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Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2008 7:19 pm
by mhazelm
So, as for us who took the Nov 8 PGRE, what are all of you planning to do about grad school applications?

I have a good list of ~15-20 schools I'm interested in, but I can't afford to apply to all of them, and if I did poorly on the PGRE I won't apply to many of the top tier schools... if I did as well as I hoped I could probably get into a very good school...

so I'm not sure how to decide without knowing my score. I can find out on Dec. 8th by phone, but I will have to ask for my recommendations soon to make Dec. 15 deadlines. Should I just ask for the recommendations, just "in case" I did as well as I'm hoping?

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2008 8:02 pm
by astrophysicist2b
Is there any way that you can cut your list down further without your score? I would ask for the "just in case" letters, but 15-20 letters is a lot to ask for... I took the October test, but had to ask for my letters last week (I'm out of town until December), and did put "just in case" schools on the list, but that amounted to a total of 8 schools. I might amend the list later, depending on what my score is, but the difference will only be 1 or 2 schools.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 12:21 pm
by tmc
The rule of thumb is
3 stretch schools
3 schools at your level
3 backup schools

Live by it

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 12:29 pm
by secander2!
Donald Asher, who wrote the very well respected Graduate Admissions Essays book, recommends applying to your top 2 "reach" schools, your top two "your-level" schools, and your top two "safety" schools. 15-20 seems to be quite extreme (how would you even have the money for all those????)... if I were you, I'd do:

2 SUPER-Stretch (for if you do really well on PGRE)
2 stretch
2 your-level
2 backup

That puts you at 8 which is quite reasonable in terms of application fees and asking your professors for recommendation. Best of luck!

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 3:19 pm
by coreycwgriffin
I'm not even bothering applying to stretch schools. Even if I got in to them I'd feel too over my head to actually accept.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 4:33 pm
by rohit
coreycwgriffin wrote:I'm not even bothering applying to stretch schools. Even if I got in to them I'd feel too over my head to actually accept.


huh :roll:

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 5:54 pm
by secander2!
@coreycwgriffin, that's one way to do it :lol: Seriously though, I wondered what it would be like to go to a "reach" school and then to find that no professors wanted to take me as a student; what happens at that point?!?!

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 5:56 pm
by abeboparebop
Thinking over my list... I'm applying to

5 reach schools
2 my-level-ish schools
1 safety school

This is all assuming I have a clue about where I stand. It's likely that I don't.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 6:07 pm
by trani
secander2! wrote:@coreycwgriffin, that's one way to do it :lol: Seriously though, I wondered what it would be like to go to a "reach" school and then to find that no professors wanted to take me as a student; what happens at that point?!?!


I am afraid that is highly improbable! There are too ways to get accepted into a reach school: 1) a professor gets you in; 2) you go through regular admissions process like the rest of us.

First case: you already have someone that wants you...
Second case: if you got accepted without any help then that probably was not a reach school. It just shows that you were misinformed about your chances or you have low self-appreciation. If the admissions committee accepted you that would mean you are just as qualified as majority of the other accepted applicants.

The last sentence takes as an assumption that there are usually more qualified candidates than they can accept, which i think is quite reasonable assumption.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 6:48 pm
by abeboparebop
By the way, what's the point of having more than one safety school?

I guess the correct answer is that it's difficult to know what's really a safety school for anybody in particular, but still...

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 7:06 pm
by astrophysicist2b
two points I see in having more than one safety school:

1. like you said, you never know who they'll accept. admissions processes are unpredictable.
2. it's nice to have some choice; I know many people who have changed their minds about what school they want to attend after visiting

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 7:07 pm
by secander2!
@trani, Thanks, that's encouraging :D Just to elaborate on those "highly improbable" cases: many of us are recoiling at the fact that we're just being reduced to a number or that our grades, GPAs, GREs, publications, etc... don't accurately portray how good we are. I know this doesn't really have much to do with the topics being discussed here, but surely there are some cases where the opposite is true: where each of these measures is artificially high, and that the applicant looks much better on paper than he is in reality? I realize it's more of a nightmare than a likely scenario (I guess I shouldn't have said "seriously though" in my last post), but I just found it interesting.

@abeboparebop, I think you're right, Asher recommends having more than one safety school in case you have overestimated yourself as a candidate, and that the school is not as safe as you thought. Also, sometimes there is a bit of fluctuation in how many applicants they can admit each year and sometimes stuff just happens that works against you. I've heard of cases where they accidentally admitted way to many applicants last year, and then this year, they aren't able to accept hardly anybody, even if normally you'd be a shoe in.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 9:06 pm
by trani
I see your point secander2! I wonder how does one look better on paper though?
If we figure this out maybe we can use it to our advantage :mrgreen:

I guess the GREs cannot be faked for the better, i.e. if the score is inaccurate i don't see how it can be inaccurately high... Maybe some 30-40 points if you were really lucky. But that wouldn't make that much difference anyway.

Recommendation letters: this is an interesting one, surely I can see how a student can appear better in a rec. letter than they are for real, especially since the recommenders can only compare the student to previous students and it might be the case that out of that bunch the student stands out. Still, I imagine most profs have a good idea on how their students are doing and they wouldn't risk their reputation by inaccurately depicting a students' abilities. Correct me if i am wrong...

Statement of purpose: when it comes to fooling the enemy I think this is the real shot gun. A well written statement of purpose can be powerful (i believe, no hard evidence here, sorry!) Being very clear about what you want to do and what you have done and avoiding sentimental remarks about how you fell in love with physics at the age of 5 can go a long way...

Oh, lets not forget the GPA - i think that can certainly be artificially high (for way too many reasons to go into here)!

I guess you are right then it sure is possible...
What do you think? Am I missing anything? -Surely.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 9:24 pm
by mhazelm
haha, don't worry, I didn't mean I'd apply to all 15-20. I just meant I've narrowed down the immense number of possibilities and will narrow it down some more... I think I have a good feel for about 5-6 that I really want to attend.

It's very sad to think about being all represented by a bunch of numbers. I know I'll have good recs and I have some pretty prestigious national awards, but not sure how much that will offset the potentially bad PGRE. Well, all I can do is try! What are we supposed to put in our personal statements, anyway? Mine actually does kind of explain how I fell in love with physics at age 5 and I liked it... :lol: .. but should we just be all about research in it instead?

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2008 9:49 pm
by casaubon
Yeah, my personal statement is much more like a research statement. It's tied to what initially attracted me to the field, but the bulk addresses the refinement of my specific research interests, how those interests have developed over the course of my research, and where I intend to take things in the future.

I think for the top schools you can't have a wishy-washy personal statement. It needs to show a level of scientific maturity and familiarity with the day to day experience of a working researcher.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:38 am
by secander2!
@trani, yea, it does look like it would be hard as heck to look substantially better than you are! Also, I would guess that you could probably make your research sound substantially more impressive than it is (again in the SOP)... but of course, it might look somewhat suspect if you don't have any publications or presentations to back it up.

@mhazelm, haha!!! I'm relieved to hear that! 15-20 applications would be a horrible thing to do to yourself :D It sounds like most people recommend a strong focus on research in your SOP, and I definitely agree, but I think it's also important to answer the prompt question (and this will differ from school to school). Maybe this is a wrong approach but personally, I intend to put in a good number of details about myself which will (hopefully) set me apart from the other applicants, tie in with my successful past research, and point towards a bright future in physics.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 7:30 pm
by mrjammin
This might be a good thread to relay my predicament

I am applying to graduate school for a PhD in electrical engineering. I took the regular GRE in June and took the Nov. 8th physics GRE (I have a bachelor's in Physics too). I am not planning on hitting the submit button on my applications until December 10th when I find my score out and can fill it on the app.

However, since most of my apps are due the 15th, when should I send my GRE scores? I asked ETS if both scores could be sent for the cost of one but they avoided my question. Should I send my GRE scores now, and then send my Physics GRE scores later, after the 10th when I find out what they are (This would be twice as expensive!)?

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 7:48 pm
by coreycwgriffin
mrjammin wrote:This might be a good thread to relay my predicament

I am applying to graduate school for a PhD in electrical engineering. I took the regular GRE in June and took the Nov. 8th physics GRE (I have a bachelor's in Physics too). I am not planning on hitting the submit button on my applications until December 10th when I find my score out and can fill it on the app.

However, since most of my apps are due the 15th, when should I send my GRE scores? I asked ETS if both scores could be sent for the cost of one but they avoided my question. Should I send my GRE scores now, and then send my Physics GRE scores later, after the 10th when I find out what they are (This would be twice as expensive!)?


I was under the impression that the "score report" you request from ETS includes both general and subject tests.

See here under "Cumulative Reporting".

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 7:54 pm
by coreycwgriffin
casaubon wrote:I think for the top schools you can't have a wishy-washy personal statement. It needs to show a level of scientific maturity and familiarity with the day to day experience of a working researcher.


I don't want to give the impression that I think you're wrong, but, how do you know?

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 8:44 pm
by casaubon
Naturally, I don't. It's my impression based on my experiences in the same research group for two years and getting pretty comfortable with the social dynamics of research. And that experience has been: Nothing else matters in graduate school except your ability to do research. Your worth as a graduate student is directly tied to what you produce. That's why undergraduate research is show important: it shows your potential as a scientist way more than good grades do. Because at the end of the day, you are handed a PhD project, you do it, and you're done. That's it.

Two more points: (1) Money isn't exactly free flowing in the sciences. In fact, my research group just lost some pretty major funding that we had been expecting. And as a graduate student you aren't cheap: tuition, stipend, research needs. A professor taking you on is an investment. They need to know that you will be professional and capable of producing independent results.* (2) Research isn't some romantic endeavour. On a day-to-day level, it can be quite tedious. Results are fleeting. I think the statement of purpose needs to reflect an understanding of this, and not have unrealistic expectations about what academic life is like.

Anyway, this seems more strongly worded than I would usually express something, but it's my gut instinct. Part of it may be that I've actually cut my teeth in a chemistry group, where I think competition is stiffer and publication trends more important. Also my adviser is known for being particularly, oh, unpleasant, so I've had most of my naive impressions tempered.

*It was when the postdoc I had been working with left, leaving me directly in charge of our portion of the group research, that I realized this. No body knows the answer, not even your adviser. It's up to you to figure out the next step. It's both liberating and also a bit frightening

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Tue Nov 18, 2008 12:55 am
by coreycwgriffin
I imagine you can still be somewhat wishy-washy. I mean, someone who doesn't care about or like physics might have tons of research experience, but chances are they won't (or didn't) do anything really original. I feel like having done research is a great thing, but there should still be something that shows that you don't want to just do research, but that by some chain of events you are now personally interested in it, and that this interest will be reflected in the work by going above and beyond, so to speak.

Edit: I just realized that I was thinking "wishy-washy" meant something more like "mushy" or something. So yeah...nevermind, I guess. You should have a steady goal, but I still think what I said above is important.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Tue Nov 18, 2008 1:24 pm
by sterculus
With respect to the cumulative score reporting, does anybody know how that works with tests like the Nov 8, where I've taken it but the scores aren't available yet? IE, if I request score reports now, will they wait and send them out with my PGRE score?

And does anyone know how much early deadline (12/15) schools care if the scores are late, which I assume they will be?

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Wed Nov 19, 2008 7:21 pm
by pqortic
To sterculus
Yes, if you request score report for Nov 8, they will wait until your scores become available ( Dec 8 ) and it takes about ten days to reach the institutions (about Dec 18 ).

and schools are firm about deadlines to submit the application and pay the application fee. Receiving the test scores with some days delay is understandable.

Re: Starting grad school apps if you took Nov 8 test

Posted: Tue Nov 25, 2008 8:25 pm
by mhazelm
hm. I was hoping to use most of a personal statement that was successful earlier on in the Rhodes scholarship competition. It would sure save me time. But maybe I will change it and just talk about research... I dunno...

how much do admissions committees pay attention to big awards, say, Goldwater and Rhodes and that sort of stuff?

My PGRE score could be anything, I have good GPA and a couple minor publications, but not sure where I fit into the whole application thing. I already figured all the schools like Harvard and MIT are way out of my league, but am at least hoping to go to a good state school. Do you think the other awards could help balance the GRE scores?