What tier of schools should I apply for?

JyxyL
Posts: 7
Joined: Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:23 pm

What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby JyxyL » Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:53 pm

So my academic record is a little strange...as an undergrad, I bounced around from school to school, got a few decent grades in upper division math at the university of Texas, but also attended Texas A&M, and University of Houston - Victoria (a very low ranked school...not the main campus at Houston) . Finally I finished with a BS in math. Cumulative undergrad GPA probably around 3.4.

I went to grad school a couple of times...once in math, and lost interest and quit after 1.5 semesters(its a bad spot on my record). Then a few years went by and I got into physics, and really loved it...so I treid doing the PhD program in physics at the University of Houston main campus...I did not fail, but my grades were not very good...like a 2.7, so I left after 1 semester. Currently I am in a MS program in physics at Texas state University...the standards are lower; but there are some standards, and Im making straight A's...I should finish this summer. Im taking the PGRE in April.

So here's the deal...Im actually not too shabby at physics and math, in my graduate courses I always feel like I understand the book very well when I read it (even jacksons em book is not overly difficult for my reading level, the other standard 1st year texts are pretty much a breeze)... I generally do well on my homeworks, but I kind of suck at tests that are on the level of qualifying exams. So here is my plan:

1 -- Study hard and get a good pgre score in april (I think I can manage something at least in the 750 to 850 range, maybe 900, but I dont think I will ace it)

2 -- Spend next year in my parents attic working and reviewing qualifying exam problems until I know several hundred "good" example problems cold, and apply for grad school entry in fall 2013.

3 -- Become a quantum field theorist and win at life.

Sorry for the big wall of text; now for my question:

Assuming I get an 800 on my physics gre, and finish my MS in physics with all A's (this degree includes most classes in standard 1st year graduate physics), and have no relevent research experience (Im hoping this wont hurt a theory applicant too badly), what are the highest rank schools I should bother applying to? I dont want to waste money applying to MIT...but should I apply to top 20's, 30's? Surely I could get into a top 50 (I hope). I will be applying for particle theory programs, its what I want to do.

Your advice and criticism is most welcome.

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midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby midwestphysics » Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:09 am

You want an idea on where you might stand, here are our best resources.

Resource 1
Resource 2
Resource 3
Resource 4
Resource 5

JyxyL
Posts: 7
Joined: Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:23 pm

Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby JyxyL » Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:24 am

Yeah, I have combed through alot of the applicant profiles...could not find any that really was a close match to my description (spotty academic record but fairly high pgre)...also I should mention that im a domestic (US) white male.

Thats basically the reason I posted here, I had a hard time finding a "match" in the applicant profiles.

From the ones I did look at though, I would guess that getting an 800 on the pgre should give me a chance at the top 20's...and a better chance in the top 30's....does that sound about right to you? Would schools around rank 9 to 12 be out of reach if I managed a 900? Just curious what some ppl think.

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

Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:28 am

If I were on an admissions office, I'd have qualms about admitting you until you can demonstrate that you can at least pass the preliminaries. 2 failed attempts at grad school is a big deal, since they generally give you support, and so there's a monetary investment. It's hard to justify if you've been burned multiple times. Do a thesis at the masters program you're currently in, and destroy the PGRE, exit exam, etc, and demonstrate a strong commitment to research (and write a kick-ass personal statement, you'll need it). The good side is you only have to convince one person to take a chance on you, and you have a shot.


To answer the question, I would apply to schools ranked 30 and below regardless of PGRE score, and look hard for programs outside of the top tier with recognized names in your specific field.

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

Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:54 am

FYI, i know UVA and USC are better at field theory than their rankings indicate.

JyxyL
Posts: 7
Joined: Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:23 pm

Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby JyxyL » Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:14 am

Thanks for the replies, and just to clarify...the other 2 times I did not do well in grad school I was not attending full time, so I had no financial support.
I will definately look into those 2 programs as well, thanks!

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zxcv
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Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby zxcv » Tue Mar 06, 2012 7:10 am

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I would guess that with your current record, you would have a very hard time getting into a top 30 graduate program even with an excellent PGRE score. I think you would have a hard time getting into any PhD program at all at this point.

For an example of how hard it is to get into grad school if you have a record of dropping out, see this guy. He is not an encouraging example, although he did get into grad school again eventually at a low tier school. His publications were in high energy theory.

You have an addition barrier to overcome: you have no research experience. As you know, it is very hard to get into grad school without some kind of research experience, even if you want to do theory. That experience need not be theoretical or even physics, but you need something.

In your case you you need to a convince an admissions committee that against the odds
(1) you won't just drop out again like your first two tries at a PhD
(2) you have the perseverance to succeed at research

Your raw intelligence / physics knowledge (as measured by tests like the GRE/PGRE) are really besides the point now. You've shown that you can stick with coursework (more or less). Now you need to show that you enjoy research enough that you will still stick with it even when the doing gets tough -- as it inevitably does in the process of getting a PhD. Since you have no research experience, admissions committees have no way to access this.

So ask around and find a way to do research so that you can prove that you can stick through a research project to completion. As I said, it doesn't have to be theory research or even physics necessarily. Then you will have shown that you have a plausible chance of success in a PhD program. I would not bother studying for or taking the GRE exams at this point.

CarlBrannen
Posts: 381
Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: What tier of schools should I apply for?

Postby CarlBrannen » Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:37 pm

Putting something like "interested in theoretical particle physics" is the kiss of death to an application. Instead put down "interested in applications of condensed matter theory", and keep in mind that almost every technique used in elementary particles was first developed in condensed matter. For example, the "vacuum" started out as the crystal which carries phonons. Symmetry breaking was originally about how magnets choose a magnetization direction. etc.




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