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Unusual Change in Academic Plans

  1. May 8, 2007 #1
    Hi all, I am about to graduate this weekend with a BS in Physics. I applied to, got accepted to, and am going to attend the University of Southern California this fall. Specifically, I am pursuing an MS in Astronautical Engineering through the Viterbi School of Engineering. Since I was accepted into this program I assume they feel like I can make the transition from Physics to Engineering, but I was just wondering what everyone else thinks about this. What difficulties can I expect to face not coming from an engineering background, and is it likely that I will be able to make a successful transition given my background? I plan to stick it out no matter what, but I was just curious as to whether anyone has been in a similar situation before in their academic career. Thanks in advance for any help you might be able to provide.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2007 #2
    bump...anyone?
     
  4. May 9, 2007 #3

    EP

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    Wow, this is the same thing I wanna do! I have actually even been looking at USC for grad school, amongst others. Sorry I dont have any advice for you, but I'm curious what your application looked like to USC (ie. what kinds GPA did you get). Since I will be applying to grad scool this upcoming year, I'm just curious what it took to go from from a physics degree to astro eng.
     
  5. May 9, 2007 #4
    Hi EP,

    To be honest, I was surprised I got into USC. My GPA is just shy of 3.0, and I performed sub-par on the GRE's (480 Verbal, 650 Quantitative). The U.S. News & World Report issue on Best Graduate Schools listed USC's Viterbi School of Engineering as #7 and #4 among private universities. The average quantitative score was 754 and the acceptance rate was 49%.

    What I believe got me into the school was:

    1. undergraduate research experience - I worked in two different physics fields for approximately 1 year each, gaining valuable experience with regard to lab procedures, experiments, reading/writing reports, and working with electronics/systems. This is definitely a plus when pursuing an applied scientific field such as engineering.

    2. Working for a professor in the lab gives you immense leverage when looking for letters of recommendation. Make sure you approach the professor early in the semester, as they are very busy and it will take them a few months to piece together a good, meaningful recommendation. Be sure to provide stamped, addressed envelopes too. Check back later in the semester to see where they are in the writing process.

    3. The statement of purpose is probably the most important part of the application. Departments are looking for someone who is enthusiastic, knows what they want to do, and fits in with their own research goals. I know I was interested in space systems design so I focused the letter on my interest in Dr Gruntman's research and referenced one of his papers, showing that I truly had an interest in his field (also a little brown-nosing too, but hey). Even if you don't know yet what you want to specifically study (which you probably should if you plan on going to grad school) be sure to state broadly your plans for the future to show that you have a direction you plan to go in rather than going in blind.

    Overall, I believe that the three things above gave me a big boost in the competition for a spot in the school, and also helped to compensate for my other sub-par qualities (such as GPA and GRE's).

    Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions.


    P.S. Does anyone have a response to my orignial question? Thanks!
     
  6. May 10, 2007 #5
    No one on here has anything to contribute?? I feel like this isn't a rare issue.
     
  7. May 11, 2007 #6

    Physics_UG

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    Gold Member

    Well, if USC accepted you then they feel that you will be qualified to make the switch, but you might need to take some undergrad courses to get caught up. Also, physics is a decent way to prepare for aerospace engineering, depending on the types of courses you took. Some physics majors take lots of theoretical mechanics courses and whatnot, which would prepare you well, but others take very few of these courses. Really though, I don't think your situation is unusual at all.

    And your experience definitely demonstrates that you can make up for a somewhat lesser GPA and GRE score with a solid personal statement and good research experience. Also, the fact that you mentioned a specific professor and mentioned that you read some of his papers probably helped significantly since it really shows you are serious.

    This give me hope, since my GPA isn't amazing (~3.5), but I haven't taken the GREs yet. However, I did an REU over the spring semester and I am doing an REU full-time over the summer at the same lab. Hopefully I can publish by the end of the summer and present at a conference in the fall. I don't think this is a longshot since I already have experience in this lab and I have a solid background understanding of the field, so I think I can make a useful contribution now.

    Plus, before I apply to grad schools in the fall I will be looking through the literature and contacting profs at various schools.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2007
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