Where Should I be Looking

Knochera
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:29 pm

Where Should I be Looking

Postby Knochera » Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:51 pm

Hi,

I was wondering if anybody would be willing to give their opinion on the types of graduate schools I should be looking at. I'll be graduating from a relatively unknown school (James Madison University) with a bachelor's in physics (and a minor in math). I have a 3.7 GPA both overall and in major classes. I have taken the general GRE and gotten a 560 Verbal, 790 Quantitative, and 5 on the writing section. I haven't taken the PGRE, but I expect to get somewhere in the mid to high 700's on it. As far as letters of recommendations go, I have plenty of professors who I have done research for who think very highly of me so I'm sure I can get good ones. As far as research experience goes -- I do research in granular physics with a professor at my school during the fall and spring (for three semesters now) and have dabbled with another professor here and there in nanotechnology research (for one semester now). Last summer I did a REU program in material physics at my school, and this summer I am working at Goddard Space Flight Center (and will probably be able to publish a paper with what I'm doing here -- although I'm not sure if it will be in time for grad school applications). I'm interested in going to a graduate school and working towards a PhD in astrophysics or particle physics.

My first question is this-- My first three semesters I slacked off big time, and got around a 3.3 GPA all three semesters. Since I realized I needed to get my act together I have gotten a 4.0 every semester since (so far that's 3 semester). Does anybody know if graduate schools will look more at the 4.0 in the later semesters and therefore think better of my overall gpa, or if they only care that the overall gpa is a 3.7 regardless of how it came about? Will they see the improvement and consider it good, or see it as getting a late start or not care at all?

Second -- I'm currently looking at schools like University of Maryland, University of Arizona, and Columbia with schools like Penn State as back ups. Should I be setting my bar higher or lower than this? Should I bother applying to top ten schools at all, or is my profile not strong enough to bother with it?

Lastly -- Its been tough for me to decide between whether I want to go to grad school for something in particle physics or something in astrophysics. I've done research in astrophysics before, but I don't have any experience in particle physics or instrumentation (which is the main interest I have for particle physics) at the moment. I'm thinking of getting involved with a particle physics group at my university this coming semester, but I won't have much under my belt before applications are sent in for grad school. So my question is this -- Is it too late to change my focus my senior year of undergrad? Should I just stick with a observational astrophysics track or will the experience I have in that field be able to hold some weight for getting into schools for particle physics? I know research is a big deal for getting into graduate schools, I just don't know if research in other fields of physics carries much weight.

Thanks for any advice you can share. I really appreciate it.
Last edited by Knochera on Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

Knochera
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:29 pm

Help with finding schools

Postby Knochera » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:38 pm

Edit: Double Post, sorry
Last edited by Knochera on Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

geshi
Posts: 200
Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:01 am

Re: Help with finding schools

Postby geshi » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:04 pm

I can't answer your specific queries, but I'll give you the (in my opinion) best resource for finding graduate programs around:
http://www.gradschoolshopper.com/

The advice I got was to look at schools based on location first (pick a state, then check out the programs in that state).

Hope this helps to some degree!

geshi
Posts: 200
Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:01 am

Re: Where Should I be Looking

Postby geshi » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:09 pm

Pre-answer: look at the profiles from 2008, 2009, and 2010. Seriously. Compare yourself to what you see in there. I know there's a lot of profiles in there, but it doesn't take that long. Just from skimming what you said about your profile, looks pretty good.

First answer: whooptie-doo. No I'm not trying to be rude. Whooptie-doo should be your attitude towards that first question. You can't change it regardless of how the admissions committees view it, so "whooptie-doo, what does it matter?" I will say this much: it's much better than the opposite (i.e. you had 4.0 for first 2 years and 3.3 for last 2 years). You did well in your upper level courses (so far) which is much more of what counts. Regardless of that, 3.7 is nothing to sneeze at.

Second answer: UAZ is pretty easy to get into I think. I got in there and my profile isn't as good as yours. With regards to those other schools you mentioned: don't know, check the profiles.

Last answer (with a question): do you WANT to take another course? Personally I found courses a lot of fun to take. I took every physics course I could every semester because I wanted to. If you'll enjoy it, then maybe you should even if it is more work.

Hope this was helpful. Good luck to you!

P.S. Profiles are sticked in this section: viewforum.php?f=3

pqortic
Posts: 398
Joined: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:24 am

Re: Help with finding schools

Postby pqortic » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:15 pm

as far as I know we don't have something like instrumentation physics. maybe that lies in applied physics. I think looking for graduate schools that offer specifically applied physics is the best bet for you. for ex. columbia and stanford both have this field.

ps, you don't need to post a question in different places to get answer.

Knochera
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:29 pm

Re: Where Should I be Looking

Postby Knochera » Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:41 am

Thanks for the replies. I looked around in the profiles section, but I always feel bias in comparing them so I wanted a more objective opinion. As for not caring what grad schools think of the way my grades looks -- I definitely see your point, and its something I've thought about before. However, it's hard to convince myself not to worry about it haha. None the less its a good reminder that I should stop stressing about something I can't control. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and the information on UAZ and Gradschoolshopper.

Oh and to pqortic: I originally posted the two topics viewing them as different questions -- one regarding what schools applied to a specific area of interest and one which regarded what level of school to look at. I see the correlation between the two and will try to keep my posts more concise in the future.

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grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Where Should I be Looking

Postby grae313 » Wed Jul 21, 2010 10:24 am

1. I dropped out of school with a 1.4 gpa after my freshman year, came back and got straight As after that and got into Stanford. Graduate schools will care much more about your last two years in college and with a word in your SOP about how you realized your goals and worked hard to achieve them after your first three semesters, you'll have nothing to worry about.

2. Sounds OK to me. Others have given good advice: spend lots of time in the profiles threads and gradschoolshopper. Research and letters are the unquantifiable part of applications and, although it varies depending on the school, it is often the most important part. Good research experience with strong letters will take you far, especially with respectable numbers everywhere else, which it looks like you have.

3. It's definitely not too late to change and I would seriously recommend getting involved in a particle physics group now if you think that's what you want to do in grad school. If you don't, you might try it out in grad school and end up deciding you don't like it and switching, which is a big waste of time. If you do, you'll have a leg up for getting into the research group you want to work with in grad school. As for applications, if it turns out that you don't get enough experience in time, I would be hesitant about applying with that as your sole stated research preference. There have been many many threads debating this and it is controversial so I'm just giving my opinion here. I think it's best to go with with what you know and where you can get the best letters of recommendation. It's OK to not be sure what you want to do or have multiple and varied potential interests, so tell them you're interested in particle physics and trying out a research group, but don't make that your only option if all of your strong letters are coming from a different type of research. There are ZERO barriers to doing research different from what you stated in your SOP so don't worry about that. For applications, you just need to sell yourself. You can do whatever you want (researchwise) once you get in.




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