Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

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FORTRAN
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Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby FORTRAN » Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:56 am

Sorry for the long post. I haven't posted in a while.
I was hoping for some incite. By the end of my stay as an undergrad, I will have been in it for 6 years earning degrees in physics and astronomy at a well respected public university for physics and astro. (The 6 years was due to transferring in from another college where my prereqs were not counted and one semester I Q dropped a course that was a prereq for the next semester class, thus pushing me back an added semester. Also I will have gotten two degrees). During my freshman and sophomore years, I was not adamant about grades. I ended up Q dropping two courses and failing one (none of which were in physics or astro). Next year will be my application year, and my suspected overall gpa will be around a 3.45 with a major gpa in phyiscs of 3.7 and astronomy of 3.8. I have had 4 years (all with respected faculty) of research with two papers (both in astro), one published, the other working its way through the process and hopefully will be later this semester. Assuming I get a decent score on the PGRE (65-70 percentile or so), do I even have a shot at top 10 (or even 15) schools? I am more concerned with actually getting into any grad school at this point. It seems like my gpa, failing course, and my Q dropped courses, which were all in lower-division math (somewhat silly), will be too much to weigh my app down. Also, I will most likely be applying in astro in areas where my research was in to increase my chances.

Thanks

FTN

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Unnatural Log
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby Unnatural Log » Sun Jan 25, 2009 10:44 am

FORTRAN - I had a worse overall and major GPA than you, and a PGRE of around 70 percentile, and I was one of the UT acceptances this past week, which I think certainly counts as a Top 15 school (in astro). Now, I never failed or dropped any courses, but I also didn't have any publications. My point is - yes, you still have a shot! Focus on that PGRE...

FORTRAN
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby FORTRAN » Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:35 pm

Yea my undergrad is actually UT and I have made a lot of friends in the department so hopefully that will work in my favor. Maybe I will see you here next year!

bigdmiller
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby bigdmiller » Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:21 pm

Removed temporarily.
Last edited by bigdmiller on Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

bigdmiller
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby bigdmiller » Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:22 pm

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Last edited by bigdmiller on Sat Feb 21, 2009 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

cato88
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby cato88 » Sat Feb 21, 2009 2:35 am

Is Caltech physics grad school not as competitive as undergrad because for undergrad you had to be near pristine with science fair experience.

sterculus
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby sterculus » Sat Feb 21, 2009 2:11 pm

From a pure % accepted point of view probably. I was not accepted for undergrad but got in for grad (same deal at MIT, actually), although I was a much more of a slacker in high school (compared to the applicant pool I'm sure my application to these places is much stronger than it was for undergrad).

cato88
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby cato88 » Sat Feb 21, 2009 3:28 pm

That is only a single case which could be true for a lot of people which would mean graduate program should be even more selective than undergrad PGRE 90+% and GPA 3.8+.On the other hand there is the fact that there is a spread of grades in Caltech's undergrad and Caltech cant just accept their undergrads so some are going to have less competitive GPA which might put them out of the running. Theory otherwise I have no clue.

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quizivex
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby quizivex » Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:29 pm

It's is a very interesting question whether doing well in HS or college is "harder". I think the level of intellect required to succeed in college (and hence get into a good grad school) is higher than what is needed to succeed in high school (and hence get into a good college). But in terms of difficulty of getting in, it may be more equal, or even swayed in the other direction.

My non-professional analysis hinges on the opinion that success in high school relies on different types of achievements than success in college. In high school, the typical top student is the classic well-rounded boy or girl who not only has top grades and test scores but also plays 3 varsity sports, is treasurer of the student council and is president of 3 student organizations, and ran local community service programs. Getting high grades in HS (except perhaps at competitive specialized private schools) is just not too difficult for those willing to put in the effort. To stand out intellectually, one needs to go way out of his way to draw attention to himself. Like cato88 suggested, science fair competitions is one thing. Some students take classes at nearby colleges while in high school, do all kinds of independent work and whatever BS... So many parents are starting their kids off at a young age to become star students…

There's very little chance for a typical talented, ambitious student in HS to go to a top undergrad college without playing the game since there just won't be enough chances to prove himself. Everyone takes essentially the same set of courses with minimal flexibility (either the AP/honors track or the non-honors track, and everyone going to college takes honors anyway). High SATs are just not going to impress many people. The math section is easy for anyone with decent skills. The verbal... mostly based on memorized vocab, is not relevant to the skills they need (more of a dork-detector than anything). Besides, so many students score high anyway. Imagine how many more 1600 SATs the top schools see from prospective physics undergrads compared to domestic 990 physics GREs.

But in college, people care much more about success in one's own field than any tangential accomplishments. Opportunities to shine are more naturally part of the experience. Most of the courses one takes are within his field, and they're far more challenging than "10th grade English", so the results are more important to grad committees. One can take very rigorous schedules to distinguish himsef, and double major. There are plenty of research opportunities available at most schools, along with relevant jobs like tutoring and TA-ing. Also, the standardized tests in college (specialized tests like subject GRE, LSAT, MCAT etc...) are far more relevant to one's merit than the SAT, and they're more difficult, which means getting a top score is a substantial achievement that gives you a great chance as long as the rest of your record is good. OTOH, most 1600 SATs are rejected from the elite undergrad schools.

Other factors may include the fact that a bachelor's degree is practically a prerequisite for gettting by in today's world, so there are far more people trying to get into undergrad than in grad school. However, there are also more spots. Also note how undergrad education is very expensive, so schools have an incentive to bring in as many students as they can handle. But in certain grad fields like physics, bringing in a student is a substantial cost and funding is limited, so that will naturally make things harder for us.

The prof I worked with in undergrad had a daughter who went to Caltech for physics. She was valedictorian of her high school (kudos) but she also participated in 3 research projects while in high school (WTF??). I wonder if having a physicist as a father helped any in her quest? How many times did you see research advertised in your high school? I never even heard of research… to us, research was a type of book report where you had to use the library… lol! :lol:

Clearly getting into the top undergrad schools usually requires some serious help along the way. The student and or his parents, fan club teachers/guidance counselors, must go well out of their way to get special opportunities. Whereas in college, those types of things still happen, but it’s still feasible for one to be a quiet success without drawing that much attention to himself. I took as many math and physics courses as I could, did great on the GRE, had a few fun side jobs, did an REU and turned out OK. Some students in the bio and chem departments were flying all over the country giving talks and networking and getting guided to “special scholarships” from the honors advisor at my school who loved them, and they did as well as I did… but at least I can say that “I did well” without stretching the truth.
:shock:

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WontonBurritoMeals
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:23 pm

Yeah, that's how I feel.

It's also worth mentioning how absolutely disparate the different HS programs are in the U.S. Some public schools have 20 or more AP programs. Some have none. It basically depends on where you live (i.e. how rich you are). Do we really want to base our entire education system's yields on wealth? Using competitive exams like most other countries seem to make @ least some more sense. Of course I'm one of the people who comes from poorness and is good at exams, so obviously I'm going to be biased.

Since being a professor generally requires a very high standerd of education, you see opportunities at almost every college, especially since you're highly subsidized in college through financial aid, scholarships, special programs like REUs, and you have some actual job opportunities.

Part of me may be bitter that everyone assumes that I'm a moron for going to a state school.

May the wind be always at your back,
-Wonton Burrito Meals

cato88
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Re: Blemishes too much for decent grad school?

Postby cato88 » Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:33 pm

quizivex wrote:Imagine how many more 1600 SATs the top schools see from prospective physics undergrads compared to domestic 990 physics GREs.

This is clearly due to the amount of test takers for the respective tests because the percentiles wouldnt agree with this statement and much less so for 1600 than 800 Q. I guess the SAT is 2400 now.
WontonBurritoMeals wrote:Do we really want to base our entire education system's yields on wealth? Using competitive exams like most other countries seem to make @ least some more sense.

Yes but graduate physics programs seem to put some emphasis on standardized testing but not as much as professional schools. This is shown by the average GPA/GMAT/LSAT scores of professional school admits compare to the average GPA/PGRE of physics grad school admits. There is also still a legacy system so if it favors the wealthy for HS it must favor it for college too. However I also would think standardized testing favors the wealthy from my experience as a personal tutor for the wealthy.


quizivex wrote:One can take very rigorous schedules to distinguish himsef, and double major. There are plenty of research opportunities available at most schools, along with relevant jobs like tutoring and TA-ing. Also, the standardized tests in college (specialized tests like subject GRE, LSAT, MCAT etc...) are far more relevant to one's merit than the SAT, and they're more difficult, which means getting a top score is a substantial achievement that gives you a great chance as long as the rest of your record is good.

I dont believe admission committees for graduate are as impressed with rigorous schedules/double majors because from presentations I have been in regarding admissions at physics programs the reviewers have said they dont care that much.
Undergrad admissions explicitly penalize students who dont challenge themselves by taking the most difficult courses offered.
Most top schools require taking a few SAT II's ie the SAT subjects tests and in all honesty 65% of the physics GRE is at the level of the AP Physics B/C multiple choice section since only 12% is quantum and they keep trying to cut back on calculations.




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