Concerns about 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.
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Sentin3l
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:21 pm

Concerns about Grad School

Postby Sentin3l » Wed Apr 17, 2013 1:15 am

Hey there,

I am currently a sophomore at a fairly well respected university in the US, I am a physics/math double major with a current cumulative GPA of 3.173/4 and a major GPA of 3.050/4. I have summer research (this summer) lined up in cond-mat-ex, and a possible research opportunity next summer in hep-th (of which I am most interested). I have no current publications, and an extensive list of extracurriculars. I know my GPA's are not where they should be, however I plan to raise them in the next few semesters (shouldn't be too hard, I have all B's and about 3 A's, no grade less than a B-) as I take the big courses in my physics program (CM I&II, EM I&II, QM I,II,&III, SM I .... As well as others). I'm very confident that I will do well on the big courses that are coming up, for several reasons I won't elaborate on, assuming nothing in my life goes horrendously wrong.

My main concern is that if I continue on the "normal" application track (i.e. applying for grad school in the fall of your senior year) that I will have an extremely limited window to study and take both the GRE and PGRE (my course plan forces me to take many "crucial" courses in my senior year, after they would be useful on the GRE/PGRE, mainly EM) I have attempted to rectify this with changing up my plan, etc. but it seems that this is my only option. In addition, this track would prevent me from fully raising my GPA before applying (a max of ~3.75, but more realistically ~3.6) which I feel may harm my chances.

An alternative for me would be to suspend Grad school by a year and take the summer after my graduation as a study period for the GRE/PGRE, or possibly more research if a professor allows it. As well as possibly take supplementary graduate courses as a part-time student during the two following semesters (Fall/Spring) before going to grad school. This allows me ample time to study for the tests, and allows me to get a complete education of the subjects before taking the test (otherwise I would take the test without completing an electrodynamics course). Would the alternate path harm my chances at all, since I would be taking a year off? Or is it worth going both routes and seeing if something works out the first time?

For reference, my current grad school prospects are: (By no means final, #1 & #2 are my top choices, although somewhat unrealistic given my stats)

1) Stanford
2) MIT
3) University of Delaware (I have good connections in the department here)
4) Purdue University
5) Virginia Tech
6) Carnegie Mellon
7) Temple University (Safety)


Thanks in advance for any feedback or assistance.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby microacg » Wed Apr 17, 2013 10:51 am

Can you elaborate on why your gpa is currently low in your intro-level courses? If you really do pick things up and do well in the upper level physics classes that should be fine, but it's not as simple as you make it sound.

You can make the decision whether or not to delay after taking the PGRE most likely. If you take the October (and maybe November) tests you can apply that towards an application in the same year. Whether to send the October test to schools or wait until the November test could be a bit tricky and you'd need to know the policy from each school you are applying to about if they accept PGRE scores after the initial application or not, etc.

Sentin3l
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:21 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby Sentin3l » Wed Apr 17, 2013 6:13 pm

I had several close family members in the hospital. The grades weren't a matter of not understanding, but a lack of time. I don't plan to make any excuses for that on grad applications, but that is the reason why.

quantum_fan
Posts: 37
Joined: Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:30 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby quantum_fan » Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:50 am

I think this is actually a legitimate thing to bring up somewhere on your applications.

NoGodTryScience
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Sep 04, 2012 2:44 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby NoGodTryScience » Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:03 am

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Last edited by NoGodTryScience on Wed Jul 22, 2015 4:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Sentin3l
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:21 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby Sentin3l » Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:21 am

quantum_fan wrote:I think this is actually a legitimate thing to bring up somewhere on your applications.


You think? I've always heard to not make excuses for yourself on these sorts of things.

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quizivex
Posts: 1029
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:13 am

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby quizivex » Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:56 am

Sentin3l wrote:You think? I've always heard to not make excuses for yourself on these sorts of things.
Every committee member is different. Who knows what each person will think! It's possible that some of them would by sympathetic to the situation. Though note that "excuses" might be better if they're applied to explain one unusually bad grade or semester... not 3 semesters. It'd also be better if the hardship is mentioned in a recommender(s) letter, so that way it won't be looked at as an excuse coming from the applicant.

NoGodTryScience wrote:On a related note, I've been hospitalized before for a mental and behavioral disorder and this affected my performance in school. Should I bring this up at all or is it better not to? I dunno if it's a good idea to tell people about me being insane.
Heck no! They don't want someone deranged in their program. They might be sympathetic to hardships that detracted from the student's undergraduate record (e.g. mono) provided they are NOT creepy and are NOT going to continue being a problem in grad school.

Sentin3l
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:21 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby Sentin3l » Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:59 am

quizivex wrote:Every committee member is different. Who knows what each person will think! It's possible that some of them would by sympathetic to the situation. Though note that "excuses" might be better if they're applied to explain one unusually bad grade or semester... not 3 semesters. It'd probably be better if you have your recommender(s) point out the issues in their letters. It'd be better that way.


Good suggestion, thanks.

Lavabug
Posts: 66
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:19 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby Lavabug » Thu Apr 18, 2013 11:26 am

quizivex wrote:
NoGodTryScience wrote:On a related note, I've been hospitalized before for a mental and behavioral disorder and this affected my performance in school. Should I bring this up at all or is it better not to? I dunno if it's a good idea to tell people about me being insane.
Heck no! They don't want someone deranged in their program. They might be sympathetic to hardships that detracted from the student's undergraduate record (e.g. mono) provided they are NOT creepy and are NOT going to continue being a problem in grad school.

I find it sad that you use creepy as an adjective, but I think it proves a point. People still have conscious/unconscious bias against people with mental illnesses. It would be nice if people dropped the stigma associated with them, but that's the world we live in. Don't mention it in your personal statement unless you really feel the need to explain a bad streak of grades or something and can't think of something convincing to place instead of it (honestly, I don't think excuses of any kind belong in a SOP). Mental disorders are no fun and the reactionary behavior you get from most people when they find out is another obstacle altogether...

AprilMay4
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:37 pm

Re: Concerns about Grad School

Postby AprilMay4 » Thu May 02, 2013 12:12 pm

Sentin3l wrote:
quizivex wrote:Every committee member is different. Who knows what each person will think! It's possible that some of them would by sympathetic to the situation. Though note that "excuses" might be better if they're applied to explain one unusually bad grade or semester... not 3 semesters. It'd probably be better if you have your recommender(s) point out the issues in their letters. It'd be better that way.


Good suggestion, thanks.


I agree with everyone that bringing up reasons, whether it be medical or a mental/behavioral/neurological disorder, can be a tricky subject. I myself suffer from two neurological disorders and I definitely mentioned them in my SOP. I think it is more important that you think long and hard about how you talk about these issues.

If you only talk about them as these negative things that have made life so hard for you, then yeah the review committee will most likely think of it as a negative thing too. But if you talk about how you've overcome the obstacles that these issues have presented and how dealing with them has made you a stronger individual, then the committee will see your past problems as something that makes you stand out.

To summarize, if you are going to mention them (which I would) make sure to focus on the positives from them.

You can still mention that they have caused problems maybe by saying something like 'it took me a while to figure out how to cope with -xyz- and I struggled academically during that period, BUT throughout my experiences dealing with/managing -xyz- I have learned a lot about (managing my time, the importance of taking the time to be healthy both physically and mentally, approaching roadblocks from different avenues, etc.).' If you focus on how these things have made you stronger and a more qualified applicant, then they won't fault you for that.




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