What kind of graduate schools should I apply to given my stats?

  • Physics
  • Thread starter GrimAutoZero
  • Start date
  • #1
Hello,

I am a senior physics student who is interested in applying to graduate school for physics. I am having a hard time figuring out where to apply, what my safe, match and reach schools are, and in general deciding where I can even get into if I apply so I don't waste hundreds of dollars on grad applications to schools I can't even realistically get accepted to.

I am interested in both theoretical AMO physics and theoretical Nuclear/Particle, so I would like to send a couple applications for both if possible, however my prospects for AMO are probably better than Nuclear/Particle

Stats:
GPA 3.93
GRE: None
PGRE: None

I've been doing research in theoretical AMO since last fall, and I am en route to writing and defending an honors thesis in the Spring, which should allow me to graduate with some degree of honors if all goes well.

The highest math class that I have taken due to scheduling issues is Diff Eq and Linear Algebra sadly.

I have done pretty well in all of my physics classes.

I am getting a LOR from my PI of the group I am working in, and I plan on getting a LOR from my Quantum Mechanics 2 professor, and perhaps another professor if I can, since most applications seem to require 3 (who else should I ask?)

If there is anything else I need to provide I'd be happy to share, I'm just hoping someone can help me figure out where to apply and what places I can reasonably get into.

Thanks
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
CalcNerd
Education Advisor
Gold Member
414
169
Time to do some serious research. Talk to your own instuctors about recommendation letters. Study for and take the GRE (a high score will only help you). Talk to your instructors about potential good schools and look for that future mentor now and contact them. You need to be pro-active in your goals and prospects.
 
  • #3
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
Where are you now? Are you taking the GRE next week? What did your professors say when you asked them?
 
  • #4
Time to do some serious research. Talk to your own instuctors about recommendation letters. Study for and take the GRE (a high score will only help you). Talk to your instructors about potential good schools and look for that future mentor now and contact them. You need to be pro-active in your goals and prospects.

I was planning on taking the PGRE this month, however the testing location is 90 miles away and I have no way of getting there. That said, the grad schools that I have looked at so far aren't requiring the GRE or the PGRE for graduate applications for this year. In regards to contacting potential advisors, do I just email them saying I'm interested in their research and applying to their institution?
 
  • #5
Where are you now? Are you taking the GRE next week? What did your professors say when you asked them?
I am not taking the GRE due to distance from testing center as well as lack of requirement for applications. I know that my QM1 and PI are willing to write a LOR for me, the only one which I haven't asked are my QM2 Professor.
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
You're not giving us much information. "Here's my GPA. Where should I go?"
 
  • #7
You're not giving us much information. "Here's my GPA. Where should I go?"
I tried to provide my interest and research experience as well, but I know even that isn't enough and that there are many more factors to a graduate application. What other information should I provide? And I don't what anyone to just compile a list of schools for me, I want to get an idea of how to know what schools are a good match for me so I can better decide on my own.
 
  • #8
berkeman
Mentor
60,880
11,265
And I don't what anyone to just compile a list of schools for me, I want to get an idea of how to know what schools are a good match for me so I can better decide on my own.
It seems you should be applying to schools which have strong programs in your areas of interest. We don't know much about your areas of interest, so I don't think we can be of much help yet.

What journals do you read regularly? Which articles have interested you the most in the past year or so? What schools were the authors from? Maybe that is a good place to start?
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
Where are you now? Are you taking the GRE next week? What did your professors say when you asked them?
You answered 33% of these questions.

Normally one expects to go "one notch down" for grad school. So maybe one goes from Stanford to Maryland. This rule of thumb is statistical at best. If you won't tell us where you are, we can only guess where "one notch down" is.

If you are 90 miles from a testing center, it is highly probable that you are not at a state flagship, nor at a Top 50. That's a pity because those are the people the GRE most helps.
 
  • #10
CrysPhys
Education Advisor
906
558
Normally one expects to go "one notch down" for grad school. So maybe one goes from Stanford to Maryland. This rule of thumb is statistical at best. If you won't tell us where you are, we can only guess where "one notch down" is.
??? This doesn't makes sense to me. So if undergrads from top notch schools (I'm assuming besides Stanford, this would include the likes of MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, ...) go one notch down for grad school, who are the students who go to the top notch schools for grad school? Students who were undergrads at lower notch schools?
 
  • #11
You answered 33% of these questions.

Normally one expects to go "one notch down" for grad school. So maybe one goes from Stanford to Maryland. This rule of thumb is statistical at best. If you won't tell us where you are, we can only guess where "one notch down" is.

If you are 90 miles from a testing center, it is highly probable that you are not at a state flagship, nor at a Top 50. That's a pity because those are the people the GRE most helps.
The University I am at currently is CU Boulder, the nearest testing center with availability for the October (23 I think?) is Wyoming as far as I know. There was one in September in Denver, but I didn't feel prepared enough to get a good score yet, and I didn't realize the only other one was so far away too late. And I apologize but I don't know what you mean by what my professors said.
 
  • #12
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
who are the students who go to the top notch schools for grad school?

That's why I said "statistical at best"

Yes, some people at the say, top 10's stay at top 10's. Others enter the top 10's from strong schools without any graduate programs whatever. And yes, some move up. And "up" is relative. A student at Harvard doing experimental nuclear physics going to Michigan State is moving up.

It's not a hard and fast rule. Again, that's why I said "statistical at best". Also "Top 10" is kind of misleading given that half of all PhDs come from around a dozen schools.

But all we have is a GPA, and like it or not, a GPA of 3.93 from Harvard will open more doors than a 3.93 from University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. Colorado? Top 20, not top 10. So reasonable targets using the statistical-at-best rule of thumb might be Ohio State, Penn State, Duke, maybe Rice.
 
  • #13
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,720
1,930
And I apologize but I don't know what you mean by what my professors said.
I believe the point is that this kind of question, i.e. which graduate schools should aim at, is a good one to discuss with your current professors, and your academic advisor. These people are generally familiar with your program, with where students from your program typically end up given how well they are doing, and are more likely to be familiar with your personal details... not just your GPA, but what kind of environment you are likely to do well in, what kind of mentorship might fit well with you etc. (That's not an absolute - many professors won't know too many personal details about you, but they are still more likely to have a better overall picture of you than what anyone where can surmise from a few paragraphs of text.)

It's also plausible that they'll have connections in the fields that you're interested in. In some circumstances they may be be willing to make an introduction.

In regards to contacting potential advisors, do I just email them saying I'm interested in their research and applying to their institution?
There are various ways to do this and directly emailing potential supervisors is one.

Some programs have "open house" days (though many may be virtual), where prospective students can take tours and do a meet and greet with faculty. These functions provide a great venue to speak with potential advisors. You can contact the associate chair in charge of graduate students or a graduate advisor to find out if/when they're holding such functions. Sometimes these people are even willing to set up meetings if they don't have a specific day.

Another option is conferences. Attending a conference will allow you to attend talks on the leading edge of the field you're interested in, and they usually provide opportunities to meet and socialize. I know they're not always accessible, but usually there are discounted fees for students.

Pay attention to departmental colloquiums too. It's pretty common for physics departments to invite external speakers in and often there can be social functions around these too. These are great opportunities for senior undergraduates to meet people outside of their own school. Much of this is virtual these days, which has the advantage of making it more accessible.
 
  • Like
Likes robphy and Vanadium 50
  • #14
StatGuy2000
Education Advisor
1,877
981
That's why I said "statistical at best"

Yes, some people at the say, top 10's stay at top 10's. Others enter the top 10's from strong schools without any graduate programs whatever. And yes, some move up. And "up" is relative. A student at Harvard doing experimental nuclear physics going to Michigan State is moving up.

It's not a hard and fast rule. Again, that's why I said "statistical at best". Also "Top 10" is kind of misleading given that half of all PhDs come from around a dozen schools.

But all we have is a GPA, and like it or not, a GPA of 3.93 from Harvard will open more doors than a 3.93 from University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. Colorado? Top 20, not top 10. So reasonable targets using the statistical-at-best rule of thumb might be Ohio State, Penn State, Duke, maybe Rice.
@Vanadium 50 , how does what you state (regarding "one notch down") apply to students with undergraduate physics degrees from outside of the United States (for example, students from Canada)?
 
  • #15
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
Canada? Is that outside the United States? Who knew?

It's a rule of thumb. It doesn't provide a (to use a phrase in an earlier thread) Spock-like precision. It comes from the simple observation that half to two-thirds of the people who want to get into physics grad school enough to take the GRE don't get in, and this number gets worse the lower you go. I wouldn't have even mentioned it because we have not much else to go on in this case.

That said, I would say Toronto is a bit higher than UBC, then a bigger gap to McGill, then a gap to Alberta, Victoria, Simon Fraser, etc. I would say Toronto sits near Michigan or Maryland in the US.
 
Last edited:
  • #16
StatGuy2000
Education Advisor
1,877
981
Canada? Is that outside the United States? Who knew?

It's a rule of thumb. It doesn't provide a (to use a phrase in an earlier thread) Spock-like precision. It comes from the simple observation that half to two-thirds of the people who want to get into physics grad school enough to take the GRE don't get in, and this number gets worse the lower you go. I wouldn't have even mentioned it because we have not much else to go on in this case.

That said, I would say Toronto is a bit higher than UBC, then a bigger gap to McGill, then a gap to Alberta, Victoria, Simon Fraser, etc. I would say Toronto sits near Michigan or Maryland in the US.
@Vanadium 50 , I have several questions regarding your quote above, which I have bolded:

1. Can you point me to actual data or statistics where you claim that "half to two-thirds of people who take the (physics?) GRE don't get in to physics graduate programs"?

2. Related to #1, can you really be certain that those students who have taken the physics GRE really intended to pursue graduate studies in physics? Presumably there may be at least some students who, for whatever reason, applied to graduate programs in other cognate fields (e.g. applied mathematics, computer science, electrical engineering, economics, statistics, etc.). And there may well be students who took the physics GRE as a "practice run" without necessarily intending to immediately apply for physics graduate programs.

3. Again pointing to #1, do you have data/statistics on what the average GRE scores of those students who didn't get in physics graduate programs (as opposed to the third to half who did)? Or what the average, say, cGPA or grade average of those students who took the physics GRE who didn't get in physics graduate programs?
 
  • #17
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
1) The AIP says "In the 2018-19 academic year, there were about 3,200 first-year physics graduate students enrolled in one of the 258 graduate physics programs in the US." Wikipedia says 5000-6000 students take the PGRE yearly. I used to say "half" until it was pointed out on this very forum that the number of students taking it was growing and was now 8000-10000. I have taken this at face value, but given that about 9000 physics bachelors are awarded in the US, this growth has to have a substantial international component.

2) "Related to #1, can you really be certain that those students who have taken the physics GRE really intended to pursue graduate studies in physics?" Nope. The number is surely non-zero. But is it significant? Are thousands of people spending $150 to take an exam to apply for programs in cognate fields that don't require it? I think the burden of proof should be on the people who argue that a substantial fraction of people who take the PGRE don't want to go to physics graduate school.

3) From Makkinje:
1634826997320.png

I have drawn in the quintiles by hand. The distribution for the students who didn't get in is the complement of those who did.
 
Last edited:
  • #18
129
55
Are you taking the GRE next week?
As a point of clarification GRE/PGRE requirements are currently suspended for most schools due to Covid.
 
  • #19
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
GRE/PGRE requirements are currently suspended for most schools due to Covid.
Yes, but.

If you don't take it, it can't help you. If you have an OK but not great grades from an unknown school, a 990 will open a lot of doors for you.
 
  • #20
129
55
Yes, but.

If you don't take it, it can't help you. If you have an OK but not great grades from an unknown school, a 990 will open a lot of doors for you.
It's not a matter of them being optional, they aren't being accepted at all at many schools because many testing dates were cancelled.
 
  • #21
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,661
11,883
If they don't take it, it can't help you either.
 
  • #22
353
254
When you say the highest math was Diff E and Lin Algebra. In my university there were Junior /Senior level courses in these areas that were advanced versions of the Sophomore version. If however, your highest level math course was a sophomore level course, you might want to give admissions committees the best reasons to accept you.

I know there may even be some graduate programs that actually will not look and ask applicants not to send GRE scores at all. However, there are most that will at least look at this extra information. I would say you are probably best off traveling the 180 miles (both ways) by bus if you have to. I know when I went to grad school I travelled 200 miles each way (by greyhound) just to interview at an prospective graduate school.

It looks like your math background may not open as many doors. I would say go for the GRE. (It may help)
Otherwise suppose you lose out to someone, with courage with a 3.3 cGPA and a 820 on the pGRE.

Colorado has one of the best (10 years ago it beat out MIT for top spot in US News) deparments in the US in AMP physics, and you are doing research in this area. Yet the tenor of your post seems to indicate you are unsure of yourself. Your cGPA is good. Maybe the math courses are causing some concern.

I think with the others, I would expect your advisers at Colorado would know universities that would be a good fit.
 

Related Threads on What kind of graduate schools should I apply to given my stats?

Replies
6
Views
2K
Replies
1
Views
761
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
1K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
2K
Replies
23
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
4K
Replies
2
Views
981
Top