# What are my chances to be accepted in a PhD Physics program?

I'm not sure about HEP, but in astro they are one of the big 5 powerhouses of reserach in the world.
Ah, you just ruined my calmness! I was just about to accept the offer from Notre Dame, trying to convince myself that astrophysics there is better than in UT, but so many people keep telling me that UT is one of the top schools in this field...

However, I'm still favoring Notre-Dame for a number of reasons. It is located in the USA where I intended to study originally, it has times more funding, the people are really interested in working with me (I have received independent e-mails from 3 professors already who offered me to work with them, while in UT they even don't answer my questions about when I should expect the decision; I am quite shocked by their responsiveness, by the way, I didn't expect such slow reactions from #20 university in the world), and the amount of TA (a minimum of $2,000 a month) is much higher than in UT ($1,300 a month), although in UT it is just a "clear" stipend, I won't have to lead seminars/labs.

If at all possible, I'd reccomend visiting some the schools even if you think you wouldn't pick them right now. Ask about travel reimbursements within the US, you might be surprised and some may even totally fund your travel and lodging to help you with the decision. One of the 2 schools I got accepted at offered this and I'm a semi-international, the other didn't because I hadn't told them I would be in the US around that time (thus making it sensible to offer me transport assistence) but still managed to squeeze me in their open house day with some lodging.
Well, I would love to do it, and I even considered it before starting sending applications. However, after applying to 16 schools, I completely ran out of money, I literally only have around $500 right now, and this money is going to be spent on visa, on DHL (I still have to send the official transcript to the school I will select), and I will have to accumulate some money for the flight ticket and for the first 2 months, until the TA starts being paid. Even if they agree to fund my travel fully (which I doubt since they already are offering me fantastic financial benefits), it will take some time, and I need to decide quite soon. --- Also, I have a problem now. Some universities (specifically, University of Kansas and New Mexico State University), having been told by me that I am favoring ND over them, started raising their offers. In KU they offer me very high TA, monthly Fellowship and one-time Scholarship, which is absolutely fantastic; I have also been contacted by 2 professors and they are trying hard to convince me to choose their university (very politely, of course). Something similar has been offered in NMSU. I do not know how to politely refuse their offers. I have completely decided that I will go either to University of Notre Dame or in University of Toronto (provided I'm accepted), but I do not want to send the official declines yet - I want to have some room for action in case of some emergency. However, keeping telling them that I really appreciate their offer but cannot yet tell them my final decision only seems to nudge them to try harder to convince me. I don't know how to make it clear that I am not considering them really, and yet I do not want to officially decline yet. I have read that it is possible to recommend other students for this offer. I have a friend who also works in T2K group and also dreams of studying in the US, and he would be really happy to study in KU - but he hasn't taken GRE General yet (he has taken two other tests though) and he hasn't applied to KU or to any universities at all. Can I recommend him in these circumstances? --- Finally, I have something that bothers me. In my Statement of Purpose for each university I wrote that I was interested exclusively in working in High Energy physics. Now that I am seriously considering astrophysics, I have worries that it can get me some problems. The universities accepted me based on my interests, among other things. Is it OK to choose astrophysics anyway? I know that it won't be a problem when I arrive and actually start studying - many people change their fields from time to time. But, as of now, is it OK to honestly write to faculties that I am interested in astrophysics? Won't they take it as a lie in SoP in order to raise chances to get accepted? Ah, you just ruined my calmness! I was just about to accept the offer from Notre Dame, trying to convince myself that astrophysics there is better than in UT, but so many people keep telling me that UT is one of the top schools in this field... However, I'm still favoring Notre-Dame for a number of reasons. It is located in the USA where I intended to study originally, it has times more funding, the people are really interested in working with me (I have received independent e-mails from 3 professors already who offered me to work with them, while in UT they even don't answer my questions about when I should expect the decision; I am quite shocked by their responsiveness, by the way, I didn't expect such slow reactions from #20 university in the world), and the amount of TA (a minimum of$2,000 a month) is much higher than in UT ($1,300 a month), although in UT it is just a "clear" stipend, I won't have to lead seminars/labs. Well, I would love to do it, and I even considered it before starting sending applications. However, after applying to 16 schools, I completely ran out of money, I literally only have around$500 right now, and this money is going to be spent on visa, on DHL (I still have to send the official transcript to the school I will select), and I will have to accumulate some money for the flight ticket and for the first 2 months, until the TA starts being paid. Even if they agree to fund my travel fully (which I doubt since they already are offering me fantastic financial benefits), it will take some time, and I need to decide quite soon.

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Also, I have a problem now. Some universities (specifically, University of Kansas and New Mexico State University), having been told by me that I am favoring ND over them, started raising their offers. In KU they offer me very high TA, monthly Fellowship and one-time Scholarship, which is absolutely fantastic; I have also been contacted by 2 professors and they are trying hard to convince me to choose their university (very politely, of course). Something similar has been offered in NMSU.

I do not know how to politely refuse their offers. I have completely decided that I will go either to University of Notre Dame or in University of Toronto (provided I'm accepted), but I do not want to send the official declines yet - I want to have some room for action in case of some emergency. However, keeping telling them that I really appreciate their offer but cannot yet tell them my final decision only seems to nudge them to try harder to convince me. I don't know how to make it clear that I am not considering them really, and yet I do not want to officially decline yet.

I have read that it is possible to recommend other students for this offer. I have a friend who also works in T2K group and also dreams of studying in the US, and he would be really happy to study in KU - but he hasn't taken GRE General yet (he has taken two other tests though) and he hasn't applied to KU or to any universities at all. Can I recommend him in these circumstances?

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Finally, I have something that bothers me. In my Statement of Purpose for each university I wrote that I was interested exclusively in working in High Energy physics. Now that I am seriously considering astrophysics, I have worries that it can get me some problems. The universities accepted me based on my interests, among other things. Is it OK to choose astrophysics anyway? I know that it won't be a problem when I arrive and actually start studying - many people change their fields from time to time. But, as of now, is it OK to honestly write to faculties that I am interested in astrophysics? Won't they take it as a lie in SoP in order to raise chances to get accepted?

Funny, I had exactly the same amount of cash left over after applications, travel, and all the bureaucratic fees for getting my degree and its validation for the US.

I think you are looking at Toronto's slowness the wrong way. Though I'm sure Notre Dame is an excellent school, the demand for graduate study at Toronto especially in astro and physics probably at the very least an order of magnitude greater. It's a much bigger school and it is extremely strong in the field, plus the application process for Canadian schools has slightly less bureaucracy than any given US school for an international (GRE's are optional in most cases), another reason they get a huge number of applications, like other Canadian programs like PI.

I think it's normal for them to take a while to get back to you, they have more applications to deal with. It's also very normal for the lower ranked schools you got into to be doing their best to get the students with the best looking records and research history to attend. It must be flattering to get those kinds of persuasive offers.

Well, I guess I just have certain prejudices against University of Toronto. I have always dreamed to study in the US and only in the US, so expecting an offer from, even if the best, Canadian school does leave me with certain skepticism. Although, now I am not so sure that "only US" is a good approach - after all, I will be able to move to where I want after graduation, while education better be the best I can get, regardless of the school's location or delay of their responses.

I still have no idea how to politely "decline but not exactly decline" their offers. In University of Kansas, I think, they are offering me 3 fellowships/scholarships simultaneously, which, together with TA, would give me as much money per month as I have never even dreamed of earning working in physics! I do not really care about money - I think, better education will give me progressively more money in the future, so all I should care right now is about quality of education and research opportunities, and they are better in Notre Dame and Toronto than in Kansas, I think. But getting so much positive attention is completely shocking for me, especially since just two months ago I expected all universities to reject me without much consideration... Yes, it is flattering, but it is also hard, because I know that I will have to reject all these amazing offers, and rejecting great opportunities is always even harder than accepting poor opportunities - there is that terrible feeling of permanent loss.

And, also, English is not my native language, and, although I consider my English to be quite good (for a foreigner), I do not understand all the tricky details of politeness, and I am afraid of offending those professors who got me these great offers and scholarships by declining their offers inappropriately. I even have a hard time at times choosing whether to address a professor "Dear Mr. James Hopkins", or "Dear James", or "Dear Mr. Hopkins", or "Dear Prof. Hopkins", or "Dear Professor" and so on...

I am still struggling trying to choose the best option possible. I have yet to hear from University of Toronto (according to Gradcafe and other similar forums, 15-20 of March is about when I should get either offer or rejection from them). But I have already been accepted to whooping 13 out of 15 other universities, and, considering that I didn't send all the necessary materials to one of them and my application hasn't even being processed yet, it is effectively 13 out of 14.

My question is this: which ranking should be more important for me, general national ranking or ranking of graduate physics schools? Here are my top 3 choices, excluding, of course, University of Toronto (rankings are according to US News):
1) University of Notre Dame: #18 national ranking, #57 physics grad school ranking
2) University of California--Riverside: #112 national ranking, #52 physics grad school ranking
3) Florida State University: #91 national ranking, #48 physics grad school ranking

I don't see noticeable difference in the opportunities these schools offer in the fields that interest me: high energy physics and astrophysics. I think I could do an amazing research in any of these schools. But which one is preferable to have in my resume? Which is more prestigious? Is the school that is higher in national ranking necessary more prestigious when I'm applying to a job in physics?

Currently it is very ambiguous for me what to choose. Since academically in physics these schools seem quite similar (maybe Notre Dame is a bit better, but not dramatically so), I have certain preferences in other, non-academic and semi-academic, criteria:
Best national ranking: University of Notre Dame
Best grad physics ranking: Florida State University
Best climate: Florida State University
Best territorial placement: University of California--Riverside (near Los-Angeles!)

I am really lost here. I am strongly favoring University of Notre Dame because I've contacted quite a few professors from there willing to work with me and their financial offer is quite appealing, and also, well, because of the national ranking - it is prestigious to study in a university from top 20. But is it necessarily better than the other two choices which are higher in grad physics ranking and which territorial placement is much more pleasant for me, which is also important since I will most likely study there for 5+ years?

If University of Toronto gives me an offer, then I will probably accept it: a school from top 20 in the world means something, even if it is situated in Canada, not in the US. But if not, then... I want to make the absolutely best choice. I don't want to accept the offer from Notre Dame based just on the national ranking and then regret of the missed opportunities.

Staff Emeritus
2019 Award
Overall ranking does not matter. Physics grad school ranking barely matters. What matters is the strength of your subfield's program. Look at it this way - if an English major got a good education, what does that say about you? If you studied theoretical HEP, what does the quality of someone who specialized in experimental low temp say about you.

Riverside is not particularly close to Los Angeles. It's well over an hour's drive, although the exact time depends on where you are going.

Yes, that was my reasoning initially. However, in astrophysics and HEP these 3 schools seem to be on the equal level, and I do not know exactly how to compare them; the number of faculty members in the fields is comparable, funding is a little bit better in Notre Dame, but not significantly so...

My real question is not if the ranking matters in the actual studying and research process, but does it give any subjective benefits when applying for a job? Is a school being in the top 20 gives a good impression to employers just by being prestigious? Or are they more pragmatic and do not care about such things? I understand that, say, Yale is not very strong in Physics and is famous mostly for its business programs and such, but still, theoretically, its alumni should automatically gain some reputation?

I would really not want to pick a school based on its territorial situation, and, although I have dreamed of living in California or Florida since my childhood, I understand that I will be able to move there after graduation anywhere, even in Toronto. But, since in all other criteria the schools seem comparable with, maybe, a very slight advantage of Notre Dame, it is the only real difference I see here...

OK, I've accepted the Notre Dame's offer. Maybe I should have waited for University of Toronto to make their decision, but after long consideration I decided that I wanted to study in the US. Also, with all these Crimea matters, I do not want to risk by delaying my decision - who knows what visa restrictions for Russian citizens may be introduced...

Now I am a little bit worried about interview in the US embassy. Should I honestly say to immigration officer that I am planning on staying in the US after graduation and get a Postdoc position there? I explained it in my Statement of Purpose and, I guess, the officer will have access to that document, so I better say the truth. On the other hand, I know that officers do not like to issue student visas to potential immigrant, so, if I mention my plans of staying in the US, I may have some trouble? How should I go about this?

1 person
Staff Emeritus
2019 Award
You should tell the truth because a) it's the right thing to do, and b) PF cannot help you commit immigration fraud.

Yes, that's what I intend to do. I just wanted to know if it could have any negative consequences. I guess many people applying for PhD program in the USA want to stay there afterwards, so this is a very common situation, and immigration officers should understand... Hopefully.

lisab
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
There is no 'honest' way to answer that question because there is a *lot* of ground to cover between now and finishing your PhD. Who knows what opportunities might be attractive to you then? You might fall in love with someone from Japan, or you might be homesick and want to return to Russia, or you may be given a prime research opportunity in Brazil, or...who knows?

The only honest way to answer is to say, "I have no idea what options will be open to me then. For now, my focus is on finishing my studies."

I hope you like Notre Dame!

Thank you lisab for your opinion!

You are right, there is no way to tell what opportunities will come and go during study. However, they still usually asking for plans, for intents - and I will certainly have to mention my intent to stay in the US, as of now. I think I will say something along these lines: "After graduation, I am planning on taking a Postdoctorate position in a university. Whether it will be in the US or no, depends on what opportunities I will be able to find, but I do not exclude possibility of me staying in the US to continue working on my research". I think it is better to provide the immigration officer with all the necessary information and not to try to convince them in anything, just, as someone on another forum said, "let them do their job".

Luckily, the process is starting faster than I thought - with luck, I will be able to send the documents to the US embassy on the next week, and, if something goes wrong, I will still have time to reapply for visa.