Page 1 of 1

Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 3:23 am
by tiyusufaly
I had one relatively weak semester my sophomore year which really brought my GPA down. It was anomalously weak. But I did really well, and performed at my best yet in my junior year.

Do graduate schools take this improvement into consideration? Are they willing to overlook it if you screwed up one semester in your earlier years and then made up for it by really rocking your upper level classes? Or would they still really hold that one semester against you?

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 12:27 pm
by marten
I think that graduate schools will overlook a weak semester, especially if it is early on and you did better in the later years. Many people have a poor semester, and it seems that most of them have it during their sophomore year. I did, actually both my sophomore semesters weren't very good.

Marten

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 12:38 pm
by christopher3.14
Hmm, I wonder what other people have to say on this, but I was told -- to my face -- by the graduate student secretary (who deals with prospectives) at a top 20 program that lower division grades are not looked at when making a decision. And I remember most schools ask for a breakdown of your GPA in terms of cumulative, last 90 (qtr) units (which is roughly the last 2 years), etc.

I would think that since lower division courses are used to prepare for the tough upper division courses, then they wouldn't matter as much.

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 12:48 pm
by marten
There have been some good and thorough posts on this before, but what ultimately matters are the actual grades that you earned in the upper level physics classes. If your GPA was pulled down by a D in Human Sexuality or a C in East Asian Philosophy (as interesting as those classes may be), admissions committees will be more interested in the A you earned in Electromagnetism II.

Marten

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 1:11 pm
by fermiguy
marten wrote:There have been some good and thorough posts on this before, but what ultimately matters are the actual grades that you earned in the upper level physics classes. If your GPA was pulled down by a D in Human Sexuality or a C in East Asian Philosophy (as interesting as those classes may be), admissions committees will be more interested in the A you earned in Electromagnetism II.

Marten


Strongly agree with your post. It is my understanding as well that pretty much all graduate schools look at individual courses on transcripts and looks for high marks in courses that they care about. They can forgive a multitude of sins if your do well in your core physics and math courses.

As for overlooking a bad semester or two... I believe this is correct too. I know for instance, with admission to Canadian medical schools, they don't even look at your first two years of study because there is no correlation between success in medical school and high performance in 1st and 2nd year courses. Your Jr. and Sr. courses are the real deal maker.

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Fri May 23, 2008 2:04 am
by noojens
I wouldn't worry about it too much. I flunked out of school once (almost twice if you count my last semester of high school) and things worked out okay for me. Like you, I finished up undergrad with a string of strong semesters, and did well in all my upper division coursework. I don't think one semester will kill you, although it might be a dealbreaker if you're thinking about UChicago or Harvard or whatever. I'd say focus on stuff you can control - the GREs, finishing up your last couple semesters with strong grades, talking to your recommenders nice and early, and so on. G'luck

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Fri May 23, 2008 2:16 am
by tiyusufaly
This is reassuring, although noojens' post does worry me as I am considering UChicago, albeit in one of the less competitive areas (experimental AMO / CM). Hopefully they are less selective for that area.

I actually have another question. Say you are applying to be an experimentalist but your lab course grades are lower than your theory course grades (the standard, mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum, stat mech). However in general the school you go to grades lab courses harder than theory courses. Do schools hold it against you if you are applying for experiment?

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Fri May 23, 2008 9:25 am
by fermiguy
tiyusufaly wrote:Say you are applying to be an experimentalist but your lab course grades are lower than your theory course grades (the standard, mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum, stat mech). However in general the school you go to grades lab courses harder than theory courses. Do schools hold it against you if you are applying for experiment?


As long as the marks were not 'bad' and as long as you did well compared to the class, aka your ranking wasn't bad, it should be ok.

Re: Does a strong junior year override weaker earlier semesters?

Posted: Fri May 23, 2008 6:00 pm
by grae313
If there is a strong discrepancy, you can always have one of your recommenders briefly mention the difficult of the lab courses at your school (i.e. this student performed very well in our difficult lab courses). But if it's a small discrepancy, mentioning it will make you look like a nit.