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Upward trend and applying to graduate school

  1. Jan 1, 2013 #1


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    I am a female physics major at an Ivy League university (ranked ~15 in physics). I am currently a junior and am planning to apply to grad school next fall, indicating interests in condensed matter theory and possibly high energy theory. However, I am a little concerned about some of my grades. I got a few Bs (1 in thermo and 4 in freshman and sophomore level physics/math courses) so my overall physics GPA is ~3.5. I did however take two graduate classes last semester (quantum mechanics I and mathematical methods of physics) and received A's in both. I think that the reason for the discrepancy is that while I have always been very diligent with all my classes, I have dealt with severe test anxiety throughout college. It caused the most problems in tests in which I had to do a lot of intensive computations or in tests that were very tightly timed.

    For the most part, I have been able to overcome this by changing the way I study and approach exams (with occasional slip ups). In addition to this, it seems that the higher level classes weigh homework more and often have take home exams or exams in which I am not as pressed for time. I take complete responsibility for my grades in all of my classes because in the end I know that I control my performance. However, I feel that The B's I got were reflective of how I performed at a certain time rather than my potential for the future.

    So my question is, how might this play out in grad school admissions? I am very nervous that I will not be able to get into top programs for theory because of my GPA. Does anyone have a similar experience? I would really appreciate any advice as I have been thinking about this a lot. I was looking at the profiles for people accepted to graduate school and it was kind of nervewracking...

    I do have pretty significant research experience. I have worked on computational projects involving topological insulators/other topological phases of matter in collaboration with two very renowned condensed matter theorists and did an REU at my home institution. I haven't taken the PGRE yet, but I plan to study over this semester and take it in April to take some of the pressure off when I have to do applications next year.
    Thank you!
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  3. Jan 1, 2013 #2


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    A cursory look at applicant profiles on websites such as grad cafe and physicsgre.com suggest that this is a STRONG profile.

    In my anecdotal observations, I have noticed women seem to be placed in better programs than men with similar quantifiable admissions variables (GPA, GRE, PGRE). This may not be true in general.

    Excluding your gender, your profile is not weak.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2013
  4. Jan 1, 2013 #3
    I know of two anecdotal cases where somebody was accepted to Berkeley with a GPA in your ballpark (3.5) that were mentioned on these forums. One case in physicsgre.com had a guy with a 3.4 getting into Caltech.

    In each case spectacular research overcame lesser course grades, so if this sounds like you, and you do well on the PGRE, you should be in good shape.

    But I've also been told not to count on getting into a top 10 university unless I've got an absolutely perfect application; admissions are just a wee bit random, given all the factors which go into a committee's decision making process.
  5. Apr 19, 2014 #4


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    I realized that I never updated this thread. It's been a pretty amazing year since I posted this. Since last spring I won a very prestigious award from my university, had an amazing research experience at an REU (currently working on a paper resulting from it), published a first author paper in PRL, and ended up choosing between Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago for graduate school!

    So from my experience I hope people realize that your research experience and letters are the key point in your application! They are the true things that make you stand out from everyone else.
  6. Apr 19, 2014 #5
    Wow! Congratulations!

    We rarely hear back from posters asking advice, so I really appreciate your little comment here.

    Good luck in grad school!
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