News physics rankings common over at physicsgre?
  14. Mar 19, 2013 #13


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    While I think everyone agrees that your application looks strong on paper, the only things that are likely off are letters of rec and statement of purpose.
    (Disclaimer: Not on any committees or anything, just a fellow grad student)

    1) Letters. Sending 6 (or generally, more than about 3-4) seems to suggest you don't have confidence in any subset of them, and are generally trying to just blanket the admissions committee with information. More is not better. From what it sounds like, it's also likely that none of them were really stellar ("Got an A in my class" isn't good enough).

    2) Statement. It seems you might not have been specific enough. Tons and tons of students apply to Hep-th saying they want to do string theory because it's sexy and they want to unify gravity with quantum mechanics and become the next Einstein. Hyperbole aside, simply stating an interest in hep-th is worrying because it shows you don't really know what working in the field is like. I realize this isn't completely true given your case, given that you've taken some relevant undergrad courses, but nevertheless its your statement which really tells this. Wording can be everything, and having confidence in your abilities/ambitions seems more important than making excuses for a less-than-perfect GPA. If your statement is a consistent string of trying to 'fill in gaps' in your academic transcript, it's likely worth less than a cohesive, strong statement about your research interests and where you'd fit in at the institution.

    Finally, just remember that these places are extraordinarily competitive. Many applicants you're competing against have already studied hep-th for a year or so. So, statistical fluctuations do happen when you're competing against such a pool of candidates.
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