How competitive am I? (Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th)

mcg93
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:32 pm

How competitive am I? (Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th)

Postby mcg93 » Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:58 pm

Hello everyone,

It's the thick of grad school application season, and I'm nowhere close to finalized on the schools I want to apply to. To me, the strength and prestige behind the program is more important than the fit for various reasons that I will not go into. Anyhow, I just wanted an opinion on how competitive I am, and whether or not I am a decent pick in the 1-10 range, 11-20 range, and so on. I am looking to apply to HEP Theory and mathematical physics where applicable, but I'll mention on my application that I enjoy experimental as well. Here are my stats:

Tufts University (international student from Nepal)
Cumulative GPA: 3.89, Major GPA: 4.00 (Math + Physics, with 8 A+s and 10 As, but they don't count A+s as higher)

General GRE: 166 V (96%), 170 Q (98%), 6.0 W (99%)
Physics GRE: 950 (91%)

Research Experience:

One summer of independent research testing the efficiencies of data classifiers in classifying data with different numbers of features and different spreads. Wasn't ridiculously intensive, but taught me plenty about programming, statistical methods, and experimental physics. We are looking to get this published soon, but it won't happen before the application deadline.

Ongoing senior thesis on the possible quantization of interaction fields in the formalism of principle fiber bundles. This one is very intensive on the physics and math theory, and is co-advised by one physics professor and two math professors. Furthermore, it is teaching me a lot more about differential geometry and quantum physics than my undergraduate courses ever did. I will be working on this throughout my last two semesters, and I will have written a thesis that will go into Tufts archives and potentially get published somewhere if we find anything significant.

Potential work on another experimental project that looks at theories beyond the standard model and seeks to simulate data for them. My friend works for this professor and they worked on leptoquark simulations over the summer. I think I would do something similar with him. Details to come on this.

Awards:

A prize scholarship for doing well in the intro level physics courses.

A grant for doing the aforementioned project on data classifiers over the summer.

Other misc information:

I have been a resident assistant at Tufts for 3 years now. This would showcase skills in: responsibility, people management, leadership, time management, and all the rest that come with being a peer leader for that long.

I think my letters of recommendation will be fairly good. I am very close to one of the professors who is writing for me and fairly close to the other two. The first advised my thesis and my independent project, the second is co-advising my thesis, and the third is the one I am trying to do the last project with.

My long-term research interests are in studying geometric formulations of physics, but I am also interested in learning string theory.

Currently my list of prospective colleges is as follows (in order of desired acceptance):

Harvard
MIT
Princeton
Stanford
CalTech
UC Berkley
NYU
U Chicago
UC Santa Barbara

All of them are reaches because I would much rather take a gap year if I don't get into these schools and apply again after bolstering my application. Also, as I said before, the strength and the prestige of the programs matter quite a lot to me for various reasons.

Please let me know how you think I fare, and if there are any other good schools that you recommend for my interests. If there is any information that you think is missing from here, please let me know and I will add them within reason.

mcg93
Last edited by mcg93 on Mon Nov 23, 2015 3:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.

slowdweller
Posts: 62
Joined: Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:47 am

Re: How competitive am I? (Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th)

Postby slowdweller » Mon Nov 23, 2015 2:54 pm

All of these are extremely competitive and *very* difficult to get into for hep-th, with the possible exception of NYU. You have a pretty good profile, with no glaring weaknesses anywhere. However, you don't stand out as far as research goes. My impression is that one or two theory publications in top-quality journals really makes the difference at these places. Also, how is your coursework? Is it the standard physics major courses, or have you taken advanced graduate level stuff? Just from looking at what you provide I'd say it's definitely likely that you'll get in at a couple of those places, but I wouldn't be surprised if you don't either. You'll probably get into every 11-20 range school though, if you choose to apply.

My opinion is entirely based on personal experience. I applied for strings/hep-th last year to every place on your list except NYU and was rejected from all of them. I did get into 3 programs ranked 10-25 though, which like you I chose to forgo for a gap year. Your stats are a little better than mine, but the difference isn't too big. I was a math & physics major with a GPA in the 3.8-3.9 range (including many graduate courses), PGRE of 900 (85%) and a few months of theory research experience (no publications).

mcg93
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:32 pm

Re: How competitive am I? (Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th)

Postby mcg93 » Mon Nov 23, 2015 3:09 pm

Thanks for the response, slowdweller. My coursework thus far has had all the standard physics and math core classes with a few electives and one graduate level course in differential geometry. I'm currently taking a grad level course in classical mechanics and will be taking two grad level courses in manifolds and algebraic topology next semester. I'll be sure to mention that in my application.

Thanks for your feedback. If I don't get into any of the schools on my list, I'll most certainly take a gap year and do some more research. I should have at least one publication by next year as an ATLAS note and possibly more if my thesis goes well. I just started research very late in undergrad to have any publications at all, so I hope they take that into account.

slowdweller
Posts: 62
Joined: Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:47 am

Re: How competitive am I? (Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th)

Postby slowdweller » Mon Nov 23, 2015 3:31 pm

mcg93 wrote:Thanks for the response, slowdweller. My coursework thus far has had all the standard physics and math core classes with a few electives and one graduate level course in differential geometry. I'm currently taking a grad level course in classical mechanics and will be taking two grad level courses in manifolds and algebraic topology next semester. I'll be sure to mention that in my application.

Thanks for your feedback. If I don't get into any of the schools on my list, I'll most certainly take a gap year and do some more research. I should have at least one publication by next year as an ATLAS note and possibly more if my thesis goes well. I just started research very late in undergrad to have any publications at all, so I hope they take that into account.


Good luck with it. I won't urge you to add in a couple of places in the 11-20 range if you aren't interested in them, but really there's no harm done, in case you change your mind later. For example UIUC has a pretty prestigious program (it's very well-regarded in the physics world at least) and it's much easier to get into compared to the others.

I was the same with research. Focused more on courses during my undergrad years and so didn't really start research until the very end. This year I have a paper out, so hopefully that'll boost my app a bit.




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