Graduate level courses as an undergrad

hermitcrab47
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Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby hermitcrab47 » Thu May 21, 2015 11:18 pm

How helpful would it be to have taken 3-4 graduate level classes as an undergraduate, with an A in all of them, when applying to physics graduate school? Please answer any of these more specific questions below if you have time,

1. How helpful are graduate classes (assuming A's) relative to other things such as publications, and REU experiences?
2. How much better do graduate level physics classes look than graduate level math classes?
3. Are there any graduate classes that would stand out far more than others?

I got an A in a graduate level PDE course through the math department last semester, and am taking a graduate-level math-methods-in-quantum course through the math department this summer. I was also planning on taking GR through the physics department when it's offered.
4. How much more attractive of a candidate would this make me (assuming all A's) than had I not taken these courses?

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YodaT
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Re: Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby YodaT » Thu May 21, 2015 11:48 pm

Do research. Lots of it. The one thing that'll distinguish you from a pile of applicants is a publication and excellent recommendation letters, that is if your GPA of core upper-level physics (i.e., junior and above) courses and PGRE allow you beyond the cutoff. Whether such a cutoff is soft or hard, depends on the exact program. REU experiences are also great, but not necessary since a lot of these REU programs target underrepresented groups and individuals primarily from undergraduate institutes. They also don't allow a strong assessment of your abilities in research in the long-term... they are only for 2 months.

Personally I would suggest venturing outside your comfort zone. Take computer science courses, look into astronomy courses, or maybe even try an applied physics and/or engineering course. Undergrad is the last chance for you to explore different areas and get an overview of how other fields function. All this grad course nonsense can be covered in grad school (your credit won't even transfer 99% of the time). That being said courses can only take you so far. A lot of learning comes from actual research, where there aren't timed exams or solutions typed by a TA.

In my opinion, courses are meant to teach you how to learn. When you learn how to learn, it's time to move on to bigger and better things.

TakeruK
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Re: Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby TakeruK » Fri May 22, 2015 11:40 am

I agree with YodaT -- if you have a choice between graduate courses and research, do research. If you can get a publication from your research, this is worth way more than an A+ in a grad class. In my opinion, admission committees use grades as a way to judge whether or not you will be able to succeed in their grad program and as a measure of your potential as a researcher. If you do research and get a good publication, this demonstrates your research ability--no need to rely on "potential".

Also, maybe it depends on your school, but at all of the schools I've been to (for grad and undergrad), graduate courses are graded differently and an A in a grad course isn't that hard to do. Graduate students have a lot of other priorities besides classes, so in the places I've been to, you just need to meet expectations to get an A (B would be minimal pass and A+ is for surpassing expectations). In many places, a graduate course grade below B is a failing grade.

However, there might be one or two graduate courses (especially if directly related to your research) that you could take and if you excel in it, that could look good. Especially if your advisor is the instructor, then they can write about it in their LOR for you. Getting an A in a grad class as an undergrad isn't that impressive. But if your LOR says that you were one of the top students in that grad class as an undergrad, then that's good.

(This information was told to me by my advisor when I asked a similar thing).

hermitcrab47
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Re: Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby hermitcrab47 » Fri Jun 19, 2015 11:31 pm

Thanks, both of your answers were very helpful.

thatwentwell
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Re: Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby thatwentwell » Fri Jan 15, 2016 9:39 pm

Does this change for applying to hep-th? For example I am a junior right now and I earned As in all grad classes including QFT (absolutely insanely difficult class that ate up 90% of my time. No regrets though), QM and GR last semester and I am starting research on stringy-black holes and going to attempt to publish a small paper to hep-th by application deadlines next semester.

Having done well in these classes, do you think I would be able to compete with other students applying in theoretical physics to universities at the level of Stony Brook assuming that I make a 3.9 gpa, 800-900+ GRE, good LOR's etc.? Im not going to bother with anything close to the level of Princeton/MIT, I know I have no chance to compete with that cohort.

Im worried that pretty much everyone else applying to hep-th has what I have and more but im not entirely sure where I could improve my application besides studying for PGRE (gotta aim for dat 990) and possibly another summer internship.

bfollinprm
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Re: Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Jan 17, 2016 11:04 am

I think for applying to HEP-TH, it does help to have taken QFT, the language of HEP-TH. The issue is that most applicants saying they want to do HEP-TH don't actually know enough HEP-TH to know if that's true; taking QFT helps alleviate that worry some in the minds of the admissions committee.

That said, working closely on a HEP-TH project is better, since as every grad student, postdoc, and faculty member knows you learn much more working through a project of your own than you do taking a course. I'm just not sure that there are a wide variety of HEP-TH projects that delve deeply into the subject which don't have a strong QFT background as a prerequisite, at least if you're going to understand the physics of what you're doing (something one should always strive for). I'm sure there are a few, just not as many as in other fields.

Catria
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Re: Graduate level courses as an undergrad

Postby Catria » Sun Jan 17, 2016 12:03 pm

thatwentwell wrote:Does this change for applying to hep-th? For example I am a junior right now and I earned As in all grad classes including QFT (absolutely insanely difficult class that ate up 90% of my time. No regrets though), QM and GR last semester and I am starting research on stringy-black holes and going to attempt to publish a small paper to hep-th by application deadlines next semester.

Having done well in these classes, do you think I would be able to compete with other students applying in theoretical physics to universities at the level of Stony Brook assuming that I make a 3.9 gpa, 800-900+ GRE, good LOR's etc.? Im not going to bother with anything close to the level of Princeton/MIT, I know I have no chance to compete with that cohort.

Im worried that pretty much everyone else applying to hep-th has what I have and more but im not entirely sure where I could improve my application besides studying for PGRE (gotta aim for dat 990) and possibly another summer internship.


If you:

1) Actually publish a paper on stringy-black holes
2) Get 900+ on the PGRE

Then Princeton/MIT and the like are fair game. Yes. Rutgers, Stony Brook, Maryland, UCLA are viable choices as well (assuming string theory is your thing), in which case you may use these to spread your game.




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