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Admissions What is a respectable GPA to graduate admissions?

  1. Aug 22, 2012 #1
    What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    Hello, incoming sophomore math and physics major here. I'm about to start my third semester of my undergrad, but I have a lot of transfer/AP credit from high school, so a majority of the GPA determining credit on my transcript is going to be from upper level courses.

    Anyways, one of my major problems in high school was I had a good capability to comprehend the material in courses, but didn't put in the effort to get good grades in the class. Because of this, my test scores were high, but my GPA was comparatively low.

    Thankfully, I've mostly learned from my mistakes and I know that getting good grades is something that I should really stress in College. The problem is, right now I'm for one of the first times actually being challenged by my coursework, so despite shooting for a 4.0, I can see myself very easily getting a B throughout the year (I got 3 of them throughout all of last year). I know that I can (and I intend to) do better, but I want to be realistic: there are not many students that can pull 6 semesters of straight As.

    Right now my overall GPA is a 3.667 (and my GPA in my major is a 3.76, IIRC), not what I would consider bad by any means, but not stellar. I am going to do my best to make it go up as much as possible, but what kind of GPA should is considered competitive for various physics programs? Like, is a 3.7 considered competitive to a top 10 school? A 3.8? What about to a top 25? I know GPA isn't the entirety of the story, research, recommendations and GRE matters, but at what point will it no longer hinder me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2012 #2
    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    Take a look at PhysicsGRE and it'll give you a brief idea of how things really are.

    Unless you went to a top 10 school as an undergrad, or else something lower than 3.9 would probably keep you away from the top 10 schools.
    The admission difficulty simply increases exponentially as you go up the ladder.
    For instance, Berkeley had 800 applicants last year. I think it'd be safe to assume that they were already self-selective and most of them have a 4.0.

    Of course GPA isn't the entire story, but people with higher GPA also tend to get more publications in tier 1 journals, better letters and more awards etc. that all contribute to admission.

    There are, of course, a lot of great schools that aren't so hard to get in.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2012
  4. Aug 23, 2012 #3
    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    I don't know almost anyone who got into a top ten school with a 4.0, or even a 3.9. I don't even know if I know anyone with a 4.0.

    Build relationships with professors so you can get good, meaningful letters of recommendation and get involved in research and do good work there. Try and stay above a 3.5. The type of coursework also matters. If you can take graduate course work and do fairly well, that's worth more than an easy course.

    I know someone with a 3.4 who was accepted to Berkeley and U. of Chicago (at least) because his undergraduate research was truly stellar.
  5. Aug 23, 2012 #4
    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    If I remember correctly you're in Chemistry?
    Things are probably slightly less competitive in other fields.
    Admittedly, I may be a little pessimistic on the matter as I knew quite a few people who got rejected with a >3.95, few pubs and great GRE scores (though they were from international/Asian schools)
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2012
  6. Aug 23, 2012 #5
    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    Yes, but I was not speaking about Chemistry there. The people I was involved with were primarily in the physics and math departments.
  7. Aug 23, 2012 #6


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    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    Based on my extensive experience including 'having applied to graduate school', probably ~3.5 or so is where it starts to really hurt your application. Admissions to these kind of things, especially top tier programs, seem to depend on factors beyond my comprehension. If you look in physicsgre.com you'll see applicants accepted to schools others were rejected from, and from the information it doesn't seem to make much sense at all. There's always the issue of the true strength of recommendation letters and the personal statement, but ultimately unless a member of a particular admissions committee comes on these forums and tells you why they accepted applicant A over B, we'll never know.

    The moral of the story is, unless the answer is likely to change your behavior at all (doesn't seem it will), the question is irrelevant. 4.0 or 3.5, admittance to a top-tier physics program is never guaranteed, so just do the best you can.

    (Along with Jorriss, I can confirm that having a GPA <4.0 will not keep you out of top tier schools. It doesn't even need to be in the neighborhood (3.65 acceptable)).
  8. Aug 23, 2012 #7
    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    As long as it's decent (i.e. > 3.5 or so), raw GPA doesn't matter much. A B- in advanced quantum field theory is a lot more impressive than A+ in Algebra II.

    Obsessing too much about the GPA may in fact hurt you if it discourages you from taking more difficult classes. One of the thing that I liked in fact about my undergraduate school was the number of professors that told me not to obsess over grades.
  9. Aug 23, 2012 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: What is a "respectable GPA" to graduate admissions?

    There is a difference between 3.5 and 3.75 and a difference between 3.75 and 4.0. There is no difference between 3.9 and 4.0. (And yes, I know the fallacy of the beard)

    As twofish mentioned, what you took is at least as important. Someone with a 3.7 who took a lot of technical electives will look better than someone with a 4.0 who took the bare minimum.
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