worries

aliana33
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2012 5:57 pm

worries

Postby aliana33 » Sat Jun 23, 2012 6:10 pm

Hi. I just finished my freshman year at an Ivy League school with a GPA of about 3.5. I know it's only my first year, but I am pretty concerned about it nontheless. Everyone seems to agree that a GPA below 3.7 is not good enough for getting into a top 10 grad school. With good research and recs. and hopefully a good PGRE, would I stand a chance assuming I end with a 3.5? (hopefully it gets a little higher).

Also, how important is your major GPA as opposed to your cumulative GPA? And what would be a good major GPA anyway?

People say higher-level classes get better, and in general one gets more adept at the college thing as they get older... Is this true? I guess you could say I am just having doubts about whether I have what it takes to be a physics major. I don't mean to be dramatic, but I sure do want it more than anything. Thanks.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: worries

Postby microacg » Sat Jun 23, 2012 10:19 pm

Was the gpa lower in physics/math, or in other classes?

My first semester was kinda rough as an undergrad, and then I did better after that, so adjustment is definitely part of the equation for many students.

TakeruK
Posts: 817
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: worries

Postby TakeruK » Sat Jun 23, 2012 10:47 pm

Most schools will look at your 3rd and 4th year courses and weigh them more.

The upper year classes do get easier in the sense that you are more prepared to handle them -- in physics knowledge, in math knowledge (often physics courses require math you don't learn for another semester or year), in familiarity with solving physics problems and thinking about physics, and as you mature, you will probably develop better skills and handle college life/courses better (not saying that you aren't now but experience will teach you even more).

I did not feel comfortable in physics classes until after 3rd year. Until then, every lecture was just me scribbling notes down without really understanding them and then spending hours afterwards doing problems and trying to figure them out.

And also, I think profs grade the upper year courses easier. At my school anyways, these classes are small (~15-25 people) so the profs know you well (compared to the ~2000 students in first year physics). They also know that these grades will affect their students life post-grad, e.g. for grad schools, so I think the profs at least have the mindset of trying to help you get the best grade possible (and learn as much as possible), with things like only counting the best 6 out of 7 assignments, more scaling, etc.

In first year, there's too many students to care and sometimes the first year courses are used as a filter anyways. I know that at my school, the average mark for 3rd and 4th year physics classes would usually be around 78-85% (B+ to A- average) while first year courses have averages in the 68-72% range.

I don't think you have anything to worry about, GPA-wise!

aliana33
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2012 5:57 pm

Re: worries

Postby aliana33 » Sun Jun 24, 2012 1:58 pm

Thanks so much for the encouragement (:

Right now, my physics GPA is about 3.4. Not great, I know. I plan on bringing that up, of course. I know it's hard to generalize these statistics, but could someone tell me what a good GPA should look like if I want to be competitive for top 10 grad schools?

TakeruK
Posts: 817
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: worries

Postby TakeruK » Sun Jun 24, 2012 3:37 pm

It could be useful to look at the profile threads that are on these boards. There is one for each year, here is the link to the 2012 one: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4274 -- it won't be hard to find the other years too.

You can see what kind of profiles get into certain schools and what gets rejected. Just remember that the people who post are probably not a fair representation of applicants -- people who do better tend to be more likely to post!

So if you see something like, everyone who got into School X has a GPA of 3.8 or higher (for example), that doesn't necessarily mean that you need a 3.8 -- there could have been others who had less and got in but didn't post. But, if you see a whole bunch of people with 3.2 applying to School X and all got rejected, then that says something. Ideally, you would want to find a profile that matches yours and then see what places took them. However, you only have 1 year completed, so it would be hard for you to find a match and the applicant pool could change a lot by the time you apply. And some years might be easier to get into than others because of the applicant pool.

I don't think anyone can say a GPA of 3.X is guaranteed good enough for a top 10 school. There are too many other variables (research experience, GRE, LORs, SOP for example) and these schools are super competitive so it will be hard to get in no matter what (unless you are perfect in every way). Most people apply to a wide range of schools: some that they are pretty sure of getting in (i.e. "safety schools"), some that are moderate level for their ability (usually you can find this out by asking your profs, looking at profiles), and some really competitive schools ("reaches"). I think it's worth the application fee to apply to a dream school just so you don't wonder and just so you don't accidentally remove a potential opportunity for yourself!

You are only finishing your freshman year! Most people I know didn't decide on physics grad school until at least 2nd year, and some waited until they actually did some research (end of 2nd or 3rd year). So it's good that you have a goal in mind for your degree, but it could be dangerous since your focus may cause you to miss other opportunities! The first two years of undergrad is a good time to find out what you actually like to study.

One important question to think about is why do you want to go to a top 10 grad school? Sure, the top 10 are really good, and there is some glory to it perhaps, but there are a lot of other really great schools too. Sometimes the best school for your field won't be in the top 10. When it's time to pick grad schools, you would want to pick the best research match as well as any other priorities in your life (maybe you want to be closer/far away from family, certain people, etc.). So I'm not sure why you already seem to have decided that you must go to a top 10 grad school.

But just to kind-of answer your question anyways, if you've read this far down :P -- personally, if an undergrad friend, or one of my students with a 3.8+ GPA and some research experience asked me about grad schools, I would definitely advise/encourage them to apply to any of the top 10 schools that have a research match. I would also encourage anyone with a 3.5+ GPA to apply to top 10 schools as a "reach" school. Below 3.5, I wouldn't discourage anyone from applying as reach schools as long as they are also applying to a variety of schools as well. Note that I didn't really answer your question about what GPA is "competitive", though!




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