Low GPA From Top School

ach
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Low GPA From Top School

Postby ach » Sat May 09, 2009 12:08 am

Hi,

I'm a sophomore physics major at Caltech. I'd really love to go to grad school in physics or astronomy, but my GPA is pretty low -- right now I have a 3.3 overall and a 3.16 in physics classes. The first two terms were all pass-fail so I've only had 3 terms on grades (plus a few phys labs, where I tend to better, were automatically pass-fail). I'm really worried because no matter how hard I try in these physics classes, my position never changes. My year has a class of 35 phys majors out of 220 overall, and needless to say they're all ridiculously smart. I'm probably in the bottom 5-10 in physics, and about average compared to the entire class. Going into junior year and taking our standard classical and quantum classes (which are half full of Caltech grad students), my GPA is not going to get any better since these classes are curved to low Bs. I'm sure I can raise it with classes outside of physics, but my in-major GPA is going to be dismal. Everyone here is an absolute beast at physics, and while I'm not horrible, it's really hard to just get by. It doesn't seem like the number of hours I put into studying physics ever changes my grades.

What's really worrying is seeing some of this year's seniors with grades higher than mine get rejected everywhere. These are all insanely smart people. I'm fairly sure that if I had gone to another school, I would be doing great (for comparison, some of my friends in high school who I was clearly better than are getting fantastic grades at places like UCLA, and working much less than I do). What Caltech seems to do is make smart people really shine, and throw everyone else by the wayside.

I just wanted to know if you guys have seen students in my situation, mediocre at a high-powered school, get into good grad programs, and how they overcame the low GPA. Thanks.
Last edited by quizivex on Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Reason: Changed thread title from "Low GPA" to "Low GPA From Top School" to make it more informative/specific to users browsing through the threads.

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sat May 09, 2009 12:33 am

Thats a Caltech Curve. You could still transfer to UCLA. If you transfer you have a chance at a new set of students to compete with, a different set of standards, and a clean slate. Then you could go to a Caltech level school for graduate school which is totally different than undergrad(undergrad courses are much more about differentiating students than graduate).

ach wrote:I just wanted to know if you guys have seen students in my situation, mediocre at a high-powered school, get into good grad programs, and how they overcame the low GPA.

Nope. Top schools take student from top of their class with only a bit of consideration of where you went to school. You could get into a grad school like Brown/UC Irvine with a good-great PGRE.
Last edited by cato88 on Sat May 09, 2009 12:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

amit
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Re: Low gpa

Postby amit » Sat May 09, 2009 12:34 am

I wouldn't worry too much... It sounds like they're grading the way most grad schools do (where getting a B average is normal). I think most places will see that you're from Caltech and realize that your grades mean a lot more than most other institutions (in terms of the curve).

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sat May 09, 2009 12:38 am

amit wrote:I wouldn't worry too much... It sounds like they're grading the way most grad schools do (where getting a B average is normal). I think most places will see that you're from Caltech and realize that your grades mean a lot more than most other institutions (in terms of the curve).

This observation contradicts your statement
ach wrote:What's really worrying is seeing some of this year's seniors with grades higher than mine get rejected everywhere. These are all insanely smart people. .

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sat May 09, 2009 12:52 am


amit
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Re: Low gpa

Postby amit » Sat May 09, 2009 1:06 am

cato88 wrote:This observation contradicts your statement.

Whoops, I should read more closely. However, I'm still more optimistic for your chances. Do you know all of the variables surrounding your classmates' applications? Were their test scores good? Were they cocky, and if so, did they show it on their personal statements? There's a lot of variables, and I find it hard to believe that admissions committees would count it against someone for only getting "above average" grades at an institution that is so well known for its academic exclusivity. It might help if you asked one of your recommenders to make a note about how to interpret grades in their letter. You probably shouldn't mention this in your own letter, however, because if there's one thing you don't want to do, it's sound whiny to whoever's reading.

That said, transferring to another school like UCLA might be a good idea just because (if you're anything like me) the decreased stress would help you get more work done.

Also, take everything I say with a grain of salt, since I've obviously never been on an admissions committee. You should pester people from your department's admissions and ask them what they think.

nathan12343
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Re: Low gpa

Postby nathan12343 » Sat May 09, 2009 1:42 am

What do you want to do in grad school? If you want to continue the sorts of things you're doing right now you might have better chances than you think. I don't have firsthand experience, but I've heard from several people that there is a shortage of good, young, instrumentalists in astronomy. I think that students who indicate an interest in building new equipment might catch the eye of admissions committees at schools that have many instrumentalists or observers.

Your GPA isn't by any means terrible, especially considering that you are at Caltech.

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sat May 09, 2009 1:55 am

For Harvard, MIT, Berkeley type school hes going to need a 3.4+ GPA even if hes at Caltech. He needs to be in the top 15% which he is not.

http://www.career.caltech.edu/life/schools/index.shtml
Look at the spread in numbers for school choices admittedly not a physics specific but I have the impression numbers in Physics are equally to greater in importance for grad admissions

abeboparebop
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Re: Low gpa

Postby abeboparebop » Sat May 09, 2009 2:45 pm

cato88 wrote:http://www.studentsreview.com/alumni.php3?SH=CIT&ST=CA
Holy Crap


Holy Crap what? I don't know whether to interpret that as a good holy crap or a bad holy crap.

And anyway, that page has had 12 people rate Caltech, making the information (such as it is) completely useless. We know how to reject bad data, right?

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sat May 09, 2009 7:38 pm

I had that reaction slightly thereafter but then realized it probably due to the increase in amount of alums pursuing academia but then it is still abit alarming because the positions for those alums are not that impressive and it also shows the disparity between academia and everyone else, most are like "I dont care about money" but im not sure they realize the difference becomes about 140,000 a year(from comparing with other schools).

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noojens
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Re: Low gpa

Postby noojens » Sat May 09, 2009 9:22 pm

Do you know for sure that you're in the bottom 5-10 in your class? I'm no expert, but I understand Caltech has a reputation for really making students earn A's. I suspect that a 3.3 from Caltech won't prevent you from getting into first rate programs.

I do think that the fact that you're already thinking about what it takes to get into grad school bodes well for your chances. My advice is to treat applying to grad school like applying for a job. Sure, your test scores and GPA are important, but these are more along the lines of boxes that the admissions committee will check off. What will set you apart from other applicants are the skills you bring to the table, i.e. your research experience.

You have plenty of time, not to mention a wealth of Caltech resources, to produce first-rate research. If you can do this, you will have a strong application.

Finally, I think transferring to a UCLA-calibre school would be a terrible idea. Caltech may be hell on your GPA, but it provides you with an unbelievable wealth of research opportunities and chances to meet and connect with leaders in the field. As someone who went to a no-name state school, I urge you to take full advantage of these opportunities. After all, someone's paying a lot for them! :)

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sat May 09, 2009 10:15 pm

noojens wrote:Finally, I think transferring to a UCLA-calibre school would be a terrible idea. Caltech may be hell on your GPA, but it provides you with an unbelievable wealth of research opportunities and chances to meet and connect with leaders in the field. As someone who went to a no-name state school, I urge you to take full advantage of these opportunities. After all, someone's paying a lot for them! :)

Are you calling UCLA a noname school?

noojens wrote: I suspect that a 3.3 from Caltech won't prevent you from getting into first rate programs.


The statistics on the Caltech site show that this isnt true, it appears that the top 15-25% get into first rate programs and the other 75% gets into a spread in programs if gets into a program at all (They dont provide statistics on people who applied but didnt get in).
http://www.career.caltech.edu/life/schools/index.shtml

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zxcv
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Re: Low gpa

Postby zxcv » Sun May 10, 2009 12:11 am

cato88 -- How are you reading that table? I just glanced at 2008 and I'd estimate at least half those students are going to top ranked programs. Take just those going to Caltech, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, Oxford and Cambridge and you get half of all those going to grad school going to very top programs. I would guess there are very few who don't get in anywhere.

I agree with noojens's reasons for why you should stay at Caltech. You're learning a tremendous amount even if you aren't at the top of your class and you have fantastic opportunities there.

If you want to get the skinny on getting into grad schools, talk to your professors. They know how well Caltech students with your credentials do better than anyone who doesn't know you can speculate on the internet.

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grae313
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Re: Low gpa

Postby grae313 » Sun May 10, 2009 12:39 am

cato88 wrote:
noojens wrote:Finally, I think transferring to a UCLA-calibre school would be a terrible idea. Caltech may be hell on your GPA, but it provides you with an unbelievable wealth of research opportunities and chances to meet and connect with leaders in the field. As someone who went to a no-name state school, I urge you to take full advantage of these opportunities. After all, someone's paying a lot for them! :)

Are you calling UCLA a noname school?

noojens wrote:


Uh... he didn't even come close to saying that.

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sun May 10, 2009 1:18 am

zxcv wrote:cato88 -- How are you reading that table? I just glanced at 2008 and I'd estimate at least half those students are going to top ranked programs.

I was looking at Harvard MIT Stanford and Berkeley only. After counting them for 2007 it was about 44%. He still has admitted he is not near the top half which kind of makes those irrelevant because the spread of schools outside that top 44% is wide. I am not in any way saying he could not possibly get into a graduate school I am saying he jsut cant get into a same tier graduate program.


zxcv wrote:I would guess there are very few who don't get in anywhere.
Thats very likely true but is still alarming for a graduating class of about 200 who started after going through a hell of a competitive admissions process.
There is 13% of graduating class still seeking employment which probably has a decent amount of the people in the I did not get into graduate school category which would be in the accepted employment category.


zxcv wrote:If you want to get the skinny on getting into grad schools, talk to your professors. They know how well Caltech students with your credentials do better than anyone who doesn't know you can speculate on the internet.

I know a fair amount of top 5 physics undergrad program alums his fears are grounded in reality if he is not on the top 30%. It probably is even more competitive for top school graduates since the Recession because Finance/Consulting arent taking some of the top physics grads out of the grad school running. There is also the fact that you can deduce it by the pigeonhole principle and assuming a lot of the graduates apply to graduate school which they do (since 49% gets into some school) and the fact that one could safely say for
Caltech, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley the amount of undergrads > amount of graduate students. Since (the amount of undergrads > amount of graduate students) even if all undergrads were auto-accepted in order of class ranking till they achieve optimal graduate student class they would still have to turn away students, then account for the fact that top schools graduate programs students are not solely composed of top undergrad program alums and you have the situation described by OP.
Last edited by cato88 on Sun May 10, 2009 1:29 am, edited 4 times in total.

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sun May 10, 2009 1:25 am

grae313 wrote:Uh... he didn't even come close to saying that.

He is implying that he cannot achieve equivalent opportunities at a "UCLA-calibre school" and as a "no-name state school grad" sentence begins to make it seem like UCLA, no-name State School << << << Caltech for graduate School Admissions.

ach
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Re: Low gpa

Postby ach » Sun May 10, 2009 4:47 am

Thank you for all your replies.

I'm not going to be unrealistic; I know that my chances for the top programs are pretty low. Obviously I'd like to try for the best I can get into, even if it's second-tier. But I don't really want to transfer, since I love going here (apart from academics, everything is great). My plan for the next two years is to take fewer classes and spend as much time in lab as possible (I've heard several professors say this is the best route to take). I'll certainly be talking to professors about this soon, and hopefully get their recommendations on where to apply.
Last edited by ach on Sat Dec 12, 2009 11:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Sun May 10, 2009 6:02 am

ach wrote:I'm not going to be unrealistic; I know that my chances for the top programs are pretty low. Obviously I'd like to try for the best I can get into, even if it's second-tier.

I would say really really low chances. Top programs admit 12-15% of applicants with an even greater amount of self-selection in applications.
Admissions for top schools are all about basic numbers to be seriously considered you have to be on top half at least and do well on PGRE (to have a semblance of a chance). Then after that you take the assist from your numbers to get in with your research experience and recommendations. If you have no problem with second-tier you should be okay as long as you do well on the PGRE.

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razor
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Re: Low gpa

Postby razor » Sun May 10, 2009 9:23 am

I believe you still have a lot of time to improve your GPA. Don't worry about your past failures and disappointments and don't be discouraged by them. Don't live on your past accomplishments and make them your comfort zone. Lastly, don't compare yourself to others. They'll just destroy your self esteem if the comparisons are not taken with care.

The way I see it, it's as if you're very sure that you will have low grades even before you started. With that mindset, the chances are you will really have low grades. Your tendency will be to prove your earlier assumption of having low grades. Even right now, you're already thinking of a future solution to your future GPA problem when you can still do something to avoid having the problem at all.

I am not saying that physics is an easy course. Physics is difficult and challenging. But a negative attitude would make it even worse. A positive attitude would go a long way in helping us survive our major.

So my advice is, don't give up yet. The battle is not yet over.

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quizivex
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Re: Low gpa

Postby quizivex » Sun May 10, 2009 11:23 am

Hey ach,

Maybe the numerical GPA will hurt you a little, since top programs so used to taking students near the top of their class, and they might frown on anything less than (say) a 3.5 and such. For ex, all those recommendation forms that say, "how does this applicant compare to other students you've encountered in your career?"
1) One the top few I ever met 2) Top 5% 3) Top 10% 4) Top 25% 5) Top 50% 6) Lower 50%
They're skewed at the top and they don't even seem to account for the possibility of a good student being in the lower half of a class.

But on the other hand, they should recognize that all students who go to Caltech are among the best in the country and anyone who survives there would probably have a very high GPA at most other programs. And since GPA is just one component of the process, you should be fine if you ace the PGRE and have good research experience, which you'll clearly have much more control over than where you rank in your class.

I think the best way for you to gauge your chances is to talk to faculty and senior students at your school. Every year, 10% of Caltech students are in the lower 10% of their graduating class :idea: lol. So by asking around, you could probably get some info about how those students typically do in the admission process each year.

Though you already seem to be doing that... you mentioned a lot of those seniors are "rejected everywhere". But are they all applying to HEP and string theory? Did they do well on the GRE?

And while you're here, could you give a little feedback on what the Caltech experieince and atmosphere is like? A lot of people on this forum are probably interested.

Good luck!!!

cato88
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Re: Low gpa

Postby cato88 » Tue May 12, 2009 3:49 am

You should keep forum updated on your discussions with professors or your general status




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