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What kind of grad schools can I realistically aim for?

  1. Dec 5, 2008 #1
    I am a college sophomore who has recently changed my major to physics and really fallen in love with it. My freshmen year I was a business major but found it to be really boring and didn't like my school so I transferred to a highly ranked liberal arts college with the intention of majoring in math. However, once I got there I decided after a few months that I really loved physics and decided to change my major to physics. I'm taking my first real class in physics this semester, mechanics. I did take physics in high school but I stupidly decided not to take AP physics and just took a normal non calculus based physics class and it was ridiculously easy and kind of boring so back ten I didn't realize how much I liked physics. But I've really fallen in love with the course I'm taking now. I know this may seem kind of premature since I'm just now taking my first course in physics but I really think that I probably want to get a PhD in physics. So basically what I'm wondering is what kind of grad schools I'll be able to get into if I work really hard. How does the GRE compare to the SAT? If I got an 800 on the quantitative section of the SAT can I expect to do that well or at least close to that well on the GRE? Will the fact that I'm coming from a small liberal arts program that doesn't have a very big physics department hurt me? I guess there is some advantage to it because I think I should be able to get involved in research pretty easily once I get enough physics courses under my belt. But there aren't as many options of different courses for me to take and all of the courses in the department are only offered once a year so it's going to be hard for me to get everything I need to be prepared for grad school in only 3 years since I'm just starting the major now as a sophomore. I've thought about taking 5 years to finish my undergrad degree instead of 4 so that I can be better prepared but I'm not sure if I want to do that because it will be expensive. But if I don't stay an extra year there are some courses such as statistical mechanics that I won't get a chance to take. I'm not really sure how big of a deal that is. But also I'll have to take more physics courses per semester if I only stay 4 years and I imagine that will have some affect on my GPA. And of course I'll get the chance to do more research if I stay an extra year. Should I consider staying an extra year or should I just try to finish the entire major in 3 years? As for my grades I had a very high GPA at my old school. I had a 3.9. But admittedly I was at an easier school and I was doing an easier major. But I think I have a good shot at getting all A's in my courses this semester. The physics related courses I'm taking are mechanics and vector calculus. If I work really hard, get involved in a lot of research, and manage to graduate from here with a high GPA what kind of grad schools would I realistically have a good shot at getting into? My guess is that I'll probably be able to get into some top 25 programs though not necessarily top 10 but I really have no idea. I really think that I'd like to go to UC Berkeley or UChicago but I may be aiming a little too high there.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2008 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    If you haven't done it yet, talk to one of the physics professors about your scheduling concerns. They're in a better position to tell you what's possible in three years. Also, they might be willing to help you out by letting you take certain courses on your own on a "directed study" basis if you're a good enough student to handle it, and you'd have trouble taking all your courses otherwise what with scheduling conflicts etc. I've taught courses on that basis occasionally.

    When you declare a major, do you have to pick one of the professors to serve as your major advisor? That's what we do here. If your school does that too, might as well line up someone now.

    As far as getting into grad school is concerned, students who do well at small liberal-arts colleges do it all the time. I went to a not-very-prestigious college in Ohio, and got into Michigan for grad school. All three of the other physics majors in my graduating class also got into grad school: Ohio State, Tufts, and Washington University (St. Louis). Getting into grad school is much more about you and what you did, and the recommendations you get from your professors, than it is about the prestige of the school you attended.

    Make the most of whatever research opportunities your school offers. Also consider REU's at other schools during the summer. If you do well in them, you should be able to get good letters of recommendation out of them.
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