What should my reach & safety schools be?

jabennett2194
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby jabennett2194 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:28 pm

Hi all,

I feel my profile is strong, but my pGRE scores are abysmal.
My profile is as follows:

Rising senior at very very small liberal arts school, Ursinus College
Domestic white male
Major: Physics and Mathematics double major
GPA: 3.93
Kappa Mu Epsilon (national mathematics honors society)
Cub and Key Society (on-campus honors society)
**Our department does Sigma Pi Sigma (physics honors) at the end of senior year... annoying**

Research Assistant at home uni August 2016 - Present
• Working under PROFESSOR NAME conducting atomic physics concerning quantum control of highly excited atoms exploring new avenues of experiment and simulation for future research as well as improving analytical programs to aid in research
• Author on paper submitted to Physical Review Letters titled PAPER TITLE
• Presented research at American Physical Society’s Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics 49th annual meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, FL
• Presented research at American Physical Society’s Division of Laser Science 33rd annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
** Will be doing an honors thesis this upcoming year**

Research Assistant through NSF REU experience May 2018 - August 2018
• Worked under PROFESSOR NAME in AdS/CFT and its applications to high temperature superconductors
** Just started this so pardon the lack of info**

Summer Fellows Research Assistant at home uni May 2017 - July 2017
• Worked under PROFESSOR NAME conducting atomic physics concerning quantum control of highly excited atoms by improving upon simulation to better model experimental capacities as well as examining potential improvements to parameters of the algorithm used
• Presented research at an end-of-fellowship symposium and published results through Ursinus College’s archive, UC Digital Commons
• Presented research at American Physical Society’s Division of Laser Science 33rd annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Help Room Tutor August 2016 - Present
• Running a weekly help room focusing on new difficult concepts, homework difficulties, and test preparation

Teaching Assistant August 2016 - May 2018
• Set up, completion, and analysis of introductory physics labs as well as assisting students perform these experiments and analyze their results

Extracurricular
President of Society of Physics Students – extracurricular physics, mathematics, and computer science
Former President of Ursinus College Active Minds – a club on campus working to break down the stigma of mental health illness
Kemper Scholar of 2019 class (declined to pursue physics research) – 3-year scholarship awarded to freshman pursuing business; includes 2 internships, $3000-$10000 annually, and career coaching

Publications
• **Improving the state selectivity of field ionization with quantum control (submitted to PRL)**
• **Invited poster at DAMOP poster. http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/DAMOP18/Session/T01.112 **
• Bennett, Jason and Choice, Kevin, “Optimizing an Electron's Path to Ionization Using a Genetic Algorithm” (2017). Invited poster at 33rd Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Laser Science (Collocated with Frontiers in Optics) 2017, Washington, D.C., September 17-21, 2017.
• Bennett, Jason and Choice, Kevin, "Optimizing an Electron's Path to Ionization Using a Genetic Algorithm" (2017). Physics and Astronomy Summer Fellows. 12.
http://digitalcommons.ursinus.edu/physics_astro_sum/12

__________________________________________________________________
Now onto the blemish...
I took the pGRE in April to test the waters. I had breezed through Conquering the pGRE very briefly over spring break (about a ten day bit of studying a month prior to the exam) and got a 3% percentile.... Yeah. I have since raised this about 100/150 points with more intensive studying this summer while I'm not at work for my REU. I am 2/6 practice tests down, and I'm worried I wont improve enough to make this just a weak point of my resume and not a glaring blemish!
I haven't taken the regular GRE yet but my first free diagnostic test from ETS PowerPrep was 156 Verbal 160 Quant and 5 AW. Confident I can get this up to around 160/165/5 by september. I did very well on the SAT and this is very similar.

__________________________________________________________________

My question is, where should I apply!?! :(
I have a grad school spreadsheet in Excel with some places that have cool research, but I am oblivious as to if this list is too ambitious or I'm being to hard on my self and should shoot for a few more around or above the 20 US News rank! I also need to cut some of these schools... application fees are real...
The list currently is as follows, with the name of the school followed by US News rank:

Uinversity of Washington 22
Penn State University 25
Duke University 28
Brown University 35
Boston University 37
NYU 37
Univeristy of California Santa Cruz 37
University of Rochester 44
University of Virginia 44
Univeristy of North Carolina Chapel Hill 47
University Of Pittsburgh 47
North Carolina State University 52
Northeastern University 56
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 56
University of Massachusetts Amherst 56
University of Oregon 56
Brandeis University 61
Case Western University 61
Dartmouth College 61
University of Southern California 61
Virginia Tech 61
Syracuse University 69
College of William and Mary 71
University of Connecticut 71
Tufts University 83
Lehigh University 100
Tulane University 100
Bryn Mawr College Not ranked

admissionprof
Posts: 369
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby admissionprof » Sat Jun 16, 2018 8:40 pm

Your record looks good, and you obviously need to do better on the PGRE. One concern about students from small schools is the number of upper level physics courses taken. Many schools give two semesters each in CM, QM, EM and one in Stat Mech; but small schools often just do one of each. That makes it much riskier to take such students. And that is why the GRE is so important.

I wouldn't focus on the US News ranking. Some schools might have a high number ranking, but be top ten in some subfields. For example, Virginia Tech ranks 61, but is very strong (with several young people) in string theory; others with high numbers are very high in nuclear theory/experiment, etc. You can't really decide until you know your PGRE score. If it is single digit percentile, you might take off a year and try again; if it is 30th percentile or above, you've got a decent chance at many of schools in the bottom half of your list.

jabennett2194
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby jabennett2194 » Sat Jun 16, 2018 9:18 pm

admissionprof wrote:Your record looks good, and you obviously need to do better on the PGRE. One concern about students from small schools is the number of upper level physics courses taken. Many schools give two semesters each in CM, QM, EM and one in Stat Mech; but small schools often just do one of each. That makes it much riskier to take such students. And that is why the GRE is so important.

I wouldn't focus on the US News ranking. Some schools might have a high number ranking, but be top ten in some subfields. For example, Virginia Tech ranks 61, but is very strong (with several young people) in string theory; others with high numbers are very high in nuclear theory/experiment, etc. You can't really decide until you know your PGRE score. If it is single digit percentile, you might take off a year and try again; if it is 30th percentile or above, you've got a decent chance at many of schools in the bottom half of your list.


Thank you for the forthright response! I would much rather know that I am not capable of some of those reaches and apply accordingly than to feel let down by a ton of rejections. Thank you very much :)

Still looking for responses to this drafted list of school everyone, please let me know your opinion as admissionprof has above :)

jabennett2194
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby jabennett2194 » Sat Jun 16, 2018 9:24 pm

admissionprof wrote:Your record looks good, and you obviously need to do better on the PGRE. One concern about students from small schools is the number of upper level physics courses taken. Many schools give two semesters each in CM, QM, EM and one in Stat Mech; but small schools often just do one of each. That makes it much riskier to take such students. And that is why the GRE is so important.

I wouldn't focus on the US News ranking. Some schools might have a high number ranking, but be top ten in some subfields. For example, Virginia Tech ranks 61, but is very strong (with several young people) in string theory; others with high numbers are very high in nuclear theory/experiment, etc. You can't really decide until you know your PGRE score. If it is single digit percentile, you might take off a year and try again; if it is 30th percentile or above, you've got a decent chance at many of schools in the bottom half of your list.


I also wanted to add and get your opinion on the following: after expressing these same concerns to a grad student I'm working under, she helped assemble to following list. This is the school's physics GRE requirement as listed on their PhD admission pages:

Strongly recommended:
UC Davis
North Carolina State University
Northeastern University
Case Western University
Tufts University

Recommended:
University Of Pittsburgh
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota
Brown University
Brandeis University
Lehigh University
McGill University
University of British Columbia

Not Required:
Georgia Institute of Tech
University of Toronto

Some of these schools are my in my top choices, but for example, U Michigan is US News 14 (I totally agree with your ranking comment. The most important column of my spread sheet is potential mentors, I just use the US News ranking column to judge how ambitious or how timid I'm being in my range of applications.)
Would not submitting my pGRE when the school recommended or strongly recommended it hurt me, given that my score is atrocious?

admissionprof
Posts: 369
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby admissionprof » Sun Jun 17, 2018 6:24 am

If it says "strongly recommended" and it isn't submitted, they will naturally wonder if you're hiding a bad score (which in this case is true). If it says "recommended", then it is ok not to submit it, but it will still be a disadvantage since you come from a small school and they might wonder if you've had enough physics. Just take the PGRE in October - I suspect you'll do better and can then judge. Depending on your subfield of interest, Georgia Tech and Toronto are excellent

jabennett2194
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby jabennett2194 » Sun Jun 17, 2018 8:16 pm

admissionprof wrote:If it says "strongly recommended" and it isn't submitted, they will naturally wonder if you're hiding a bad score (which in this case is true). If it says "recommended", then it is ok not to submit it, but it will still be a disadvantage since you come from a small school and they might wonder if you've had enough physics. Just take the PGRE in October - I suspect you'll do better and can then judge. Depending on your subfield of interest, Georgia Tech and Toronto are excellent


Thank you for the followup response! Exactly my thoughts, I would feel remiss if I applied to those without acknowledging the absence of the scores in a personal statement or equivalent.
I will also be contacting my top choices for an advisors at the schools before application season to express my interest their research and maybe I can ask what their opinion is on whether to send the scores or not depending on the school's policy.
Thanks again, cheers.

TakeruK
Posts: 936
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby TakeruK » Mon Jun 18, 2018 12:22 pm

I'll start with an important note that I'm from astronomy and planetary science programs, which definitely treats the PGRE differently than traditional physics programs.

While there are indeed some schools that will filter you out simply due to your PGRE score, there are also some very good schools that will still consider and accept you even with a below-average PGRE score. I don't know how much money and time you have to apply to places, but since you are riskier, as admissionprof said, you might have to apply to more places than an applicant with a higher PGRE score.

I don't know how it works in Physics programs for sure. But people with 0th to 50th percentile PGRE score are regularly accepted into astro/planetary PhD programs that require or strongly recommends the PGRE.

I think the concerns regarding your foundational physics course preparation are valid ones. Personally, I see your research record and experience and I feel that should trump these concerns. Especially if you can address them via a multi-pronged approach: 1) get LORs showing that you really know your Physics stuff, 2) high GPA in upper level physics and math courses, and 3) improve your PGRE this fall as much as you can.

If you were applying to Astro or Planetary programs, I would say your profile makes you competitive for schools of any ranking, especially if you have letters or other support in your application to demonstrate your ability to take/pass graduate level physics classes at the school. Physics programs are more strict with your PGRE scores, so I would offer this advice instead:

1. When considering where you want to go, don't worry about ranking or competitiveness first. Make the first "cut" based on research interests and fit only.

2. For schools in the top 50 (I chose this cutoff based on admissionprof's advice to you above), contact people there. Talk to the profs you are interested in and tell them about yourself. Mention that you are indeed worried about your PGRE score holding you back and get their honest feedback on whether their department will really care about the score or not. This will help you determine whether it's worth it to apply anyways. You could probably do this AFTER your PGRE retake and new score.

I don't want to give false hope or have you waste time or money. However, I think it would be a shame to skip applying to really good fit programs at top places just because of one factor in your application. If it were me, it would be worth the 15 minutes it would take to correspond with each prospective advisor at places you'd really like to attend to just double check that your score may still be acceptable. I also have a different approach to applying: you said that you wouldn't want to get mostly rejections, however, I think that if you didn't get more rejections than acceptances then you might have aimed too low. You only need one acceptance, so having more than say, 2 or 3 acceptances (so that you have some choice) isn't very helpful! I would rather get 3/12 successes than 10/12.

jabennett2194
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: What should my reach & safety schools be?

Postby jabennett2194 » Mon Jun 18, 2018 12:32 pm

TakeruK wrote:I'll start with an important note that I'm from astronomy and planetary science programs, which definitely treats the PGRE differently than traditional physics programs.

While there are indeed some schools that will filter you out simply due to your PGRE score, there are also some very good schools that will still consider and accept you even with a below-average PGRE score. I don't know how much money and time you have to apply to places, but since you are riskier, as admissionprof said, you might have to apply to more places than an applicant with a higher PGRE score.

I don't know how it works in Physics programs for sure. But people with 0th to 50th percentile PGRE score are regularly accepted into astro/planetary PhD programs that require or strongly recommends the PGRE.

I think the concerns regarding your foundational physics course preparation are valid ones. Personally, I see your research record and experience and I feel that should trump these concerns. Especially if you can address them via a multi-pronged approach: 1) get LORs showing that you really know your Physics stuff, 2) high GPA in upper level physics and math courses, and 3) improve your PGRE this fall as much as you can.

If you were applying to Astro or Planetary programs, I would say your profile makes you competitive for schools of any ranking, especially if you have letters or other support in your application to demonstrate your ability to take/pass graduate level physics classes at the school. Physics programs are more strict with your PGRE scores, so I would offer this advice instead:

1. When considering where you want to go, don't worry about ranking or competitiveness first. Make the first "cut" based on research interests and fit only.

2. For schools in the top 50 (I chose this cutoff based on admissionprof's advice to you above), contact people there. Talk to the profs you are interested in and tell them about yourself. Mention that you are indeed worried about your PGRE score holding you back and get their honest feedback on whether their department will really care about the score or not. This will help you determine whether it's worth it to apply anyways. You could probably do this AFTER your PGRE retake and new score.

I don't want to give false hope or have you waste time or money. However, I think it would be a shame to skip applying to really good fit programs at top places just because of one factor in your application. If it were me, it would be worth the 15 minutes it would take to correspond with each prospective advisor at places you'd really like to attend to just double check that your score may still be acceptable. I also have a different approach to applying: you said that you wouldn't want to get mostly rejections, however, I think that if you didn't get more rejections than acceptances then you might have aimed too low. You only need one acceptance, so having more than say, 2 or 3 acceptances (so that you have some choice) isn't very helpful! I would rather get 3/12 successes than 10/12.


Thank you so much for your detailed response! I will absolutely be reaching out to my dream advisors at the schools I apply to to express my interest, establish a relationship, and note my concern about my pGRE scores. Thank you for the assurance that I'm on the right track!




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