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Will a Grad. certificate help me stand out in MS/PhD apps?

  1. Feb 13, 2016 #1
    Hi Everyone,

    I've scoured the internet to find answers to this question and I haven't had much luck.

    I graduated in 2014 with a 2.86 GPA in physics. To counteract this lower gpa in my applications; I have a lot of research experience and I'm currently working in industry doing some research(but mostly production).
    I am studying for the PGRE with plans to apply in the fall(and my professors agree my test scores will help me the most). Even though I'm still debating between Nuclear and Astrophysics, I'm wondering what your thoughts are on graduate certificates in nuke.

    1. Do you see a graduate certificate in nuclear science & engineering to be beneficial?
    2. Would a GC help me stand out from others in MS/PhD applications?
    3. Side question: If you couldn't decide between fields, how did you come to a decision?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2016 #2


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    The main issue that you'll face, which I'm sure you're already aware of, is that a lot of schools won't even look at you if you don't have a 3.00 GPA. It won't matter what your PGRE is or what kind of research experience you have. It's quite common for most graduate schools to filter the applications before they even get to the admissions committee. If the GPA doesn't meet the school's policy, they won't even see it.

    I'm assuming a grad certificate is some kind of document awarded for taking graduate courses in a subject without being enrolled in a graduate program. In principle this won't hurt you. At best it could be used to boost your GPA, assuming that you do very well in your graduate courses. And doing well in graduate courses will add move evidence to suggest you'll be successful in a PhD program.

    The question is though - are you able to do anything differently that will allow you to do well in graduate courses? They're not easier than undergraduate courses. And if you end up with something less than a 3.0 in them, they won't be doing you any favours.

    As to your final question, I think it's a combination of personal investigation and opportunity. On the personal investigation side, you really just have to read a lot, talk to people in the field, attend talks, and if you can try to get some experience in the field. On the opportunity side, it's surprising how much people's decisions actually come down to where they get in, or what options area available at the time they apply.
  4. Feb 13, 2016 #3
    Thanks for replying to this so soon, I appreciate it! I am definitely aware that my gpa is my biggest obstacle in this(It's also made me look at many programs abroad). My professors have suggested contacting the departments I'm interested in and using that connection in the hopes that they'll want my application, as well as their recommendation letters/contact with the department.

    You're correct about what a graduate certificate is. Usually it is used as a way to boost yourself in your current field of work, or change career paths. From what I've read about low GPA applicants, the schools they don't get into often suggest taking courses as an un-matriculated student. I think completing a certificate would look better, but it would also be more subject focused than brushing up on math and certain physics.
  5. Feb 15, 2016 #4


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    You would do well to address for yourself Choppy's comments about past and future performance. A 2.86 GPA indicates that you have not done well in physics. Maybe your low GPA is due to poor grades in freshman and sophomore years, and you finished off with straight A's. This could indicate that you are, in fact, adequately prepared. If that is not your story, however, think about how you got these grades. Poor math or other background? Poor study habits? Not understanding concepts? Honestly assess your shortcomings and whether you've changed them. The reason it is important is that grad school is harder and moves faster than undergrad, it assumes that you are already proficient in physics, and BTW your classmates (competition) will be more knowledgeable and competent since they've been selected for excellence in physics. You run the risk of starting with significant shortfalls in concepts, rigor and habits, and falling farther from there.

    If you are set on continuing, you might consider retaking classes you did poorly in to strengthen your background, while you improve your study habits and raise your GPA.
  6. Feb 15, 2016 #5


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    What exactly is a "graduate certificate"?

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