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What would be my chance of admission for graduate school

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point


I am planning to apply for grad school with research interest in Astrophysics, specifically data analysis aspect of Astronomy, mainly in Pulsars and Fast Radio Bursts, or Computational Astrophysics, mainly in Fluid Dynamics or.Plasma Physics. Basically, interested in Data science, Extreme astrophysics, Compact Objects, and fluid dynamics.
If you know some schools with these research projects, let me know!

I majored in B.S. in Astronomy and Physics at University of Virginia
My undergrad GPA is 3.575, and my research throughout my undergrad career was concentrated in pulsar and radio astronomy research. I have slight interest in other fields that have direct application to technology, but I like the astronomy research, and I thought it would give me a good shot at decent and well-known graduate programs.

My current PGRE score is 730, 56 percentile. Thinking about retaking it.
I haven't taken GRE yet, but let's say that I'm fairly good at math and verbal section isn't my strongest suit. Let's just estimate it to be V: 150 and Q: 165,

I have great recommenders, one of them is the professor I worked with for a long time, another one is a professor where I got a good grade in her research method class, and the last one is my research mentor in Germany.

I have done research since the second semester of my freshman year in Astronomy on several different projects. I also have done research over the summer since my sophomore year, one in radio astronomy and one in plasma physics.

In terms of classes I have taken other than basic requirements for physics majors (such as Quantum, Statistical, E&M, Classical, etc), I have taken classes on graduate level Radio Astronomy, Intro to General Relativity, and Research Method in Astrophysics.

I have some candidates for my grad school applications,but I am not really sure about my chances. I have a list, but I'm on the process of narrowing them down.
I am planning to apply to 9-12 schools, with some reach, match, and safety schools, but some of the dream schools might be too much that I might not even apply at all.
Here are some of the well known schools on my list:
UC Berkeley
Johns Hopkins
^ Very sure that I will get rejected from these
University of Arizona
West Virginia University
University of British Columbia
University of Toronto
University of Hawaii
University of Illinois UC
UCSD or other UC schools
University of Maryland
Carnegie Mellon

For my match and safety schools, I want to pick out some schools with my research interest. If you know some that I might have chances for, I would gratefully appreciate your answers.

Answers and Replies

  • #2
To narrow down that list of schools (if you haven't done this already), go to their websites and see if they have the sort of astronomy research you want to do. Ideally, you want schools where more than one group do the kind of research you'd like. That will knock quite a few off this list.

Hopefully someone with more knowledge of astronomy admissions can help me out here, but I know that astronomy departments are notoriously small and therefore accept very few people each year. Because of that, you might want to limit your applications to "reach schools" (Princeton, MIT, etc. etc.). If you want to apply to 12 schools, I'd say 3 "reach schools", 3 "safety schools", and 6 "about my level" schools.
  • #3
Most of those are reach schools for you. Don't bother with those that will reject you; many didn't ever even bother telling me I was rejected from them (happily took my application fee, however). You need more schools that might be safeties, and even that isn't a guarantee anymore.
  • #4
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
For my match and safety schools, I want to pick out some schools with my research interest.
In my opinion, you should start with your research interests and identify schools that have active research programs in those specific areas. If you were to get into a big name school that isn't doing anything you're actually interested in, that could end up being a disaster.

For what it's worth, I think the idea of applying to 12 schools is massive overkill. I think potential graduate students are much better off narrowing down their list down to ~3 schools based on a major effort of trying to match up what they really want with what's out there and where they are likely to be competitive. To do this speak with those professors who are going to write reference letters and get their opinions on where you should go. Try to visit the campus of your tops picks and speak with professors and graduate students there. Be up front with your marks etc. and ask if you would be competitive at their school. Of course no one can say for sure whether you'll get in, but this should help you to identify:
- schools where the group that you're interested in isn't going to be taking any new graduate students in the coming year
- supervisors that are retiring or moving that you wont' have any chance to work with
- schools where the research focus has shifted
- schools where none of the graduate students are happy; and conversely
- schools with new faculty that are actively trying to recruit students with your interests
- schools with lots of funding/resources in your area of interest
- faculty that you really want to work with
- and even work on a research proposal that you can use for apply for external funding (which can almost guarantee acceptance at most schools if you get the external funding)

After those 3, if you're really worried you can try to apply to a couple less competitive programs, but again - look into them, because there's a chance you could end up going there.

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