Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

goingnuclear
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Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby goingnuclear » Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:24 pm

Hey all,

So I'm preparing for grad school applications, and will be applying to the top ten for nuclear physics (experimental preferrably, but not exclusively). I think there's a good chance I scored over a 900 on the physics GRE (hoping for that 990, but not holding my breath hah) and I got an 800 on the quantitative part of the general GRE.

One issue I'm somewhat apprehensive about is my GPA. I believe I have a 3.46 total GPA, which alone would be a disadvantage when applying to the top schools. However, this GPA is lower due to my poor grades in core/general classes (philosophy, english, etc) - once these courses are taken out I have around a 3.8 in physics, math, etc. I used to have strong opinions about being forced to take core classes which is why my grades in those classes are significantly lower. I still do disagree with them, but now I'm left feeling apprehensive about how they will affect my chances of getting into the top schools.

In total I think I have 3-4 Cs in core classes, and then the rest are a mix of As and Bs. I have a strong physics gpa, some research experience, and a couple professors who I think can write strong letters of rec. But how detrimental will my lower scores in core classes be? Will graduate schools look at my physics gpa, total gpa, or both?

And finally, should I mention in my SoP why my gpa is low compared to other students? Not to make excuses, but rather to illuminate the fact that it is due purely to non-physics courses, and how my total gpa does not reflect my aptitude in physics.

Cheers.

TakeruK
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby TakeruK » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:35 pm

I don't think you should mention why your total GPA is different from your major GPA. Actually, in many applications, you have to fill in two GPA boxes, one for your major GPA and one cumulative. I think the numbers will speak for itself -- obviously you either did not care about your non-Physics courses or that you were not as skilled in those courses as Physics, or some combination.

But, I also don't think you should express your opinions about being forced to take non-Physics courses, or even that non-Physics courses are not "important". Scientists (including grad students!) have more roles to play than simply "doing Physics". Whether or not these "general" courses will actually help us teach better, write better, communicate better, etc., I think that expressing the "specialist-focused" (I didn't want the negative connotations of "narrow-minded") opinion that undergrad students should only study their major will generally NOT help you gain admissions.

In my opinion, major-courses are definitely the most important, but I'd think a student with, say 3.7 cumulative and 3.7 Physics GPA is stronger than one with 3.5 cumulative and 3.9 Physics GPA. But I don't know if my opinion is actually reflected amongst admission committees. But what I am sure about is that mentioning your opinion can only hurt you if there are people who agree with me on the committee. If there are people that feel the same way as you, they will already see it in the transcripts so mentioning it won't make a difference.

Just my thoughts!

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quizivex
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby quizivex » Fri Oct 26, 2012 3:00 am

I wouldn't try "explaining" your mediocre performance in core classes in your SOP because
(1) It was not due to some extenuating circumstance
(2) The committees will see your Major GPA and Overall GPA separately on the application.

You don't need to tell them how irrelevant the lame ass poetry class was to your aptitude in physics. As TakeruK suggested, the committees themselves will decide how important the non-major classes are.... it's a highly subjective issue and I'm sure it will vary between committees and between individuals on the committees.
TakeruK wrote: I'd think a student with, say 3.7 cumulative and 3.7 Physics GPA is stronger than one with 3.5 cumulative and 3.9 Physics GPA.
Yeah some people will value well-roundedness, but I disagree with the numbers here. That's basically saying that physics and humanities are equally important for physics grad school... I doubt that's the opinion of most admission profs.

TakeruK
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby TakeruK » Fri Oct 26, 2012 12:55 pm

quizivex wrote:
TakeruK wrote: I'd think a student with, say 3.7 cumulative and 3.7 Physics GPA is stronger than one with 3.5 cumulative and 3.9 Physics GPA.
Yeah some people will value well-roundedness, but I disagree with the numbers here. That's basically saying that physics and humanities are equally important for physics grad school... I doubt that's the opinion of most admission profs.


Fair enough, I probably didn't choose the best numbers in that example. But cumulative GPA means both Physics + non-Physics (which may be humanities, or something like Biology/Chemistry). So a 3.5 cumulative vs. 3.9 Physics GPA means that the non-Physics classes, especially since there are probably fewer of them, were really low.

But as you said -- the main point is: let the committee decide, don't try to explain it!

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quizivex
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby quizivex » Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:39 pm

Ahh true, I forgot that "overall GPA" includes physics and is not the same as "non-major GPA". So your example seems more realistic. The interpretation will definitely vary by prof, but I think a good portion would side with you.

goingnuclear
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Any chance for top tier schools?

Postby goingnuclear » Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:37 pm

Hi all,

Apologies in advance for starting a thread on a topic that has already been beaten to death around here. I've lurked for a while, and with graduate applications around the corner I have been reading all the testimonies of students, where they got in, their GPAs, GRE scores, etc. My dream schools include top tier schools such as MIT and Cal Tech, and after seeing students with 3.95+ GPAs and 900+ PGRE scores getting rejected to these schools I'm start to freak out that I don't stand a chance.

I'm a double major in Physics and Mechanical Engineering, with a minor in applied mathematics (graduated 4 years). My GPA is only 3.42, with around 3.8 for physics and 3.6 for engineering. Throughout most of college I carried very strong opinions about core classes, resulting in me doing poorly in them and thus having a lower total GPA (I 100% regret this now). I haven't heard back on the PGRE, but most likely above 900 (it was a breeze). For the normal GRE, 800 math and somewhere around 600 for verbal, forgot writing.

I did 2.5 years of research under a mech engr professor, revolving around the analysis of the energy supply/consumption of buildings, and published a paper as well as a couple conference proceeds. I also did a summer internship at national renewable energy labs (NREL) analyzing building energy consumption and energy storage technology - we published a paper there as well. Finally (and my most proud achievement), senior year I independently designed and built a tabletop nuclear fusion reactor. This is the greatest testiment to my passion and dedication, but I'm not sure how much schools will care about this project. I self-funded and researched the project, and while I was allowed to use the physics lab to store my equipment (as well as ask professors questions), the project was entirely mine. No published papers or anything.

I’m getting four letters of recommendation, and from what I’ve been told they will all be very strong letters.

I'd like to apply for nuclear physics (such as fusion research), although I'm also trying for plasma and particle at a couple schools. Where do I stand? Should I even bother applying to schools like MIT, Princeton, Cal Tech, etc? I’m coming from a small private liberal arts schools.

Oh yeah, I took a year off before grad school because I wanted to work for a year and make enough money to last through graduate school (I know they give stipends, but you still need some money). I worked (/am working) as a Mechanical Engineer in a manufacturing plant. Not sure if this matters to them at all.

Sorry for the long-winded post, I just really don't know where I realistically stand in this rat race. If anyone could ease my anxiety I would be very much appreciative. :)

Thanks!

Catria
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Re: Any chance for top tier schools?

Postby Catria » Thu Nov 01, 2012 8:56 pm

Notre Dame is a good school for nuclear physics... is it an option for you?

bfollinprm
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Re: Any chance for top tier schools?

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Nov 02, 2012 11:04 am

UCSD, along with MIT, are probably the top in fusion/plasma research in the states. MIT might be a stretch (it is for almost anyone), but UCSD seems to not care much about grades when someone has research experience and satisfactory GPA (I know someone who was accepted with a 2.9 GPA). So definitely apply there.

King Vitamin
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Re: Any chance for top tier schools?

Postby King Vitamin » Sun Nov 04, 2012 12:37 am

MIT's fusion physics program got completely axed by the DOE. My friend who got in last year (a theorist) was told there was no money anymore and to look elsewhere. However, their nuclear engineering is still going strong. I've heard that other good options for that field are Princeton, UCLA, UT Austin, and Wisconsin Madison, though I don't know for sure (coming from UT I had a lot of friends in fusion but it's not my area personally.

I had a friend with a 3.55 and 960 PGRE get into UC Berkeley for theory. Don't give up on the top-tiers just yet.

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quizivex
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Re: Any chance for top tier schools?

Postby quizivex » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:06 pm

If you get a high PGRE score, just apply to your dream schools anyway. As was discussed on another thread, it's completely random and up to the committee's discretion whether the core classes should count against you or not. It's not that much extra work to apply, especially if you do plasma because there aren't many plasma schools.

UCSD, along with MIT, are probably the top in fusion/plasma research in the states *after Princeton.

MIT's fusion physics program got completely axed by the DOE. My friend who got in last year (a theorist) was told there was no money anymore and to look elsewhere.
Yeah I was at the annual APS plasma meeting and heard someone say that MIT will not be able to take any plasma students this year. Though knowing MIT, they'll probably make no effort to tell the applicants this. They'll just collect applications from oblivious students, pocket the fees and send rejections to them anyway.

brassgod
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Re: Any chance for top tier schools?

Postby brassgod » Fri Nov 16, 2012 8:49 pm

Yeah I was at the annual APS plasma meeting and heard someone say that MIT will not be able to take any plasma students this year. Though knowing MIT, they'll probably make no effort to tell the applicants this. They'll just collect applications from oblivious students, pocket the fees and send rejections to them anyway.


That would be jacked up. It would be even worse if they wait until the very last day notify them with rejections. :twisted:

goingnuclear
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High GRE/Physics GPA, Low Total GPA?

Postby goingnuclear » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:39 pm

Hey all,

Apologies if this is an issue that has already been addressed. I searched the archives as well as every thread where people have posted their stats and admissions results, and didn't find a situation quite as extreme as mine.

I double majored in Physics and Mech. Engineering. Total gpa was 3.42 (boo), with a physics gpa of 3.77 (yay) and engineering gpa of 3.56. Physics GRE score of 960 (92%), 800 on quantitative.

My total gpa is crippled due to strong opinions I used to have about core classes ("philosophy? why do i have to take philosophy!") which led to me getting around 4 or 5 C's. As you can see, though, my physics gpa is a lot higher and competitive with the physics gpas of other applicants (or so I'd like to think). Where does all of this put me? What kind of school am I looking at, and what kind of school is a reach? In an ideal world, I'd like to think that my PGRE and physics GPA shows I have a strong aptitude for physics, and that schools will see my subpar total gpa is due almost entirely to non-physics related courses (english, theology, etc). I'm stressing out, though, because I know admissions committees don't always have a lot of time to look at your application and see the finer details, so I'm afraid my application will be tossed out due to a low overall gpa.

I know the whole application matters, rather than just a couple scores, but my main question is on what a high pgre and low total gpa will balance out to. For what it's worth, I'm applying for experimental plasma physics and have research experience with inertial confinement nuclear fusion reactors (very plasma-related), an internship at a renewable energy lab, and 2.5 years of research on energy-usage related simulations. And very strong LoRs and what I think is a strong SoP.

Again, sorry if this is a topic that's already been posted. I found several postings of people's admission results who had low-ish gpas and high pgres, but none quite as extreme as mine.

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quizivex
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby quizivex » Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:14 pm

goingnuclear wrote:I searched the archives as well as every thread where people have posted their stats and admissions results, and didn't find a situation quite as extreme as mine.
Try searching your own post history.

Your 3 similar threads have been combined.

Attention to posters: If you want to solicit further discussion or feedback regarding a question you posted on an old thread that has died down, please add posts to the existing thread instead of creating new ones on the same thing.

goingnuclear
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby goingnuclear » Tue Dec 18, 2012 3:42 pm

My bad. I know I've made previous threads, but my situation's changed and I've gotten more information so I thought it was worth making a new topic. New threads generally attract more attention, and if I just updated an old thread I knew would never get a response (case in point with this thread). Ah well, I'll keep looking.

feynman14c
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby feynman14c » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:46 pm

quizivex wrote:If you get a high PGRE score, just apply to your dream schools anyway.


Is this true in general or just for plasma physics?

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quizivex
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby quizivex » Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:54 pm

feynman14c wrote:
quizivex wrote:If you get a high PGRE score, just apply to your dream schools anyway.

Is this true in general or just for plasma physics?
The comment was directed at someone (the OP) who has a strong physics GPA but a low overall GPA. I was saying if he gets a high PGRE score (which he did), then there's no reason to give up on the dream schools because the only flaw on his record would be some low grades on humanities courses. It is still worth applying because his physics record itself is on par to have a shot and none of us know how much, if any, weight the committees at each dream school will place on "overall GPA".

If the person had a lousy physics GPA and/or no research experience, then I'd say do not bother applying to any dream schools regardless of the PGRE score.

feynman14c
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby feynman14c » Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:07 am

Ah, gotcha. My physics GPA is roughly a 3.75 and I have been doing research since freshman year so hopefully that can offset my low 3.53 if I nail the PGRE...

(Not trying to derail thread to my own academic situation, I was just getting concerned that I would never make it into the top 20...)

janghun
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Re: Bad Overall GPA but Good Physics GPA

Postby janghun » Wed Apr 09, 2014 12:04 pm

Hello. I am Korean(South Korea).

I have a question related to GPA.
I have B.S. in Physics & M.S. in Physics(Theoretical Particle Physics), and I'd like to apply some Ph.D graduate programs in Top20.
(Of course, Theoretical Particle Physics.)
My GPAs are
Undergraduate Overall GPA = 3.6/4.0 (135credits)
Undergraduate Major GPA = 3.95/4.0 (57 credits)-only Physics.
Graduate Overall GPA = 4.0/4.0 (30credits) -only Physics.
Graduate Major GPA = 4.0/4.0 (30credits) -only Physics.

Is that OK?
Is that really enough?




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