Advice Requested on School Selection for Husband and Wife Applying Together

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Joined: Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:37 am

Advice Requested on School Selection for Husband and Wife Applying Together

Postby Chiron » Wed Sep 09, 2015 5:27 pm

Hello, my wife and myself both just graduated with Masters degrees from a relatively low-ranked PhD program and we are looking to apply to a PhD program with better opportunities. Both of us have been here for about 5 years and we would, if at all possible, like to be accepted to the same school.

My undergrad is in Physics from a relatively high-ranked school in the US (which I completed with a GPA of 3.7/4)
My wife's undergrad is in Physics from a relatively high-ranked school in India (which is equivalent to about >3.5/4 after conversion)

I have two Masters degrees. The first is in Physics (which I completed with a GPA of 3.7/4)
My second Masters Degree is in Science Education (which I completed with an overall GPA of 3.9/4)
My wife's Masters degree is in Physics (which she completed with a GPA of 3.6/4)
She was also pursuing a PhD in Physics following this, for which she completed all of the course-work (overall GPA is 3.8/4)

Other information which may be helpful is that we both passed the Physics Qualifying exam at our school at the PhD level. We believe that this is likely a positive for our application. Also, my wife has completed her PhD candidacy exam, which happened about 1.5 years go.

In addition, both of us have research experience and computer programming skills at both the undergrad and grad level.
As an undergrad I worked on a theoretical REU project and also worked on an experimental project. Both were strongly related to optics.
As a graduate student I have worked closely on two projects, both of which are in Physics Education.
As an undergrad my wife worked on both theoretical and experimental AMO projects. At the graduate level she has also worked on both experimental condensed matter and theoretical AMO projects.

Having said all this the research opportunities at our current graduate school are very limited. We do not have papers and we have taken the decision to move elsewhere. It is actually because of these limited opportunities that I originally chose to see if Physics Education was a good fit. It was not, and as the opportunities at this school were not a good fit for either of us, and it became apparent that the opportunities necessary were not going to become available in the future, we have made the decision to move, even after all this time.

This time lapse of about 5 years is something which we believe may count against us. We are certainly going to explain it as well as we can in our SOP's (and do it in such a way it makes it clear it will not happen again) but just to be sure we are looking at applying to about 20 schools. We have come up with a very tentative list and would like any advice which you can provide about good choices (i.e, to say if we are over-reaching or under-reaching, other schools to consider, etc...)

We are going to be taking the September PGRE next Saturday, followed soon after by the General GRE. Thus, we won't be able to upload our exact scores for a while. However, as things stand right now we expect that for both of us the scores for the PGRE should end up 800+. Thus, please take that number into account for any advice.

We would very much appreciate any advice regarding the list of schools which you can provide. We're really in a very difficult situation, and any advice which may help us to get out of it would be very much appreciated.

Heres our list so far. We are applying to a lot of lower ranked school because honestly, as I said previously, we are in a very difficult situation and need to get in. Trying again next year is not an option. Our research interests lie mainly with experimental AMO for me, and theoretical AMO for my wife. However, as our situation is somewhat desperate we feel we can be a little flexible. Also, in order to increase our chances of getting multiple acceptances, we plan on applying to a wide range of schools. Thus, you may see a few unranked universities in our list, which we feel is okay as there will be about 20 in total.

1) University of Nebraska - Lincoln (Ranked 70 on US News)
2) Washington State University (Ranked 77 on US News)
3) Georgetown University (Ranked 77 on US News)
4) Oregon State University (Ranked 77 on US News)
5) Colorado School of Mines (Ranked 77 on US News)
6) University of Central Florida (Ranked 85 on US News)
7) University of Texas - Dallas (Ranked 95 on US News)
8 ) Lehigh University (Ranked 95 on US News)
9) University of Maryland - Baltimore (Ranked 103 on US News)
10) Temple University (Ranked 103 on US News)
11) University of New Hampshire (Ranked 103 on US News)
12) University of Houston (Ranked 103 on US News)
13) West Virginia University (Ranked 111 on US News)
14) Wake Forest University (Ranked 123 on US News)
15) George Mason University (Ranked 131 on US News)
16) Old Dominion University (Ranked 142 on US News)
17) Portland State University (Unranked on US News)

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Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2016 12:07 pm

Re: Advice Requested on School Selection for Husband and Wife Applying Together

Postby Spock273 » Sat Mar 04, 2017 8:54 am

Nebraska-Lincoln has a compact AMO both in the experimental and the theoretical. That would be much fit and good. Also, I've heard the living in Lincoln is fantastic!

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Joined: Mon May 16, 2016 12:05 am

Re: Advice Requested on School Selection for Husband and Wife Applying Together

Postby tooterfish » Sat Mar 04, 2017 6:06 pm

I have a somewhat similar two-body problem.

My partner and I just finished our MS degrees (hers was in mathematics) at a relatively low ranked US school and are awaiting our PhD admissions results to come in. We're around 30 years old, both US citizens. We had strong GPA's (3.98;4.0) and general GRE scores (170,170;165,163). My PGRE was 990, her MGRE was mid 700's. We both have some research experience and have attended some workshops that look good. I contributed as an author to one paper. We both transitioned into our current career paths from very different undergrad degrees, but we had good undergrad GPA's (3.5;3.7).

Anyway, here are some notes.

  • Apply to as many schools as you can. It's a numbers game.

    Twenty is good. We did 16. I feel this was a bare minimum, though. It's VERY time consuming and somewhat expensive, so plan for it. Try to find out fee waiver information (or just email their admissions and ask for a waiver).

  • You might be more competitive than you think. Results can be unexpected.

    My list focused on top 20 schools, and I have had a sparse amount of acceptances thus far. Not too surprised, given that I'd be competing with some younger, really bright students out there with more research experience. I managed to be accepted into Cornell, U Washington, and CU Boulder, though, so I'm pretty stoked. I look really good score/grade-wise, but I really think that matters less for MS students. Your experiences might matter most, so talk up all the projects you worked on. Coach your letter writers to support this information by sending them a summary of your information and a few paragraphs describing the work you did for them.

    My partner applied to some of the same schools, but her list ranged wider into top 40 programs. She was mainly concerned about her lower MGRE score and lack of research. She's received a lot of acceptances thus far, though! Her top ranked admission is Urbana-Champaign. She was also accepted to Washington and CU Boulder, so it looks like we have a mutual solution.

  • Maybe let admissions know about your two-body problem scenario. Definitely let them know if one of you hears back with positive news.

    The moment I was accepted into Washington, I asked my partner to email them about her application, noting that I was accepted. Lo and behold, she was accepted the very next day! We did the same thing for Boulder and Cornell. She was accepted into Boulder a few weeks after. As for Cornell, they emailed her a reply giving a hopeful outlook. We'll see. Similarly, I reached out to Urbana-Champaign.

    Maybe in your case, it might be better to inform admissions about your partner earlier on, since you're both in physics. I don't think the SOP is a good place for it, but a quick email might help. Not sure about this, though.

  • Try to region match.

    We applied to a lot of schools in the LA or Boston metropolitan area. While it's ideal that you attend the same university, attending nearby ones can work. Actually, my partner heard from Colorado State before Boulder, so we knew that area was "matched" earlier on.

    If you're into Washington State, apply for U Washington as well. If you're into Colorado School of Mines, shoot for Colorado State, Boulder, etc... I think this strategy may fare better than picking isolated locations.

  • Apply to schools whose professors' research attracts your interest. Maybe reach out to those professors. Your current advisor may help with this.

    Your acceptance into these programs is somewhat a function of your perceived compatibility and utility to the professors at these programs. Ask your advisors about individuals to reach out to and work with.

Good luck. I hope my experience may help your decisions. In the end, it's a statistical game you're playing. Apply to a lot of schools nearby each other, and you hopefully will be alright. Look into their AMO professors and make sure your decisions are choices you can commit to for the next five years.

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