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What gets you into grad school?

  1. Apr 10, 2005 #1
    I'm in the United States. When I went through the undergraduate applications process, I really wished that I had known, years ago, what I should have been doing to get into the college of my choice (developing a list of novel yet easily understood extracurriculars that demonstrate "leadership", apparently.) I'm starting my undergrad studies this fall (at a terrific school, but nonetheless my fifth choice), and somewhere between two and four years from now, I'm going to apply for grad school in some branch of physics.

    I'd like to know what factors are considered in your grad school application. I'd like to know what I should do to optimize the probability that I will be admitted to my first-choice graduate school. The more blunt and honest the advice, the better.

    So far, I'm aware that they consider your grade point average, teacher recommendations, GRE scores, and some sort of essay. I don't know what other factors are considered in addition to that (I assume at least gender, minority, and legacy status?) I don't know which part matters the most. Who reads grad school applications? Are the readers well educated in the field you're applying to? Do they consider the rigor of the classes you took? If so, is it considered relative to the school you're coming from or applying to? Do they care at all whether you're involved in clubs or community service? et cetera, et cetera.

    I appreciate your assistance in dispelling my naive ignorance. :smile:
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2005 #2
    If you are applying to a physics graduate program, it is going to be physicists looking at your application. Everyone I talk to says about the same few things:

    Research/Recommendations. They want to know you are going to be good at doing research, simple as that. GRE scores are also very important. I think its safe to say most people applying to grad schools will have a good GPa, so its not going to be looked at too heavily. I also understand clubs/awards have almost no impact at all.

  4. Apr 12, 2005 #3
    Good. I have no time for club and stuff, and I don't even like them. =/

    How do you demonstrate that you are good at researching?

  5. Apr 12, 2005 #4
    Can somebody explain 'researching'? (I'm just in high school.. but still pardon my ignorance.) How exactly does this work? Do you do it by yourself - as in find a topic and research - or do you work with your professor? How do you come up with topics? Curosity? What instruments do you use? Is the object to publish your findings, thereby appealing to top schools? Again, I don't mean to ask a stupid question -- I just really don't know.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  6. Apr 12, 2005 #5
    I'm a first year undergrad but at my school the way it works is you email a professor asking if you can do research with them and they say sure, show up at this time. We're pretty lax about it but it's nice for me as I get to do some real astro research this summer- drudgery no one else will but still!
    As far as I can tell that's usually how people start, then use whatever they were doing as a starting point for doing their own research. (For example, a girl I know working with a prof on cosmic rays has gone off and tried to find some improvements to a cosmic ray detector timer, stuff like that.) The idea behind it is it really teaches you if you want to go into the field/ can see yourself doing stuff like that years later for starters, and it shows your experience for what you're doing down the line as well. It also means a prof knows you really well, which means you can get some nice letters of recommendation. These letters comment on if you're good at doing what you do or not in great detail and are a pretty big part of your application, so it's a good idea to get close to a prof for this reason alone.
    Regarding publishing, it really depends on the project and how in depth you go with it. A lot of schools require students to write a senior thesis in order to graduate, which basically translates for the sciences into "you do research and write a really long paper detailing your findings." You definetely let the grad schools you apply to know about this as it shows how well qualified and experienced you are for what you're going to do.
    Ok, I think that's it... someone wiser than I will probably point out what I've missed.
  7. Apr 12, 2005 #6
    Thank you so much =)! That clears up a lot.
  8. Apr 12, 2005 #7


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    In response to the OP, grad school applications are reviewed by members of the department to which you are applying. Rough, first cuts are made based on GPA, GRE scores and letters of reference. Usually these just toss out the worst of the applicants and leave plenty of room for borderline applicants to get further consideration. The other important consideration is that you have some focus in your interests and can convince an interviewer that you are enthusiastic about the subject, understand what you are getting into in terms of long hours and hard work in both the classroom and the research lab, and that you have some critical thinking skills. Undergraduate research experience is a real plus, as others have mentioned.
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