Could use a bit of feedback

gravityPersists
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:48 am

Could use a bit of feedback

Postby gravityPersists » Tue Nov 02, 2010 3:33 am

Hi all.

I hate to make another "so.. where can I go" submission, but I would really just like some feedback from people more knowledgeable about this than me. I don't want it to sound like I haven't done anything either, there is so much to do and so little time. I originally was going to ask for good safety schools but this post kind of evolved into "general advice" so I might have posted in the wrong place.

About me:

GPA: I have an overall GPA of 3.25 or something from Nowhere State in California. I had a 4.0 in upper division physics until a rather harsh case of senioritis (not even sure you can call it that) gifted me with four B's and took me off track - but otherwise, I have a 3.7 in upper division physics. I have three letters of recommendation, which I think will be strong. I have one summer of REU research in theoretical QM and that's it unfortunately (letter coming from prof I worked with). We don't get too many research opportunities around these parts.

I graduated in 2008 and was out of school for two years. A bit less than one of those years was spent working in laboratory for an oil company. I left that company for political reasons and as such cannot use them as a letter of rec. After a year of stagnation, depression, and other things (taking care of a family member due to an emergency), I realized that I was being depressed because I left school. I don't even know why I did, I just felt like it wasn't challenging anymore and I needed to go be productive - but then I realized that it's a two way street and I needed to challenge myself - and this is what I want my life to be (I'm so inspirational, my face should be on a Hallmark card). So I decided it was time to get my ass back to school and go for that PhD. I am now taking two graduate level courses to help improve my application (Superconductivity and Mechanics). Since I understand many big schools teach Goldstein and Jackson to undergrads, I'd like to be "caught up." Next semester, I'll be taking grad QM and E&M. I'll be getting A's in all four of these, but unfortunately (and obviously) I can only show two A's on my application from this semester.

I'm taking my GRE on the 13th. I'm not sure what score I can get as I kind of screwed up the way I planned my studying (I'll get my studying done in time, but will be able to gauge my score by taking the last practice test this weekend). I'm confident I can break 70%, really hoping for much higher though. Realistically speaking, I can't tell until that last week before the test (as I will be able to devote 100% of my time to nothing but practice problems).

Here's my list of schools so far (as you can see, I'm aiming pretty high and only have feeble attempts at safety schools):

University of Washington, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UCLA, University of Oregon, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Boston University, Notre Dame, Purdue, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Maryland

Yes, I do plan on applying to many many schools. I know it will cost a lot of money, but I'm willing to put everything I've saved up and willing to pawn all my stuff to guarantee I get into a decent school. I think I will be visiting four-six of these schools on the west coast in person, so that I can boost my chances. Why so many? My philosophy is that one of them has to let me in, and if I have a %10 chance at all of them, well - you know math. I was beginning to build a school profile spreadsheet like other forum members suggested but upon researching individual institutions, I realized that I really do not have any specific interests. As such, these schools are mostly determined based on places I'd like to live, a wide breadth of research options (I'm leaning toward HEP, but I want a school that has other good programs if I decide that's not for me), and funding for those paths.

So any suggestions, criticisms, ideas (safety schools?) or thoughts? Are these schools too far out of my league? I've checked the thread where people post their information and scores and whether the school accepted them, but most of them applied to only a few schools. I'm trying to match myself up to them but there are just too many variables.

Sorry about the blog style writing of this post, but I'm just very stressed out right now. Thanks!

P.S. Hi.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:56 am

Hello and welcome...

I realize the process on deciding on which schools to apply to is a difficult one. After reading your situation, here is the best I can offer you:

1. Gauge your application as realistically as possible. There is no reason to underestimate yourself, but I think more often than not, people overestimate yourself.

2. Use the Application Profiles: I realize it is hard to match variables here, but this is really where I get all of my information on here and what I base most of my responses on. Figure out a few profiles that are close to yours, look for the "line" where they were accepted and declined. This will help you pick out your "level" schools. These schools are the best schools that if you were to apply 100 times to, on average you'd get accepted.

3. Once you've picked out "level" schools that you are interested in, say five schools, go crazy. Pick five schools above that you like, because you never know. Also, make sure to pick five schools way under this "line", this way you can be sure you get accepted at least somewhere.

I think this is the best strategy in general. You could honestly nit-pick about school choices for weeks on end, I know I did.

In general about your application: I think application committees look for everything overall. I truly do believe most of the committees look at Physics GRE, GPA, and Research/Recommendations equally. If you are weak in one of these areas, a decent explanation should be given in your statement about why this is so. I think the GPA could be a slight issue for the higher ranked schools you have listed. I don't want you to think it is impossible or even unlikely that you will get accepted to one of those programs, because you know more about yourself than I do. However, you have to remember the pool of applications many of these places get. If something is weak in comparison to others, you'll have to wow the selection committee with an outstanding strength in another part of your application.

In regards to the schools you have already chosen. From my observation of west coast schools, California, Washington, and Oregon, seem to be much more difficult to get accepted to. It appears they receive a lot more applications than positions available. Also a lot of your schools are relatively strong schools. I would suggest you add a few more lower end schools.

This is of course, all my opinion and it's all debatable. Nobody on this forum can tell you exactly where you will get accepted or what is best, but I hope this lays out some guidelines to what I think is best.

-Riley

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grae313
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby grae313 » Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:05 am

Try and get more research experience if you can, even if it's not paid and even if you won't have time to complete anything before applications. It's really one of the most important things when applying to grad school. Your number one goal on applications is to demonstrate an aptitude for and interest in research.

Oregon and Davis are good safeties, especially since you have connections to Davis. If you apply to a few places where you're really confident you'll get accepted, there's nothing wrong with applying to a whole bunch of "reach" schools on top of that and hoping statistics work. I'd add at least one more good safety. Use your background to your advantage in your SOP and milk that sucker for all it's worth.

Gl.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Nov 02, 2010 3:27 pm

grae313 wrote:Try and get more research experience if you can, even if it's not paid and even if you won't have time to complete anything before applications. It's really one of the most important things when applying to grad school. Your number one goal on applications is to demonstrate an aptitude for and interest in research.

Oregon and Davis are good safeties, especially since you have connections to Davis. If you apply to a few places where you're really confident you'll get accepted, there's nothing wrong with applying to a whole bunch of "reach" schools on top of that and hoping statistics work. I'd add at least one more good safety. Use your background to your advantage in your SOP and milk that sucker for all it's worth.

Gl.


I would like to say Oregon is a safety school myself, but I don't think it is quite there. It isn't ranked fairly high, but it still appears to be hard to get into. (I had considered applying to it, so I've browsed the applicant forms and matched scores, etc) If you're certain you'll break 800 on the PGRE, I'd say it's safe for sure. I would pick a few more safeties though, because it would be awful not to get in anywhere. It seems to happen more often than one would think.

-Riley

gravityPersists
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:48 am

Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby gravityPersists » Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:12 am

Thanks much for your guys' feedback!

I've updated my list of schools - weighted more to the East Coast and based a lot of my decision on the % of the students approved the year before (that's a good idea right? Please tell me I'm not shooting myself in the foot, because these schools might have admitted too many people last year?).

At this point, I'm interested in four things, ranked from highest to lowest interest: High-energy (exp or theory), GR (theory), Superconductivity (exp, maybe theory - I'm going to jump into high temp SC research right after the November GRE so that I can say I'm currently doing research) and Neural Networks/Biophysics (theory) - essentially, I'm aiming at schools that have a wide range of projects and professors working on these so that I can test the waters for these early on before diving in head first.

Anyways, here's the list, a bit less shooting for the stars and longer, I'll probably end up chopping off a couple of the top of the list if I feel I can't do as strongly on the GRE and hoping to cut it down to 12-14 schools:

University of Chicago
University of Washington
University of Maryland
University of Colorado - Boulder
Brown University
Purdue
Stony Brook
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
UC Davis
UC Santa Cruz
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY)
Notre Dame
Carnegie Mellon (no charge for application!)
Illinois Institute of Technology
UC Irvine
Pennsylvania State
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Oregon
Indiana University, Bloomington

As grae313 already knows (we know each other), I have pretty high chances of getting into UC Davis, and since I've already met one of the committee members, I have a feeling that might be a good safety school. I still need to make the GRE my bitch, though.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:27 am

This list looks pretty good. If you're interested in cutting down these schools, here is a strategy I used. Rank the schools roughly (as quick as you can) at difficulty of getting in. Once you do this, compare closely ranked schools to each other. Say these were your top five schools, A being the hardest to get into and so on.

1. A
2. B
3. C
4. D
5. E

Let's say you saw a lot of research you liked at school's A and E, Schools B-C-D are good schools but they don't stand out to you. If you are accepted to school B, you're chance of getting into C, D, and E are pretty good. Therefore, applying to B-C-D are not needed, if you really like E.

This kind of thought process helped me get rid of schools that were decent, but after everything is all said and done, I would have rejected any acceptances.

Of course, there is no reason to go overboard either way, but I'd say 10 schools is a comfortable number to apply to.

-Riley

CarlBrannen
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby CarlBrannen » Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:57 am

gravityPersists wrote:A bit less than one of those years was spent working in laboratory for an oil company. I left that company for political reasons and as such cannot use them as a letter of rec.


Have you considered asking for a letter from someone other than your immediate supervisor? If it's political, there should be someone there who understands the situation.

gravityPersists
Posts: 6
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:48 am

Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby gravityPersists » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:22 am

CarlBrannen wrote:
gravityPersists wrote:A bit less than one of those years was spent working in laboratory for an oil company. I left that company for political reasons and as such cannot use them as a letter of rec.


Have you considered asking for a letter from someone other than your immediate supervisor? If it's political, there should be someone there who understands the situation.


Well, I spoke with a coworker recently and she told me that she wasn't allowed to talk with me anymore, and that nobody was (she didn't care). I originally figured "oh well, that's just what they say" and my boss loved me, so I put him on my resume and the first person to try and contact him was forwarded to human resources. This company doesn't mess around. Oh well. I have three letters from three professors coming - one I've had for seven courses, one I've done research with, and one I will be doing research with the week after next (going to work my ass off to milk that last one as much as possible in as little time as possible).

That said, would it be rude to request my professors send letters of rec to 15 different schools? That seems like quite a bit of work. I suppose they're a bit used to it?

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grae313
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby grae313 » Fri Nov 05, 2010 9:49 am

gravityPersists wrote:That said, would it be rude to request my professors send letters of rec to 15 different schools? That seems like quite a bit of work. I suppose they're a bit used to it?


They are going to send the same letter to all 15 schools and most of them have online letter submission systems so I think it's OK given the circumstances. Just be sure and thank them profusely :)

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Could use a bit of feedback

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:06 pm

My professors wrote 21 recommendations for me once for summer REUs. I felt really bad, but once you realize they are basically filling out the form once and then copying it over, it isn't so bad. =P

-Riley




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