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What options are there to rebuild to apply to gradschool after years off?

  1. Aug 16, 2011 #1
    I got a bachelors in physics in '08 at an upper liberal arts college. Intended to take a year off but fell into a depressed rut (father died, girlfriend left, etc etc) and just worked a low-skill job / volunteered / played wow for two years.

    Cleaned my act up a year ago. I'd surfed through school never having to work and never learning anything new in my classes until senior year when I took upper QM and basically got run over by a train, ending up with a C+. So I got over my intellectual-embarassment hangup that prevented me from ever asking questions and learned how to actually read a textbook rather than just find the problems. Rekindled my love affair with the subject and started studying on my own.

    I sheepishly wrote my professors (I only had three) last fall for recommendations to grad school, applied to four programs and was rejected. My QM professor advised that I enroll in a graduate level course to prove my nettle. I talked to folks at my local college to that end only to just now learn from another professor that the department is now a hollowed out shell and the "graduate level QM" course I was going to take this fall is just the undergrad QM course marked up in cost -- there essentially are no graduate physics courses this year in my city. Earlier I'd been considering a move with my fiance to Berkeley but gradschool credits in that area are beyond my savings right now so I passed it up. Now after having what seemed like a reasonable action plan I'm all of a sudden at a loss for what to do.

    What options are there for a graduate to repair things / build recommendations to get into a grad program?

    I was under the impression that internships are only offered to those currently enrolled in school either as an undergrad or graduate.

    I'm kinda sick to my stomach at the idea of waiting until fall 2013 to get into a graduate program (having to move somewhere else and wait a whole year to get into a graduate class and only then apply to programs). Five years! Yuck. And I can only imagine how terrible that'll look.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2011 #2
    I was in a similar situation as you back in 2010. I had been out of school for awhile, lost touch with all of my old profs, and was working a 9-5 tech job (a rut from my perspective). What I decided to do was take a single class at my old Uni (I couldn't manage two with my work schedule) for a semester just so I could smoke it and show the professor that I was good grad school material. I was also able to find another professor who was hosting a research seminar and a prep class for the Putnam, so I was able to contribute and impress enough within several months so that I could get a decent letter out of him.

    In your case, it may have been weak or mediocre letters that hurt your chances. Nothing short of excellent letters will do your application any good, so it's important you fish for them. It might take you another year (unless you work on good letters this fall and apply for spring admission) but it'll be worth it to make a real effort and get your application as good as you can, lest you waste time and resources being unsuccessful.

    You're best bet to make a good impression on admission committees is to study hard and do really well on the subject GRE (physics, I presume), unless you have a strong score on it already. Take that QM class and maybe another and blow through them. The QM might not be "graduate", so to speak, but will appear that way to those who look over your transcript. You'll also have the ability to do extra study/problems to get that deeper experience and have a professor on hand to help the extra learning. That will leave a good impression with her and make for a better letter.

    Ask around and see if any professors are hosting problem solving classes that you can sit on/contribute to, or unpaid research opportunities that'll allow you to impress them and milk a good letter out of them.
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