Terrible GPA first two years

michaelrain
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Aug 10, 2010 11:31 pm

Terrible GPA first two years

Postby michaelrain » Tue Aug 10, 2010 11:42 pm

Hey guys, so I am a 5th year senior at a large engineering school and was wondering if you could tell me if I had chance of getting in anywhere. My first two years I was mechanical engineering and never went to class and I think I had maybe a 2.1 GPA. I decided to change to physics sometime during my third year and was 6 classes from my mechanical degree so went ahead and double majored. I finally started going to classes and I have gotten a 3.5+ GPA during my past 4 semesters bringing my total GPA to 2.7, which were usually 9-12 hours of physics courses and 3-6 hours engineering. I also have a physics GRE in the 80th percentile. Is there anyway I could get into even a masters for astrophysics or physics.

coffeecoffeecoffee
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Oct 20, 2008 8:24 am

Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby coffeecoffeecoffee » Wed Aug 11, 2010 9:32 am

Yes, you will be able to get in to graduate school. It just might take a bit more work.

Most applications ask you for your major (physics) GPA, which will be 3.5+. Also, every admissions committee looks for trends and improvements in your GPA.

Since you are at a large school, talk to one of your professors or your undergraduate advisor about your options. Also, you may want a reference letter from him/her stating how good of a physics student you are, and how you've earned 3.5+ in your upper year courses.

Lastly, some research experience will really strengthen your application. If you don't have any experience, volunteer in a group this coming semester and get a reference letter from your supervisor.

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How to Get Into Grad School, tips from a current Ph.D. student

michaelrain
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Aug 10, 2010 11:31 pm

Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby michaelrain » Wed Aug 11, 2010 9:58 am

I currently have 0 research experience and will be graduating this fall/spring, depending on if I can significantly improve my application with another semester of school. I am shooting for like Arizona State, Hawaii, Arizona, etc. and maybe make a reach and apply to Berkeley. Assuming I get 1+ semester of research in, could there be any PHD chance? Or should I just hope for Masters program at Hawaii or Arizona State? Or are even those too high? Also, I am a local white male.

coffeecoffeecoffee
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Oct 20, 2008 8:24 am

Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby coffeecoffeecoffee » Wed Aug 11, 2010 11:30 am

Definitely apply for a PhD at all of those universities. The reason for the PhD is funding -- if you apply for a PhD, you will be considered for a tuition waiver and a stipend. All of the schools I'm familiar with will reconsider you for a Masters if you are not accepted into the PhD program. You can ask someone if this is true at your potential schools.

And you are not required to finish the entire PhD, you can leave with a Masters if you are unhappy with grad school.

I would include two more "safety" schools that are not considered top-50, just to be safe.

Also, if your quantitative GRE is below 730, I would take some time this fall to boost it higher.

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How to Get Into Grad School, tips from a current Ph.D. student

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zxcv
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Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby zxcv » Wed Aug 11, 2010 11:29 pm

A GPA lower than 3.0 often a very serious obstacle to graduate admissions because there are usually institution wide minimum requirements for admission, including a minimum GPA. Departments usually decide admissions but they also need approval from the graduate program of the entire university. For example, see Berkeley's requirements, with its minimum 3.0 GPA:
http://grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/admis_require.shtml

You need to look very carefully to find programs which will (or even have the option to) admit otherwise well qualified applicants with your overall GPA. I would recommend double checking by calling department officials at programs you are interested in after checking their websites to make sure it's possible. These officials might also be able to give you some informal sense of your application prospects.

You will absolutely need research experience to have a chance at PhD programs. Funded students are far too costly to be admitted with good indications that they can succeed at independent research.

I don't know about master's programs, but in general they have a much lower bar for admissions. Still, you might run into obstacles with your GPA.

Good luck!

michaelrain
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Joined: Tue Aug 10, 2010 11:31 pm

Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby michaelrain » Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:48 am

Thank you guys for your honesty. Do physics admissions committees care at all about school rigor? For example, at my school, the average physics major's major GPA is around a 2.5 *(I don't know if this is lower than most schools)* and the school is notorious about low engineering grades. I have had 3 friends get into PHD programs with below 3.0's for engineering, the lowest being 2.7, though it was at our same school. I have an 800 quantitative GRE. I am just wondering how low I should be shooting?

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zxcv
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Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby zxcv » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:40 pm

Yes, committees care about rigor, but you're generally expected to do well in courses anyways.

I should clarify: your low GPA does not mean you're a bad candidate for grad school, at least as far as physics departments are concerned. Your upper division grades and GRE scores show that you're capable of doing physics coursework, although research experience is really the critical factor. The low GPA is an issue because of institutional requirements.

You might even be able to get around official GPA requirements if you can find an advocate in a professor or a program, but find such an advocate you would need to convince someone that you would be worth the trouble. Again, in this case I think compelling research experience is what you need to make this argument.

coffeecoffeecoffee
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Oct 20, 2008 8:24 am

Re: Terrible GPA first two years

Postby coffeecoffeecoffee » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:43 pm

michaelrain wrote:Thank you guys for your honesty. Do physics admissions committees care at all about school rigor? For example, at my school, the average physics major's major GPA is around a 2.5 *(I don't know if this is lower than most schools)* and the school is notorious about low engineering grades. I have had 3 friends get into PHD programs with below 3.0's for engineering, the lowest being 2.7, though it was at our same school.


Find out if, in recent years, any students from your engineering department got into physics PhD programs. If so, that committee will be familiar with your school, and also have a good impression of it. Applying there will help your chances.

Otherwise, you could have one of your reference letters speak to the quality and rigor of your program, and also your improvement through the years.

A plan-B would be to gather more research credentials by working in lab this fall, this spring, and next summer, and then applying.

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How to Get Into Grad School, tips from a current Ph.D. student




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