harvard astronomy

  • 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.

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harvard astronomy

Postby rjharris » Thu Jan 04, 2007 2:44 am

i had a couple of questions for anyone who knew anything about harvard's astronomy program

first, anyone seen any stats listed for their average admitted applicant?

and, second, anyone know anyone who has gone through the program and who can comment on the program?

thanks in advance.

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Joined: Sat Nov 04, 2006 7:48 pm

Postby schmit.paul » Thu Jan 04, 2007 4:39 am

Nothing posted on gradschoolshopper.com for Harvard Astronomy, but for Harvard Physics they say: "Average GRE scores for 2003–04 admissions were verbal-682; quantitative-781; analytical-742; physics-892." I would expect something comparable for the astrophysics program, with perhaps a slightly lower mean physics score and almost identical general scores. But Harvard has got to be one of the quirkiest admissions committees around (you can't just be great, you also have to present yourself as someone who will be a great match for their whole philosophy), so general stats couldn't be a great indicator as to who will be successful and who won't. I applied to Harvard physics, so I suspect when February comes around and someone starts up a thread to keep track of admissions stats, we'll all be checking and rechecking obsessively trying to get a clue as to when the first wave of acceptance letters have been sent. Good luck

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Postby tnoviell » Thu Jan 04, 2007 9:24 am

Yea Harvard is a different school. While grades and scores obviously matter, they really care about your personality. They do not like uptight and worry-warts who are constantly looking for approval. I am from Boston so I've heard alot of stories about how people get accepted. One of my teachers had a brother who applied to the Harvard Law school - he filled out the application in crayon. They loved it and immediately accepted him.

Just an example :)

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Postby Richter » Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:36 am

How about the other schools? For example, does other famous schools like Caltech, MIT, Princeton and Stanford behave like Harvard? I did not apply for Harvard, but I am very interested in knowing their behaviour.
Also, is it very odd for me to ask the admission committee for my reason of failure after I received a rejection letter?

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Postby braindrain » Thu Jan 04, 2007 2:16 pm

I was an REU student at Harvard last summer and sat in on
an admissions luncheon for the Astronomy students.
The admissions committee guy was supernice and answered all of our questions. They really don't seem to bias or discriminate in anyway. People asked all kinds of questions like that to test that out. But, he did say you will get noticed if your GRE physics scores are superhigh, and above 75% puts you in the no questions asked zone. But, below that he didn't act like it was a done deal, but rather they had to discuss it. BUT, the most disenheartening thing was they
had so few spots for admissions, like 14 slots on a good year.
Rec letters from a name they heard of helped. Being a summer
student there and doing a good job also helped.

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Postby graviton » Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:56 pm

braindrain, do you happen to know who is in charge of the admissions there now? Is it still Prof. Goodman? I worked there last summer as well in the Radio division.

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Postby braindrain » Thu Jan 04, 2007 7:11 pm

I don't feel I can release the person's name on this site,
because that would be inviting 100's of e-mails to the poor guy. He
was too nice to do that too. I don't think he was in charge anyway.
It's done by committee. If there was a way I could tell you privately, but don't see how. Sorry. If you worked there you might
have known about events like that. I went to 3 admissions events
in different departments just to get a feel for what an admissions
committee member thinks like (and to see if they were human :)
and they were)

They actually all said one thing in common:
don't apply just because its Harvard, apply to places that you
would be happy at and that have the work you want to do. I
guess they know what they are dealing with.

I hope you enjoyed your summer there. It looked a great place!

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Postby rjharris » Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:41 pm


sorry to nitpick, but define "no questions asked," if you would. does that mean you automatically go to the n^th level of consideration where 1 < n < \infty ?

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Postby graviton » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:03 am

Good point. It was just curiousity anyway, not important enough to blow someone's cover.

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Postby braindrain » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:58 am

I don't know exactly what 'no questions asked' meant. But, my impression
was that it was NOT as you are describing a hierarchy where you move
to the next level (like a computer game? :) ), but rather, if your score was
lower they may look at possible reasons or other things. Like if your
score was lower but you didn't have all the courses for example, that
wouldn't necessarily rule you out, but they just talk about it. Again,
I don't know for sure, but it was just an impression.

He did say something interesting that I forgot to mention before.
That they like the obvious candidates, but also some non-obvious
candidates. I really liked that they had that attitude because not
everyone is made from a perfect cookie cutter :). I hope more schools
think that way.

He also said (its all coming back to me now) that it doesn't weigh
more when people write in their statement of purposes that they were interested in something since they were little kids because you could become
interested in something a year ago and why should that weigh
any less. I agree with that. Scientists do that all the time - jump on
board new interests. I would probably be annoyed or questioning that
sentiment also if I had to read 300 essays and they all said the same thing -
they were interested in something since they were a child and there's an implied sense of entitlement for that. I don't know if other people agree
or disagree on that.

I hope this helps. I really don't think there is any magic formula for this
admissions process.

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