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Programs Will I have issues getting into PhD programs from a very, very low-ranked school?

  1. May 7, 2012 #1
    I currently attend a community college and holding a 3.9 GPA...I realize I don't have many options in my state to transfer because the "good" schools are almost impossible to transfer into even with a 4.0 GPA and I don't know what other credentials they are looking for, and the other reason being the "decent" schools cost a lot and the maximum financial aid/Federal government loans most likely won't cover the costs and I don't know anyone I can borrow money from (I doubt banks will let me take out money with my credit history).

    If I transfer to a rather unknown school, will I have a difficult time getting into any Physics PhD programs in the country, especially if the professors aren't stellar (I'm not saying they're incompetent, but students at other schools are getting recommendations written by exceedingly more outstanding professors)?

    I think I will have trouble getting REU experience if the professors in my Physics department don't write very recommendations very well and I'd really like to get into something like the RISE program at DAAD so I can at least have something on my application to be competitive with, but I see no reason why RISE would take a chance on some student from a no-name school to enter such an exceptional and especially costly research program so I've pretty much given up on the notion of applying to any of the top Physics PhD programs since I won't have anything on my application to stand me out from those that already have a good head start at good schools.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2012 #2
    What state are you in?
  4. May 7, 2012 #3
    Your GPA matters, but your GRE will also tell a school if you know your stuff. Two brothers and I all went to small private colleges, and we all went to some pretty nice graduate schools. You may have an issue with the most competitive schools, but there are many fine college and graduate schools out there.

    IMO, rather than posting here and getting generic feedback, arrange visits with some schools you like and talk with them. I don’t think it’s as bleak as you make it sound. BTW, when you go, treat it like a job interview, be focused, and leave a good impression.

    As for money, check out sites like http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ . You may have more aid available to you than you think. Additionally, some colleges have money based on declared major, religion (private schools), sport, academic standing, etc. There is more money out there, but you have to do some detective work to find some of it. Don’t overlook private scholarships offered to people from your State to “XYZ” school, etc.
  5. May 7, 2012 #4
    Borough of Queens in NYC
  6. May 7, 2012 #5
    Getting into good PhD programs is highly dependent on research experience (and good letters of rec from research advisers). Take a look at the CCI program. It's a great opportunity for community college students to work at a national laboratory. An experience like this where you work hard and get a good letter of rec will go way farther than anything else you can do to get into grad school. In the end grad schools are looking to take in students who can do quality research for them, not necessarily just pass exams.

  7. May 7, 2012 #6
    I know alot of people who went to very low ranked undergrads. I cannot emphasize enough that you need to do well on the Subject GRE. If you do poorly on the subject GRE there is a very good chance you will get in wither no where or very low ranked schools. Research will not make up for a bad subject GRE if your undergrad is low ranked. Neither will letters of recommendation. You need to demonstrate that you are as good as the students from higher ranked colleges on an objective measure.
  8. May 7, 2012 #7
    You should consider applying to colleges that are need-blind and offer full-need to applicants. Some have different policies towards transfer students and you should check that carefully.


    Above is a list of such schools (don't be scared/put off by the first six schools and look below as well, for a longer list!). Learn about the schools and their application process, gather all the required materials, write your essays well and apply!

    I haven't cross-checked them all with the above list but http://www.wiselikeus.com/collegewise/admissions-advice-for-specific-colleges/ [Broken] website has some useful advice for specific colleges. Use it at your own discretion.

    You should also look at colleges that are *outside* that list as well, for there are many of them who are able to provide "full-need" for all *admitted* students but are actually need-aware. This means that your financial situation will be considered at the time of applying and it may play in or against your favour, depending on your financial situation. However, if you do get in, your full-need will be met. A lot of the "top" liberal arts colleges provide financial aid.

    Good luck! Let us know how it all works out!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. May 7, 2012 #8
    Is this community college offering bachelor degrees? If so, when will you be getting a bachelors degree from there?

    Edit: Do you go to Queensborough Community College?
  10. May 7, 2012 #9
    Yes. They don't offer a 4-year degree. This is my first semester here.
    Last edited: May 7, 2012
  11. May 7, 2012 #10
    Don't underestimate the professors at non-stellar universities. I know a few people who go to Yale and say that their experience with the teachers is miserable; they rarely have time for their students and are more focused on their own research than providing an education. On the flip side, many very good professors teach at planetary schools teach for that very reason- they want to educate people, and schools with small physics programs provide great opportunities for one-on-one research (as well as classwork help). I'm at a low ranked state school right now (acceptance rate around 75-80%), graduating in a week and I got into a Ph.D. program with a TA position.
    Like ThinkToday said, there's a lot of federal money out there for school, so don't write that off just yet. Also, don't blow it all on a single year at a "top-notch" school. Schools like Yale, Harvard, MIT and Berkeley (or NYU) are nothing more than a brand name for undergraduate students. Get a solid BS in physics with the core courses like E&M, classical and quantum mechanics, and thermo from a school you can afford. If you really want to continue your education, you'll be able to.
  12. May 7, 2012 #11
    It will hurt you to go to a "bad" school, but don't mistake "good" with "big name." There are some "no-name" colleges that have stellar research programs in their own fields, and there are also some liberal arts colleges with no research program, but excellent teachers.

    Yup. You don't go to MIT for the quality of the lectures. One thing about big name schools is that because the students tended to be pre-selected, you can end up with a lousy teacher and people still learn stuff.

    One side effect of the "glut" of physics Ph.D's is that you end up with some excellent teachers in the middle of nowhere.

    Also PGRE is important, because it's a "normalizing" factor. If you come from a school with no brand name, then people are going to look closely at the GRE to see what the quality of the program is.
  13. May 8, 2012 #12
    How can I find out which schools in my area (or out of my area but provide good financial aid) are actually "good" for Physics? Just by word of mouth?
  14. May 8, 2012 #13

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm a little confused- do you think you can go directly to a PhD program without a BS degree?
  15. May 8, 2012 #14
    He seems to think that it will be hard for him to get into a "highly ranked" college in NY and as such, he is concerned with whether that will hold him back when applying to graduate school.

    OP, another thing to consider is taking the "honours" track for your courses.
  16. May 8, 2012 #15


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    Staff: Mentor

    Try looking on their web sites for information about what their physics graduates have done (e.g. how many went to grad school, and where). If that doesn't turn up anything, try e-mailing someone in the physics department and asking politely for whatever information they have about that. Most schools collect that sort of information regularly. At the college where I work, the student career counseling office sends out a report to faculty every year, about the previous year's graduating class, listing the "destinations" of everyone that they know about.
  17. May 8, 2012 #16


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    No, he said in the OP that he's planning on transferring
  18. May 8, 2012 #17
    Did you try applying to their internship?

    If you land an internship with QCC and keep the grades up, there is no reason why you wouldn't be able to enter into some relatively competitive schools.

    I go to Hudson County Community College (it is an hour or so away from QCC) and we land students in some competitive schools, just last semester one of our students transferred to MIT with a full scholarship. And I bet your school does the same, in fact, it has research opportunities that we no longer have so I would wager your school might do better in placing students at other top universities. So it isn't about being at a community college, it is about what you do at said community college.

    And what makes professors at a community college less outstanding than other professors? I don't get it. In my school we have a pretty impressive body of faculty (the ones teaching the higher courses at least). There is one who is a brilliant mathematician and I have no idea how he didn't go to another more lucrative profession. But that just shows you that just because a professor is at a community college does not give one less outstanding credentials.

    Now with that said, there is no reason that a professor from said community college can not give you an impressive recommendation letter. What matters is what you do with your time there and if you get noticed or not.

    And why are you already talking about getting into PhD programs if your still a freshman? First you make the best out your time at the community college. And once you transfer you make the best out of your time at the university until you obtain at least a bachelors. You will have plenty of time to increase you credentials until getting into a PhD program.
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