Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

DHam
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Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby DHam » Thu Aug 05, 2010 4:59 pm

I've been pretty active on campus; I'm going into my senior year at my school, where I do the marching band and wind ensemble, am starting a second year as academic advisor for a 44-person house (which I was also assistant manager for for awhile), and was on the editorial board (now editor in chief as of tuesday) of a nonpartisan political quarterly magazine.

I have done well academically and have a good number of summers of research/lab experience, but do grad schools care at all about my involvement in non-science-related pursuits? Should I mention them in a short blurb (as above), or are they worth expanding on at all?

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grae313
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby grae313 » Thu Aug 05, 2010 11:20 pm

Admissions committees try to get an overall sense of you as a person and look to have a broad and diversely capable incoming class. Being accomplished in other things such as a musical instrument is a positive influence and helps your application stand out. Definitely mention it in your statement of purpose. Community service and outreach matter, too. Of course, your physics-related achievements are the most important thing for your application, so stick to the major things (don't go listing every club you've ever been a member of).

coffeecoffeecoffee
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby coffeecoffeecoffee » Wed Aug 11, 2010 11:18 am

grae313 wrote:Admissions committees try to get an overall sense of you as a person and look to have a broad and diversely capable incoming class. Being accomplished in other things such as a musical instrument is a positive influence and helps your application stand out. Definitely mention it in your statement of purpose. Community service and outreach matter, too. Of course, your physics-related achievements are the most important thing for your application, so stick to the major things (don't go listing every club you've ever been a member of).


From what I have heard, extracurriculars count for nothing in physics admissions. It probably doesn't hurt to include it, but be careful not to take the focus away from your GPA, GRE, research, and letters.

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grae313
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby grae313 » Wed Aug 11, 2010 3:36 pm

coffeecoffeecoffee wrote:
grae313 wrote:Admissions committees try to get an overall sense of you as a person and look to have a broad and diversely capable incoming class. Being accomplished in other things such as a musical instrument is a positive influence and helps your application stand out. Definitely mention it in your statement of purpose. Community service and outreach matter, too. Of course, your physics-related achievements are the most important thing for your application, so stick to the major things (don't go listing every club you've ever been a member of).


From what I have heard, extracurriculars count for nothing in physics admissions. It probably doesn't hurt to include it, but be careful not to take the focus away from your GPA, GRE, research, and letters.

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I think this is a common misconception. I've read on many department webpages and heard from many professors that diversity of their incoming class is important to them, and I have plenty of anecdotal examples of applicants who are accomplished in diverse ways making an impression on committees and getting in. Like I said, I'm not trying to say it's like applying to college where you need to list all your clubs and crap. Obviously they care most about physics. But being extremely accomplished or successful in something different both says something about you as a person and helps your application stand out. Bottom line, can it possibly hurt?

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grae313
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby grae313 » Wed Aug 11, 2010 5:45 pm

Another anecdotal example to add to my pile. I just ran across this blog post from a professor on an admissions committee. It's not for physics but pretty close.

"I was about to put an applicant in the "maybe" pile, when I saw he'd led a 100km hike in the Himalayas. The kind of persistence it takes to do a 100km hike in the Himalayas is the kind of persistence it takes to do research. I moved the applicant to the "accept" pile."

When they are remarkable, demonstrate qualities that are useful to graduate school, and help you stand out from the pack, extracurriculars are useful. Personally, I mentioned in my SOP that I won regional billiards tournaments during the two years I was dropped out of college. I had a professor specifically mention that to me as something he noted in my application, and saw it as evidence that I was the type to succeed, whatever I was doing. Many of the students in my program are accomplished in diverse areas -- musicians, chefs, athletes, etc. Graduate schools aren't (in general) looking for physics robots.

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YodaT
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby YodaT » Mon Aug 30, 2010 1:24 am

I heard of a guy at our school who had greater than a 3.9 gpa, scored somewhere above the top 90th percentile of the physics gre, and did multiple theoretical/mathematical research projects, with many of research advisors impressed by his work, who was denied from many graduate schools. Being waitlisted at CalTech he was essentially told he had little diversity and had not acomplished much outside of physics by the admissions committee. Hence, he was denied.

I guess they wanted something more than a physics robot.

coffeecoffeecoffee
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby coffeecoffeecoffee » Mon Aug 30, 2010 9:33 am

YodaT wrote:I heard of a guy at our school who had greater than a 3.9 gpa, scored somewhere above the top 90th percentile of the physics gre, and did multiple theoretical/mathematical research projects, with many of research advisors impressed by his work, who was denied from many graduate schools. Being waitlisted at CalTech he was essentially told he had little diversity and had not acomplished much outside of physics by the admissions committee. Hence, he was denied.

I guess they wanted something more than a physics robot.


You're anecdote is basically the opposite of my experience. Of course some diversity can't hurt, but could it really make or break your application?

Maybe if we gather enough anecdotes we'll have real data to analyse :D

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admissionprof
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Re: Non Physics-Related extracurriculars?

Postby admissionprof » Sun Oct 03, 2010 3:06 pm

When I read applications, I certainly notice some of these interesting extracurriculars. They certainly don't hurt an application (as long as there aren't pages of various activities going back to middle school). They might help for those that are borderline (which might have been the case in the example that grae313 mentioned). Experience teaching physics as a tutor can be a bit more relevant.




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