Humanities, GPA and grad school

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zincdichromate
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Humanities, GPA and grad school

Postby zincdichromate » Sun Feb 10, 2008 11:36 pm

Hello PhysicsGre.com

I am very new to the grad school admissions process (being only a first year) so please answer my question.

I am losing sleep over my humanities courses. To be a well rounded and successful physicist I am required to take a few "english" courses and several other courses in the arts. This term I have a couple of really terrible professors. The "english" class is essentially just some pretentious asshole's pseudo-philosophical ramblings and he refuses to even give us a description of our exams before we take them. My other humanities class is almost as bad.

Needless to say, I am terrified about the impact these courses will have on my overall GPA. I have, so far, a perfect GPA in my major's courses (math and physics) and I am getting involved in research quite early but I am afraid this will all be for nothing admissions wise and I will get rejected from the top tier grad schools (I have my heart set on UIUC)

I have heard that first year courses, especially nonsense humanities ones, aren't taken seriously by grad schools but it seems to me, in browsing this forum, that no one gets accepted into top tier grad schools without a near perfect overall GPA.

Should I be losing sleep?

surjective
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Postby surjective » Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:43 am

Don't lose any sleep over it - not sleeping just makes things worse.

BUT, it does seem like overall GPA is important, so you should do everything you can to do well.

Admission to top schools is pretty competitive, and if there's any area in which other candidates stand out over you, then that might make all the difference.

Sorry to be the bearer of ill tidings :(

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:47 am

Yes, lose sleep.

You should try to do your best in those courses. Your GPA is fundamental to getting you into graduate school. It shows your ability to dedicate yourself to do hard-work and sacrifice for academic achievement. It is one of the first things graduate schools look at.

Furthermore, 4 years down the road you may find that your scores on the GRE are not as good as you'd like them to be. You may find that later on you get a B or C in a very hard course and it seriously affects your GPA. The more A's you get now the less you have to worry about one bad class having a detrimental effect on your GPA later down the road.

You should try to ge the highest GPA you can. This is part strategy and part hard-work. When I thought I was going to get a less than desirable grade in a class I dropped it and took it with a different professor. I have a nearly 4.0 GPA and I've gotten into at least one graduate school, so this really does work.

If you want to get into a top school you will be competitng with people with near perfect GPAs. Applying a mediocre school with a couple of C's might not be so bad, but if you're going for a top school then every single class you take is very important and you should take it seriously, no matter what the subject is. And who knows, you might learn something in the process...

zincdichromate
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Postby zincdichromate » Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:57 am

So a withdraw looks better than a B or a C?

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:08 am

It depends on the circumstances. I withdrew from one class, took it again and got an A. So in the case it's pretty clear that the course was dropped due to some reason other than difficulty. Not everyone agrees with this though. when I was dropping the course my advisor warned me that it might be seen as bad by graduate school admissions committees. If you're getting a B it's probably not too bad. If you're going to withdraw, you must do so wisely. In my case it was a choice to preserve my 4.0 several years into my college career. If you start off your first semester in college dropping classes it's going to look a little bit different for you.

If you do choose to withdraw I wouldn't recommend doing it more than once, or in extreme circumstances, twice. Any more than that is almost certainly going to look bad. So it's a tradeoff you have to make. You have to decide if you're in a position to do better in a different class. If it's a matter of a professor being excessively demanding then it might be a good idea if you think you'll get an A taking it again. However, if you think there's any chance you'll get any grade other than an A when you take it again then I wouldn't recommend doing it. In that case you'd have a W and a B instead of just a B.

Maxwells_Demon
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Postby Maxwells_Demon » Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:24 am

What about re-taking courses? For instance, getting a C, then taking it again and getting an A. At some universities it is possible to retake a course and the latter attempt will only be calculated in your GPA. I know someone that has a 4.0 because of this- without this, it would be below 3.8.

How would graduate school admissions see this? just curious

-Maxwell's Demon

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:34 am

everybody is human. if you have a 4.0, and they see it is because you retook a class or two because you screwed up, or even a bunch of classes from one bad semester, it's not a big deal.

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will
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Postby will » Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:57 am

I was talking to a professor of mine the other day, and she actually had a very interesting comment. She's scared when she sees students with a 4.0. It means, to her, that they either try too hard to play the game or don't take classes outside of the requirements. While a 4.0 is certainly never going to hurt a students chances in any way, you'd be surprised how little more it's worth than anything else >3.5.

Maxwells_Demon
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Postby Maxwells_Demon » Mon Feb 11, 2008 4:08 am

I've heard of that before too, will.

Thanks grae for the reply.

-Maxwell's Demon

twistor2
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Postby twistor2 » Mon Feb 11, 2008 10:26 am

I disagree. Your GPA doesn't imply anything about the courses you took. They're going to look at that seperately when they view your transcripts. So they're never going to just look at your GPA and say "This guy must've taken 8 semesters of introductory classes."

Having a high GPA will likely qualify you for scholarships, awards, and honors activities. All these things will look good on your application.

Some schools do allow you to retake classes, but be careful because many will just average both grades into your GPA.

shouravv
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Postby shouravv » Mon Feb 11, 2008 10:59 am

Humanities grades don't count. If someone is willing to accept you they will look into the transcript. Most schools even ask for major GPA.

Apart from the issue of whether we should be required to take so many humanities classes (in my school, a third of all courses a typical physics or astrophysics major takes are humanities), I must admit that it helps down the line to keep up with the business of writing papers for humanities classes. Because sooner or later, you will be writing papers for journals and cramming in a ton of work in 5-10 pages is never fun if you are doing it for the first time in years.

Also, this being grad applications season, I can recall how much easier was it for me to write the SOP in a few days compared to my cousin in a Institute of Technology who took his last humanities class two years ago.
Last edited by shouravv on Mon Feb 11, 2008 5:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:20 pm

All courses count, but some count more than others. If you're serious about graduate school you should take all your courses seriously.

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dlenmn
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Postby dlenmn » Mon Feb 11, 2008 5:14 pm

All things being equal, of course it's better to do well. But a humanities class freshman year? That's the type of class which is going to count least. I wouldn't worry about it too much. What type of grade are you looking at anyway? If it's a B, don't sweat it.


However, this should provide a lesson to research classes and professors before you take them -- my school has a student run prof/class evaluation website, many other schools have something similar.

EDIT: I didn't say the following explicitly (although I meant to): although a bad humanities grade freshman year isn't going to end you, certainly don't make a habit of poor humanities grades.
Last edited by dlenmn on Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Mon Feb 11, 2008 5:50 pm

all your grades matter. sure, graduate school applications have a place for you to put your major gpa. of course, they care most about how well you did in physics and math. however, if you want to go to a top school, you are competing against people who have a 4.0 or near to it in everything. if you have a 3.3 overal and a 4.0 math/physics, it's going to look like you are lazy or don't care about anythig except physics, and that doesn't look good. Do the best you can. and yes, you should visit ratemyprofessor.com or .org or whatever.




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