Admission to top Phd programs, Italian grades

Ofey89
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:32 pm

Admission to top Phd programs, Italian grades

Postby Ofey89 » Wed Sep 09, 2015 4:18 pm

Hello everybody!
I'm planning to apply to a few Phd programs in the US this year.
My specialization would be Quantum gravity (Black holes, and black holes thermodynamics) or String theory.
I'm from Italy, so I have already obtained a bachelor's degree in physics a couple years back, and I'm supposed to graduate in the next few months in theoretical physics (master's degree).
I wanted to know if I stand a chance in getting in a top Phd program in the US.

First of all, I'm a girl, so that might help if the admission committee is looking for diversity :P

Bachelor's degree: I've graduated with an overall average of about 3.6. I lowered my average with exams such as chemistry and programming (which were mandatory at my uni), but I got perfect A's in advanced exams such as Quantum mechanics and General Relativity. I've written a thesis with title "Hidden conformal symmetry of the Schwarzschild black hole", so a quite advanced and very theoretical thesis for a bachelor's degree (I think).

Master's degree: I don't know my exact overall average yet, but it should be somewhere around 3.8/4.0. I've taken a bunch of theoretical exams in my master's degree (quantum field theory, quantum information, superstring theory, differential geometry, lie groups, etc), and I'm writing a thesis on generalized complex structures in string theory compactification (in other words, some geometrical techniques used to study, on a formal level, the geometry of the compactified dimensions in string theory).

Given a good toefl score, decent/good scores in the gres, great lors, and the gpas mentioned above, what are my chances of getting in a theoretical hep phd program in one of the top uni in the US (stanford, Harvard, Caltech, etc...)? I know there's a lot of competition, so I wanted to ask you if I should even give it a chance!

Thanks to whoever replies :)
Last edited by Ofey89 on Thu Sep 10, 2015 4:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

Ofey89
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:32 pm

Re: Admission to top Phd programs, THEP

Postby Ofey89 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 4:52 am

Update: I've recalculated my undergrad gpa and it turned out to be 3.4 (3.42 to be more precise) :shock: . I've been looking at my average and it's kinda fluctuating throughout the entire 3 years of my undergraduate degree (in italy undergrad degrees last 3 years).
By looking at my marks, it looks like I've excelled in the most difficult classes, and did very poorly in some other non-physics and very few physics ones (not theoretical). How would an admission committee judge that? How would you judge that?

Also, I have to mention the fact that, in Italy, the overall average is not the final mark, but students receive a final mark out of 110 that strongly depends on the overall average and also on the final thesis work, that we have to do discuss in front of a committee. So for example, starting from my average, I was expected to get a final grade of about 103, but I did better than expected, and I ended up with a 106 out of 110 (and that's 96%, my overall 3.4 average should be somewhere around 89%).

What mark do you think the admission committee will mostly look at? the overall average or the final one (106/110)? Are they gonna care about my graduate average (much less fluctuating and higher than the undegraduate one). Are they gonna understand the difference btw american and italian grading?

I'm very sorry to bother you with silly questions, I've noticed that there are people here asking questions even if they had almost perfect gpas and gre scores. I honestly don't think this is my case. And I really want to know if I should even bother to apply to top US uni, considering the cost (application fees, gres and toefl exams). I understand you see tons of questions like mine, I'm very sorry about it, but I really need your advices! please :wink:

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Admission to top Phd programs, Italian grades

Postby TakeruK » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:08 am

I think US admission committees will look at both your coursework average and your final mark out of 110. However, since North American schools do not have an equivalent "final mark" like you do, I think most committees will be more interested in your coursework average than the grade out of 110.

Also, I think it's a misconception that when it comes to grades, committees only care about the GPA. Sure, they ask for you to provide a GPA or final grade when you apply, but that doesn't mean it's the most important aspect. You are asked to provide a detailed transcript as well, and I believe that the committees will look at the courses you took and the grades you got in each course. So, excelling in the difficult courses would mean more!

I think you can expect US professors who are not familiar with Italian grading to either ask one of their Italian colleagues or do some research on it. They can figure it out! But, assuming the committee that assigns the grade out of 110 contains one of your LOR writers, that writer should certainly write about the significance of scoring 106/110. As you said, this is higher than "expected" for your GPA, which indicates you performed really well in front of the committee, and the letter should hopefully state this.

How does your GPA and final mark compare with other students? In North America, a 3.4 GPA is good but not particularly impressive. However, admission is much more than just GPA. I normally encourage everyone with a North American GPA greater than 3.5 to apply to top schools (i.e. it's worth the time if there are interesting programs). But what does an Italian 3.4 GPA mean? Can you estimate your percentile rank compared to other students?

Ofey89
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:32 pm

Re: Admission to top Phd programs, Italian grades

Postby Ofey89 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:58 am

Thanks for the reply :)
I'm not even sure what's the right way of converting italian grades into gpa.
I've simply tried to calculate the percentage and then convert it into gpa. It's quite confusing if you look it up on the internet cause there are different websites stating different things. I'm assuming my gpa would be be somewhere around 3.4/3.6 (we have for grades a system based on 30 points -I know it's confusing, it's different from the grading scale used for the final mark- where 18/30 is passing grade, and it goes up to 30)
In my university (as well as any other italian university) we have no such thing as student rankings, but there are national statistics on the average overall grade of physics students for a given year.
I just checked my undergrad graduation year (2012), and it says the average overall grade was 25.6/30 (my average was 26.6/30) and the final graduation mark was 99.9/100 (mine was 106/110). So I know my grades aren't perfect, but I think they are above average (even if not by a lot). It's not easy to graduate with a 106/110, especially during the undergraduate degree.
I have also found this useful chart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_grading_in_Italy
I'd say my overall grade is somewhere between a B+ (26) and A- (27).
So, after this extensive description of the italian grading system, what do you think? Should I give it a shot? :D

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Admission to top Phd programs, Italian grades

Postby TakeruK » Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:07 pm

Calculating your average percentage and then converting to GPA isn't a great way to do it (although it would give an okay estimate). If you have a lot of variation in your grades, then it could be inaccurate though.

However, most applications ask international students (I'm from Canada, so I'm also "international" even though the Canadian and American system are similar) to report their grades in their own country's system and to NOT convert it.

But it's still useful if you want to estimate your US grade. I think the 2nd table in your Wikipedia link could be a good guide to do the conversion. So, for reference, this is how most US schools compute GPA:

1. For each course you took, convert the grade that is out of 30 into a letter grade. For example, a 30/30 would be an A+, and a 27/30 might be A-.

2. Then, for each letter grade, convert it into "Grade Points". In the US, usually, an "A" is worth 4.0 grade points, a B is 3.0 grade points, a C is 2.0 grade points, a D is 1.0 grade points. And then each + or - is 0.33 grade points (e.g. B+ is 3.33, A- is 3.67 etc.). Exception: Some US schools count A+ as 4.0 and some count it as 4.33.

3. You can now compute your GPA ("Grade Point Average") by taking the average of all your grade points from Step 2. To be more accurate, you will want to compute a weighted average. I'm not sure how it works in Italy, but in North America, there are a number of "credits" or "units" assigned to each course, where a "3 credit" course might be a course that is one semester long (13-16 weeks) and a "6 credit" course might be one that is two semesters long. Sometimes a course that is one semester but takes a lot of work will be worth "4 credits" etc. The proper way to compute a GPA is to weight each of your grade points by the number of credits.

If all your courses are equally weighted then the faster way is to convert your average out of 30 into a GPA range. If we are using a 4.33 scale (where A+ is worth 4.33) then 26.6/30 * 4.33 = 3.84. If you want to use a 4.0 scale (A+ is still worth 4.0) then 26.6/30*4.0 = 3.55. In any case, I think you are right when you say your average is about A- level (26.6/30 is more like A- than B+ in my opinion).

As for rankings, in North American schools, we also do not rank students. I don't mean an actual ranking but just an informal guess. For example, what I meant was is 106/110 an average grade or a really exceptional one, etc. And what would the distribution (e.g. standard deviation) be like? It sounds like you have answered this already and it looks like 106/110 is higher than the average! So that is good :)

So, to answer your last question, I think that yes, your grades are generally in the range where I would suggest people give the top schools a shot! Good luck :)

Ofey89
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:32 pm

Re: Admission to top Phd programs, Italian grades

Postby Ofey89 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:30 pm

I'll give it a try then. Thanks a lot for the reply! :D




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