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What GPA should an undergrad aim for to get into a decent physics grad program?

  1. Jul 19, 2012 #1
    My gpa is subpar, but improving.
    Freshmen year at SUNY Oswego

    Undergrad Coursework:

    Semester 2
    Brains, Minds and Consciousness (3) -A
    Calculus 2 (4)- C
    General University Physics 2 (4)- A
    Principles of Human Behavior (3)- A
    overall 3.42

    Semester 1
    Archaeology and Human Ev (3) - B-
    Calculus 1 (4)- C-
    Intro to Worlds of Music (3)- B+
    General University Physics 1 (4)- B+
    Physics Seminar (1)- A
    overall 2.80

    Freshman year gpa -3.10

    I think a realistic goal for me, is to get my gpa up to a 3.60, by the time I start looking for grad programs in physics- so maybe just after my first semester of my junior year. Is a 3.60 an adequate gpa for a grad school applicant? Going for my BS in Physics with a minor in cognitive science (which probably doesn't matter).

    I really would love to get my phd in physics... but I'm not sure even a 3.60 would cut it..

    What else should I do to make my grad school application look better? Can't be ALL about gpa- even though I'm sure a majority of the weight is on gpa and good rec. letters..

    Is this too out of reach? Am I just fantasizing? How critical will grad schools be on a bad first year (and improvements the upcoming years)? (And no, there is no way to bring up my gpa by retaking courses because I never received a D.)

    Advice, help, guidance, and some good articles to read would be appreciated.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 19, 2012 #2
    A Phd isn't about how well you can do in class. A Phd is about whether or not you can do research.

    I don't remember exactly where but I think it was on this forum that someone posted a link to an admittance counselor's blog. On there it said that the GPA doesn't really matter as long as you make the 3.5 cut off for most schools. After that its mainly about your research experience.

    I will try to find the link..
  4. Jul 19, 2012 #3
    alright thank you..
    how do I get involved with research? Do I just ask professors? And can research be done during fall/spring semesters?
  5. Jul 19, 2012 #4
    It is pathetic when people ask what they should do to "make their application look better"

    That's what the standardized-test-driven education gets you....

    How about, "where else can I cut so I can squeeze out another waking minute to spend learning the subject I love"?

    Ohh and btw, do not take this personally. The comment is rhetorical and addresses a rather regular type of posts that appear on this board.
  6. Jul 19, 2012 #5
    Of course you can do research during fall/spring. In fact, I feel like since you will probably be doing research with professors that you know at your own university, the chances of going further with the research are much higher than say doing an REU. The easiest way to get involved in research is by asking your professors. You can also sign up for REUs that take place during the summer time but many of these programs are extremely competitive.

    Here is the link that I was talking about.
  7. Jul 19, 2012 #6
    well I emailed one of my professors about it.. and she only told me of abroad summer research.. I just want to work with one of my professors in one of our labs in the basement.
  8. Jul 19, 2012 #7
    I do agree with you to a certain extent. I just don't believe everyone can be as creative as say the guy who got an interview at google because his resume looked like a google search page.

    Some of us just need advice because we've never had the experience.
  9. Jul 19, 2012 #8
    and thank you!
  10. Jul 19, 2012 #9
    and please, keep the snarky comments to yourself.
  11. Jul 19, 2012 #10
    Don't limit yourself to one professor. Ask everyone. Go on your universities physics page and see what people have interests in. Find out which professors are actually doing research. Call your academic adviser and ask for help. Don't stop just because one professor said no.
  12. Jul 19, 2012 #11
    well she told me about several of the professors in the physics department doing the summer research- not just herself. But i'll try it. Wish they just had a page of all the professors who are doing research.
  13. Jul 19, 2012 #12


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    It's rather odd that they don't. Most departments tend to highlight the research efforts of their faculty. You might want to try spending some time on the departmental web page just to see if you haven't missed it.
  14. Jul 19, 2012 #13
    I found their physics department page- but they only show one research opprotunity abroad during the summer... I know that there's more going on at my school. Pain
  15. Jul 20, 2012 #14


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    Staff: Mentor

    At most colleges and universities, departmental web pages are maintained either by (a) departmental faculty who of course have a lot of other duties, or (b) IT staff who have to maintain several or all departments' pages and, don't know squat about physics, and have to depend on what the departmental faculty tell them to put on the pages.
  16. Jul 20, 2012 #15


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    Gold Member

    Last edited: Jul 20, 2012
  17. Jul 20, 2012 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    2017 Award

    The thing I find puzzling is the word "aim". You should aim for 4.0. Anything lower is asking the question "how little can I learn and still get by".
  18. Jul 20, 2012 #17
    That’s just what I was thinking. You work to maximize your GPA to the extent your skill set permits.

    While research opportunities may or may not exist for you, I'd also consider other opportunities such as http://www.orau.org/science-education/internships-scholarships-fellowships/undergraduates.aspx IMO, it doesn't have to be research to be valuable. I don't know if the other national labs have something like this. I went to ORAU/ORNL in 77 & 78, when I was in college, and it was educational (learned techniques, "working" with others in the field, etc.). A friend of mine spent her summer working at Goddard http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index.html at least one summer. They are great places to meet amazing people and see amazing things. Anything that broadens you education will be good.

    I agree with the 3.5 GPA objective, but I also know more than a few that fell a bit short and still got in.

    I have a friend's son starting SUNY Oswego this fall. He and his mom went there for orientation last week, and they were told to expect really serious winter weather (more than we get around the capital district). Sounds like "fun".
  19. Jul 22, 2012 #18
    From what little I know of it the GPA doesn't seem terrible, and you're only 1 year in. I'd be more concerned about the consistently low maths grades, because what they contribute in GPA aside, you probably won't enjoy a physics PhD if you aren't good at maths.
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