Graduate Level Courses

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quantumchaos
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Graduate Level Courses

Postby quantumchaos » Sun Nov 18, 2012 8:59 pm

How much do graduate level courses influence one's application? Specifically, I'm taking a few graduate level physics courses at an Ivy (top 10 in physics). I'll have taken the following grad level courses by the time I graduate:

QM I/II
QFT I/II*
Particle Physics
Math Methods
E&M*
Stat Mech

*indicates that this will be spring term my senior year, so the grade won't show up on my application.

I know this is a difficult question to answer, but I'd appreciate any insight.

TakeruK
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby TakeruK » Mon Nov 19, 2012 1:52 pm

I think it can help your application if you do really well -- e.g. if your letters can say something like "Student took graduate course X in his/her senior year and placed Xth rank in the class of graduate students." I don't think you can expect to have these credit "transfer" to a PhD program, but you might be able to take another elective in place of one of the courses you've taken! From my experience, it seems like most schools would prefer you to take their version of the course though.

In addition, if you do decently well (maybe not the top X students but A- or higher perhaps) then it could serve to prove that you're capable of graduate level coursework. Usually, the PGRE is used to judge this so doing well in grad courses might lessen the weight of your PGRE score!

You're lucky to be able to take so many grad courses in your undergrad! At my school, they strongly discouraged it (for some unknown reason). The official rule was that a student must have finished 50% of their senior credits before registering in a grad course (so we basically can only take one grad course in our final semester), but sometimes the course we're interested in is in the fall semester!

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quizivex
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby quizivex » Mon Nov 19, 2012 2:01 pm

TakeruK makes a good point that if you take graduate courses and do well, it'd be best to have one of your recommenders point it out in their letter. It's often not obvious when something is a graduate course by its title when looking at the transcript. In addition, the numbering system can vary by school and the committees may not look closely at the numbers. The same goes for any accomplishment that might not be obvious when looking at your application... have one of your recommenders mention it or at least put it in your SOP.

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twistor
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby twistor » Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:48 pm

Something no one else has mentioned is that your course credits will likely transfer meaning you will be able to get started on research earlier. That is a plus for you.

bfollinprm
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:51 pm

Or better yet, that you can likely take a stab at passing the prelim upon entry.

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twistor
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby twistor » Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:53 pm

bfollinprm wrote:Or better yet, that you can likely take a stab at passing the prelim upon entry.


I wouldn't do this. Who wouldn't want more time to study?

bfollinprm
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:06 am

passing the prelim gets you more attention earlier from prospective advisors.

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twistor
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby twistor » Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:46 am

bfollinprm wrote:passing the prelim gets you more attention earlier from prospective advisors.


I doubt anyone would even notice. And I've never known an adviser to actively seek out a specific student.

quantumchaos
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby quantumchaos » Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:13 pm

Thanks for the replies, everyone. As was mentioned, I don't plan to take my quals earlier than usual--I'd really like time to take advanced courses.

Regarding grades in these courses, how will admissions committees view me? I have an A and A- in my two grad courses right now, and obviously this will look good, but how would a few B+'s look? Perhaps my question is better phrased: at what point (grad-wise) does it make more sense to take the undergrad version of a course? I'm taking the grad courses because I love physics, not because I want to "get ahead," but I should probably consider how the grades will eventually look.

TakeruK
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby TakeruK » Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:35 pm

I think it depends on the rest of your applications. If you have lots of research experience and everything else is strong, if your GPA is lowered by Bs in grad courses, the committee will probably take a closer look and realise you took the more difficult grad courses (or perhaps you would want to mention this -- the fact that you took lots of grad level courses, not the lower grades -- in your SOP). If this is the strongest part of your application, then you really want to emphasize it.

Overall, I don't think it could really hurt you to take grad level courses instead of undergrad ones. However, if you are taking the grad level course (e.g. grad QM) then I am assuming this means you already took all of undergrad QM before taking the grad QM? So even if you say, get a B+ in grad QM but got A's or better in undergrad QM, then the committee would be happy -- your high undergrad marks allow the grad courses to be viewed as a "bonus".

But, based on your last post, it might sound like you are considering an undergrad version vs. graduate level version, which makes me guess that you might be talking about cross-listed courses (i.e. same class for graduate and undergraduates but usually the grad students have a few extra assignments or a project etc.). Or maybe you are talking about the grad courses meant for new grad students who did not take topic X in their undergrad, rather than a grad course that builds on undergrad knowledge of topic X.

In these cases, it's my opinion that taking the grad level version would still be good -- it will show the committee that you like to challenge yourself. However, since GPA is still a factor of getting into schools, and that you don't have an undergrad senior level grade in this topic to "back you up", then be sure that you are not biting off more than you can chew! Setting priorities and knowing your limits is a very important part of being a graduate student, so if you went all out and took all graduate courses and got all B-'s, that's not going to be very good. That said, your application isn't going to reflect the marks for courses you take next semester anyways, so just score as well as you can in this semester! In addition, QFT is something not covered in standard undergrad physics, so that's a grade you don't have to worry about as much, since it's going to be "bonus".

quantumchaos
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby quantumchaos » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:58 pm

Thanks for the replies!

So, in looking through admissions profiles, it seems that 3.8+ is competitive at the very top schools (assuming the rest of the app is solid). But this GPA is typically in undergrad courses. What about a candidate that took almost exclusively graduate courses? Are admissions committees still looking to see that 3.8+ GPA or would a 3.7 be impressive? 3.6? I know this might be a difficult question to answer because this isn't typically done. I appreciate any insight.

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twistor
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby twistor » Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:01 pm

A candidate who took almost exclusively graduate courses would be a graduate student.

Minovsky
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby Minovsky » Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:56 pm

From the Columbia University graduate program FAQ:
Columbia wrote:Q: Do I need to have taken graduate courses to improve my chances to be accepted at Columbia?
A: Not really. What we are looking for is a solid background in undergraduate Physics. It is better to have an excellent undergraduate physics record than a poor one with graduate courses. Of course if you have an excellent undergraduate background and have done well in graduate physics courses, that probably indicates that you are a very strong candidate! In addition, you may be able to place out of the graduate courses in Quantum Mechanics and E&M.

Naturally, other schools may view things differently.

bfollinprm
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Re: Graduate Level Courses

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Nov 28, 2012 4:35 pm

Minovsky wrote:From the Columbia University graduate program FAQ:
Columbia wrote:Q: Do I need to have taken graduate courses to improve my chances to be accepted at Columbia?
A: Not really. What we are looking for is a solid background in undergraduate Physics. It is better to have an excellent undergraduate physics record than a poor one with graduate courses. Of course if you have an excellent undergraduate background and have done well in graduate physics courses, that probably indicates that you are a very strong candidate! In addition, you may be able to place out of the graduate courses in Quantum Mechanics and E&M.

Naturally, other schools may view things differently.



I second the notion given here as being the way most schools would view graduate courses. Basically, they'd be excited about someone who took and did well with Jackson (past chapter 5), and you might interest some specific faculty by taking specific graduate electives closely related to a research field, but as for the majority of graduate level courses, they're not going to provide you a significant boost either up (if your grades are good) or down (if your grades are not too hot).




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