Realistic schools for an imperfect student

YouLikaDaJuice
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:33 am

Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby YouLikaDaJuice » Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:47 am

I've been lurking on these forums for a while now, and I've seen a bunch of people with fantastic GRE's and GPA's and the like, but I'm basically wondering about the rest of us. My situation is this:
GPA: 3.31 at Oberlin College (Physics major, materials concentration, Chem minor, Math minor, Religion minor)
GRE: Q-800 (i forget the verbal but it was also perfectly fine)
PGRE: I don't know, because I haven't taken it yet, but I don't expect any miracles
Research Experience: Extensive (NIST center for neutron research, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Paul Scherrer Institute (switzerland), and the physics labs at Oberlin College).
1 major paper in print in "Carbon"

So my strongest attribute is my research experience and my ability to present myself. It is also important to note that, from this September to next May, I will be working full time at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, so I will have even more hands on experience by the time I go to grad school. I am most interested in materials physics.

My question is this. I'd love to go to a school like UT Austin, UMaryland, UWisconsin, any of the decent UC's, but with my lackluster GPA (and probably PGRE) most of those seem like a stretch. So what are some good Physics grad schools that I have a realistic chance of getting into?

Thanks in advance for the advice.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Jul 21, 2011 11:45 am

You might want to think about applying for a masters program; getting a solid background before applying for your PhD will really help your chances. Too low of a GPA, unfortunately, is a real killer for top 30 schools. There are plenty of schools with good people (but not very good reputations) that you could get into--but I don't know enough about materials science to recommend any. If you are serious about physics, however, I'd recommend the masters route.

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HappyQuark
Posts: 762
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:08 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby HappyQuark » Thu Jul 21, 2011 12:39 pm

YouLikaDaJuice wrote:I've been lurking on these forums for a while now, and I've seen a bunch of people with fantastic GRE's and GPA's and the like, but I'm basically wondering about the rest of us. My situation is this:
GPA: 3.31 at Oberlin College (Physics major, materials concentration, Chem minor, Math minor, Religion minor)
GRE: Q-800 (i forget the verbal but it was also perfectly fine)
PGRE: I don't know, because I haven't taken it yet, but I don't expect any miracles
Research Experience: Extensive (NIST center for neutron research, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Paul Scherrer Institute (switzerland), and the physics labs at Oberlin College).
1 major paper in print in "Carbon"

So my strongest attribute is my research experience and my ability to present myself. It is also important to note that, from this September to next May, I will be working full time at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, so I will have even more hands on experience by the time I go to grad school. I am most interested in materials physics.

My question is this. I'd love to go to a school like UT Austin, UMaryland, UWisconsin, any of the decent UC's, but with my lackluster GPA (and probably PGRE) most of those seem like a stretch. So what are some good Physics grad schools that I have a realistic chance of getting into?

Thanks in advance for the advice.


My recommendation is, at least look at things strictly from a ranking perspective, to apply to a bunch of the top 30 schools that are historically less competitive and less recognized. In other words, avoid schools in California, Massachusetts and New York in favor of schools like OSU, Penn State, U Mich, U Minnesota, Rice, etc.

With that said, what you really ought to be doing is figuring out what research you would like to be doing and then find schools that specialize in that. Select a good distribution of schools in the top, middle and bottom of the ranking system with these research specialties and then cross your fingers.

YouLikaDaJuice
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:33 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby YouLikaDaJuice » Thu Jul 21, 2011 4:11 pm

bfollinprm wrote:You might want to think about applying for a masters program; getting a solid background before applying for your PhD will really help your chances.


Are masters programs really that much less difficult to get into at a given school than their PhD programs? Would a masters student earn their degree, and then continue to study there to finish a PhD? Also, what is the financial support system for masters students. Can they still support themselves with TA jobs and the like?

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Jul 21, 2011 4:51 pm

Masters programs are much easier to get into, simply for the fact that they do not require the school to fund you (instead you often pay tuition). The disadvantages are (1) no funding*(duh) and (2) no guarantee of finding a thesis advisor if you want to continue.

The way it works if you want to stay at the same school, is if you are admitted as a masters student, and pass the quals, if a professor wants you to stick around (pays your GSR stipend) you stay, otherwise you leave. However, if you get good grades (3.8-4.0) in a masters program, and do well on the PGRE (which will be much easier after a year of grad school), you will have a much better chance at the schools you're mentioning, regardless of where you did your masters program. While it's possible to stay on as a PhD after completing your masters, I wouldn't plan on it; instead I'd plan on using the masters year to better your application (PGRE, grades, and maybe a paper) for a round of PhD application the following year.


HQ is right though, you have a chance at top 30-40 schools that aren't in the cultural centers of the I-95 corridor (NYC, Philly, Boston, and DC), CA, and Chicago. You can always apply to both masters and PhD programs, and see which option makes more sense to you, though this costs $$ (especially if you end up taking a masters, because you'll have to RE-apply the next year--another round of application fees).

*there are TA positions and even some fellowships for masters students. However, these tend to go to PhD students first, and if there's a shortage of TA's, they look to masters students. Since it probably doesn't matter too much where you do your masters (as long as the research you want is there), apply to anywhere that's a fit, regardless of prestige, and go where the money is (if you're lucky enough to get any funding at all).

ali8
Posts: 103
Joined: Sat Aug 29, 2009 8:20 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby ali8 » Fri Jul 22, 2011 8:10 am

bfollinprm wrote:Masters programs are much easier to get into, simply for the fact that they do not require the school to fund you (instead you often pay tuition). The disadvantages are (1) no funding*(duh) and (2) no guarantee of finding a thesis advisor if you want to continue.


What do you mean by (2) ??

If I am accepted as a masters student at school X, then after finishing the courses and
before starting the master thesis I will simply look for professor to be my adviser. If prof. Y
refused then there's prof. Z. The school can't simply let me without any adviser.

Or isn't that necessarily true ?

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby astroprof » Fri Jul 22, 2011 10:10 am

It is always best to apply to a range of schools (reach, likely, and saftey) as your
self evaluation of your abilities/record may not mesh with that of an admissions
committee. In particular, all graduate admissions in the US are based on a holistic
evaluation of the applicant, including GPA and test scores, but also the letters
of recommendation, research experience, and personal statement. An apparent
weakness in any of these categories may be superceded by an outstanding record
in a different category. In particular, strong letters of recommendation (that indicate
a student has both motivation and the ability to do physics) can substantially
impact the admissions decision. Since most students do not know what their letters
say, this is often the "wildcard" when asking for advice (or comparing profiles) on an
internet forum. In terms of selecting the correct range of schools, it is often useful
to ask your letter writers which schools they recommend. This serves multiple
purposes, one of which is simply to get ideas as to which schools might be appropriate
to look into further. But it is also important to note that professors do sometimes tailor
their letter based on the school. For instance, I will write a good/strong letter for an
average student applying to average schools. However, if that same student asks me
to write a letter for a top 10 school, I will modify the letter to indicate that I do not think
that this student is comparable to their typical student (although, of course, he/she has
the following positive attributes). Thus, if you apply to schools without consulting with
your letter writers, you may end up with weaker letters than you anticipated. In any event,
the take away message here is that there are too many variables in the admissions process
to predict an exact result based on the handful of attributes listed in a student profile, and thus
the best approach is to apply to a range of schools (all of which are strong in your research area).

TheBeast
Posts: 114
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:06 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby TheBeast » Fri Jul 22, 2011 10:40 am

ali8 wrote:
If I am accepted as a masters student at school X, then after finishing the courses and
before starting the master thesis I will simply look for professor to be my adviser. If prof. Y
refused then there's prof. Z. The school can't simply let me without any adviser.

Or isn't that necessarily true ?


I think that what bfollinprm was getting at was that there's no guarantee that your Master's thesis advisor is actually going to want to take you (and fund you) as a PhD student upon the completion of your Master's degree. Thus, upon entering a Master's program, you need to be prepared to apply elsewhere for pursuing your PhD.

With regards to finding a Master's thesis advisor, I was under the impression that finding an advisor was the student's responsibility. But, like you say, if you ask enough people and are persistent enough, I imagine that eventually someone will agree.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Realistic schools for an imperfect student

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Jul 22, 2011 4:40 pm

TheBeast wrote:
ali8 wrote:
If I am accepted as a masters student at school X, then after finishing the courses and
before starting the master thesis I will simply look for professor to be my adviser. If prof. Y
refused then there's prof. Z. The school can't simply let me without any adviser.

Or isn't that necessarily true ?


I think that what bfollinprm was getting at was that there's no guarantee that your Master's thesis advisor is actually going to want to take you (and fund you) as a PhD student upon the completion of your Master's degree. Thus, upon entering a Master's program, you need to be prepared to apply elsewhere for pursuing your PhD.

With regards to finding a Master's thesis advisor, I was under the impression that finding an advisor was the student's responsibility. But, like you say, if you ask enough people and are persistent enough, I imagine that eventually someone will agree.


What he said




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