Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

Silahtar
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2010 3:35 pm

Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby Silahtar » Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:32 pm

Hi,

I have recently received my test scores for the October PGRE and they were quite terrible (510) and I doubt that my November scores, which I won't see before applying to a couple of my prospective graduate schools, will have improved by the 200 points required to get me in the 700 range.

As an applicant I am strong in other areas of my application. I have a 3.7 GPA, will be graduating with honors, and have had three years of research experience resulting in a couple publications in respectable journals: one which is published, two that will be published before the end of the year, and one which is in the works and will be submitted shortly. Also, all my letters of recommendation are coming from researchers whom I have worked with extensively and will publish with.

I think the reason I failed so badly on the PGRE was because I struggled with finding ways to effectively study all the material for it. When I entered college I skipped many of the introductory courses at my university and jumped right into upper division work (at the small liberal arts college I attend it is easy to take any class you want regardless of prerequisites), so I missed out on the type of material and problems that are covered by the PGRE. My timing on the test is pretty good, I am able to see what questions will take to long to solve (or I don't get) and move on. Generally I get through the whole test with 20 minutes to spare and have time to go back and look at problems that I skipped. I have memorized almost all the equations I could need for the test, but I still have trouble getting enough answers right to balance the ones I got wrong.

I found this site about a week ago and have learned a great deal about the test, ways to study for it, and how important it is (the professors at my college have never really emphasized its importance so I approached the test in a casual manner). Unfortunately much of this information is coming a bit late, and after having looked at the Applicant Profiles and Admissions Results pages I am deeply worried that I will not be accepted to the graduate schools that I am applying (University of Michigan, Northwestern, Duke, etc. -- my interest is specifically in complex systems and there are not many schools which have departments or emphasis on this kind of multidisciplinary research so the schools I have chosen are very specific for being strong in this area).

So my question is essentially this: Should I wait to apply to graduate school until next year, so I can spend all my time studying for the PGRE and get a much better score? Or should I apply now and see if they will accept me, and if not apply to the same schools next year? (How do schools react to repeat applicants, if at all?)

I have safety schools that I am confident in getting in too, but I really believe it would be a waste to attend them since I know I can do so much better. The main thing that concerns me is that taking a year off JUST to get better scores on this test is sort of ridiculous and will be a waste of time, since I wish to continue doing research and am unsure of what opportunities there are for me to do so (I imagine there are internships I could find somewhere).

Any advice or comments (on my situation or on how to study for the test) would be greatly welcome, thanks.

pqortic
Posts: 398
Joined: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:24 am

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby pqortic » Sat Nov 20, 2010 5:57 pm

the nature of the PGRE is to test your physics knowledge and somehow your subtleness. it's even more ridiculous to publish some papers in respectable journals without knowing the basic physics concepts which is implied from your pgre score. it only means that you were lucky to get into a big research group and they put your name in the paper because you were around! and I don't think that is the case. on the other hand, 3.7 gpa from a small liberal art college where you were allowed to skip prerequisites doesn't mean a lot. so I think taking a year off and improve the resume and get a better gre score is worth it to get into a top school rather than being hindered in a not so well school. however, occasionally having strong connections can get you into your dream schools even without having a decent pgre score.
there is a similar thread you may take a look:
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=756&p=23713&hilit=+taking+a+year+off+#p23713

Silahtar
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2010 3:35 pm

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby Silahtar » Sat Nov 20, 2010 6:21 pm

pqortic wrote:the nature of the PGRE is to test your physics knowledge and somehow your subtleness. it's even more ridiculous to publish some papers in respectable journals without knowing the basic physics concepts which is implied from your pgre score. it only means that you were lucky to get into a big research group and they put your name in the paper because you were around! and I don't think that is the case. on the other hand, 3.7 gpa from a small liberal art college where you were allowed to skip prerequisites doesn't mean a lot. so I think taking a year off and improve the resume and get a better gre score is worth it to get into a top school rather than being hindered in a not so well school. however, occasionally having strong connections can get you into your dream schools even without having a decent pgre score.
there is a similar thread you may take a look:
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=756&p=23713&hilit=+taking+a+year+off+#p23713


Would it degrade my chances in any way if I were to apply now and not get in, and then apply the following year to the same schools with a better GRE score?

CarlBrannen
Posts: 381
Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby CarlBrannen » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:20 am

If you don't get in, take some "unmatriculated" grad classes and show them that you can keep your head above water.

pqortic
Posts: 398
Joined: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:24 am

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby pqortic » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:55 pm

Silahtar wrote:
pqortic wrote:the nature of the PGRE is to test your physics knowledge and somehow your subtleness. it's even more ridiculous to publish some papers in respectable journals without knowing the basic physics concepts which is implied from your pgre score. it only means that you were lucky to get into a big research group and they put your name in the paper because you were around! and I don't think that is the case. on the other hand, 3.7 gpa from a small liberal art college where you were allowed to skip prerequisites doesn't mean a lot. so I think taking a year off and improve the resume and get a better gre score is worth it to get into a top school rather than being hindered in a not so well school. however, occasionally having strong connections can get you into your dream schools even without having a decent pgre score.
there is a similar thread you may take a look:
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=756&p=23713&hilit=+taking+a+year+off+#p23713


Would it degrade my chances in any way if I were to apply now and not get in, and then apply the following year to the same schools with a better GRE score?


no. that only shows you are a determined applicant.

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby grae313 » Sun Nov 21, 2010 7:32 pm

I think you should definitely apply this year because the rest of your application is good. If you are not admitted to any schools that you are excited about attending, it won't hurt your application in any way to try again next year. Just make sure that you are doing research during that year as well as studying.

I also disagree with pqortic's assessment of your PGRE score. You did well in upper division physics courses and have favorable recommendations from research advisers, so questioning your ability to do real physics based on a 170 minute test seems a little silly to me.

geshi
Posts: 200
Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:01 am

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby geshi » Tue Nov 23, 2010 12:25 am

My story was similar to yours. I took an unintentional year off (my PGREs were so bad I got rejected from every program I applied to). I took a year off, got my PGREs up and had much better luck the second time around. A year off really isn't the end of the world. It'll give you time to enjoy your miscellaneous hobbies before you go to grad school and find you not having time to do any of them.

I reapplied to 6 of the 7 schools that rejected me the year before. I got accepted into at least 2 or 3 of them the second time around (the places that rejected me two years in a row were definite "reach" schools for me like UW-Madison and UT). So I don't think they really care if you're a re-applicant. I think the choice is up to you. The disadvantage of applying 2 years in a row is all the money you'll have to spend on application fees and what not.

rb87
Posts: 6
Joined: Tue Nov 23, 2010 6:51 pm

Unfortunate Year off- What to do?

Postby rb87 » Tue Nov 23, 2010 7:03 pm

Hey physicsGRE posters. I'm a first time poster, long time lurker with an important request for advice.

Backstory: Long story short, the clock in the room where I took the PGRE was 10 minutes slow, so I was late in transferring my answers from the test booklet to the scantron (I always have done this at the end of exams, though I now realize it can be foolish...). It would've taken me only a minute to transfer my answers, but they wouldn't let me. So, despite answering all hundred questions in the booklet, only the 62 that I managed to transfer to the scantron will be scored. Needless to say, I will not be happy with my score and neither will grad schools. So, I'm just going to have to redo it in April.

That means that I now need to find something to do next year. I am very interested in eventually going to graduate school. With that in mind, what things should I be looking to accomplish with my "free" year. As a quick note, I don't have all that much money, so I can't do anything too interesting like travel the world for a year.

As an example, would it hurt my applications next year if I wind up working as an analyst at some consulting firm for a year? Or should I be focusing on trying to do something research/industry related? If so, what types of opportunities are available in research/industry for someone with a Bachelors in Physics from a small (but very well regarded) LAC?

User avatar
twistor
Posts: 1531
Joined: Thu Apr 13, 2006 2:47 pm

Re: Unfortunate Year off- What to do?

Postby twistor » Tue Nov 23, 2010 11:14 pm

You should have made a big deal about the clock issue. I would've made it into a major issue.

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Unfortunate Year off- What to do?

Postby grae313 » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:47 am

That's so messed up!! If the rest of your application is good (great grades, solid research), and if you can afford it, I'd apply and explain what happened in your SOP. I'd ask your letter writers to mention it and see what happens. You can always try again next year if you don't like the results.

Your year off is best spent doing research from an admissions committee's eyes. I don't think the consulting job would hurt or help your application, but there's a chance it might hurt it. Contact professors at your school or any nearby schools about doing research over the next year.

Silahtar
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2010 3:35 pm

Re: Wait a year to apply to grad-school?

Postby Silahtar » Mon Nov 29, 2010 6:05 pm

Thanks everyone for the great advice, it has been really helpful. If I do not get into the schools I really want to get into, then I will probably take the year off. Thankfully I made a lot of connections that I have kept in contact with at the institutions where I worked. I have expressed interest in continuing to working with them so I am confident that I will be able to keep busy doing research over the next year.




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 2 guests