What's weighted and how much?

  • 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.

qanx
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Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:58 pm

What's weighted and how much?

Postby qanx » Sun Mar 18, 2007 8:49 pm

I was wondering how much (on average, at least) schools look at the different aspects of an application. Such as "Has this person done undergrad research?", "What is this person's GRE scores?", "What is this person's grades?", and of course: "Any other questions that the author of this post cannot think to ask, but we consider *muhahaha*"

In particular I am concerned with the undergrad research. I have had a hard time finding anything at other institutions, and at my current univ. there is only one cosmologist (everybody else is doing particle physics). I tried applying to several REU's, and while I'm hoping for the best I'm going to try for a backup plan just in case. Although I honestly have no idea what that would be, yet.

The second question: I've started prepping for the Nov. subject test, and while my plan of attack is "score as high as possible" I want to know what minimum I should be achieving for the various schools I'd like to go to. Of course if you ask they say "we look at all sorts of things besides GRE scores". My foot. In undergrad they look at other things besides your SATs, but yet each school has a mean SAT score, and while stdev would be nice to know, at least we know the mean :P

Grades: If someone has a bunch of B's (curse you, job) and has one low (but not failing) grade, do they really look at it as "this is either a blip or something else happened, but this is an overall good student" or do they assume that you're lazy/underachieving/[insert negative thoughts here]

On a side note: when applying to undergrad I heard schools preferred lower (i.e. high C, low B) grades for more advanced course work than higher grades (high B, A's) for average coursework. Does this still hold for grad school?

Lastly: What "real world" options do I have if I forgo grad school applications for a year and work? And what types of jobs would be beneficial toward me going for astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology/etc.?

Any other info appreciated, sorry so long ^.^

This is what I call the "WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!?!1111one" panic. Please keep your hands and arms inside the post until the author has made a complete stop, thank you and have a pleasant trip.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Sun Mar 18, 2007 9:08 pm

The only answer as far as I know to any of your questions is no answer at all, it all depends on who's looking at your record. I once, for sheer laughs, asked 10 profs at my school whether a student going to grad school in physics should get a BS or a BA. And as I expected, the results were split 5-5. The answer to any other question concerning what a person would think when looking at a particular strength or flaw on your record would get equally discrepant replies.

Though one really important question I have is how much does the type of research we did as an ugrad affect admissions decisions. Is it critical that our research reflects that of what we designate as our area of interest in the personal statement or that which the prospective dept is doing, or does any type of demonstrated resarch excellence qualify? My research isn't remotely related to my area of interest.

I know MIT for instance said "Research background helps, especially if it's in your area of interest." So that leaves the question, to increase our chance of admission, if we want to study something other than what we researched as an undergrad, would it be to our benefit to pretend we want to continue researching what we did as a ugrad, and then switch afterward? Or should we be honest? In the former case, is it easy to swich focus areas in the beginning of grad school while you're taking intro classes and not researching yet?

I apologize if I detract focus from qanx's post, but I thought this question fit well with his/her questions.

FYI Qanx: The only thing I've heard about the importance of grades once in grad skewl is, "Just try not to get C's, anything better is fine."

qanx
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Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:58 pm

Postby qanx » Sun Mar 18, 2007 10:05 pm

Actually the grade(s) in question are a D+/C+ combo. Before I figured out I could challenge it (I took 300/400 level physics classes my second year) he had thrown them out (i.e. after a week). Basically what it boils down to is that the professors I've spoken to about him say that they are more than willing to "explain away" the grades in their letters of recommendation (and before you ask: no I can't retake it because he's the only one who teaches it), but I don't know if that will be enough. I've even been told that if I applied to grad school where I am now (even though I don't want to), they'd just ignore that class entirely. But I don't know if "explaining" will be enough. I'm still worried that those grades are going to get me rejected from all the REUs I applied to (even though I have lots of stuff I can do, such as work in three different operating systems, code, and etc.) >.<

P.S. Sorry for the rant

baksiidaa
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Joined: Sat Feb 03, 2007 6:35 pm

Postby baksiidaa » Mon Mar 19, 2007 11:11 am

If you want to know some average GRE scores, etc, go to http://www.gradschoolshopper.com/

qanx
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Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:58 pm

Postby qanx » Mon Mar 19, 2007 11:51 am

Yeah, I've been there before. Usually they just say that the score is "dependent upon a student's record" without giving a general idea for their average. They do, however, give a lot of info (comparatively) about the TOEFL exams (oh, to be an international student... although I have a feeling that they are not much more better off).

But thanks for the suggestion!

physicsgirl
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Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 2:32 pm

Postby physicsgirl » Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:14 pm

I feel I should weigh in on this since I am an unusual case. i did BAD on the physics GRE ~45%. However, I got into 3 top 10 schools. I also have one semester of really bad grades, but then three consecutive years of A's and B's.

What I think saved me (and this is somewhat informed as one of the universities talked to me about their decision on visiting weekend - they have students on the admissions commit.) is that I am an experimentalist. I had 2 years of research experience (but no pubs), 3 strong letters of rec & won an undergrad research fellowship.

Don't despair! Some schools (and good ones not just U of Podunk State) will look at your whole package. I even got feedback on my personal statement. Don't worry if one area is bad, just try and present the best complete package you can.

FYI - I have no idea if any of this applies for theorists - I think grades & GRE are way more important for you - but I am basing that purely on the rumor mill.

braindrain
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Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Mon Mar 19, 2007 5:24 pm

Can I ask which schools had students on their admissions committee? On the surface this sounds bad to me. I think a student would be harder on another student. Why do you think it helps?

physicsgirl
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Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 2:32 pm

Postby physicsgirl » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:22 pm

braindrain - It was actually one school I was referring to - U Chicago. I'm not sure if they are harder on you or not but it seems to me students would be more likely to consider the whole package than someone who hasn't gone through the admissions process for 20+ years.

Also, I think my case was unique - i'm a "nontraditional" student who tried school, did poorly, went back and really thrived.. One of things they commented on was my maturity,i.e. I have already tried many things and settled on this path so I am prehaps more likely to stick to it. i am not trying trying to say there is anything wrong with being the star student who graduates with a great record at 21, I am just trying to give hope to other outliers like myself. The skills required to be a good physicist are not necessarly measured by the GRE and some of the admission's comittees seem to recognize it.

Of course geting a 990 on the GRE is never going to hurt anyone :D , but try not to stress out about it so much - especially you juniors. Although, I must admit I found this advice impossible to follow myself :D

qanx
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Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:58 pm

Postby qanx » Mon Mar 19, 2007 10:27 pm

You said that you actually left school for a little while and came back, what did you do in the interim?

Just curious - because I'm beginning to debate a similar path.

physicsgirl
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Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 2:32 pm

Postby physicsgirl » Tue Mar 20, 2007 1:11 am

About taking time off...

I took time off during undergrad because I was in a totally different major and totally unhappy. I went back older and wiser and much more focused. I didn't really do anything productive with time off, just held random office jobs. ABout coming back after time off:

Pros: you might be more displined/focused, you will probably finish faster, you may have a better idea how to spend "the rest of your life"

Cons: it's really hard to go back to living as an impoverished student, you might not go back, think about how you will pay for it - I had to take out some loans...

But you should do what is best for you & only you know what that is. The one piece of wisdom I wish I could impart ot the younger me: don't stay in a situation that makes you unhappy for any longer that you have to


sorry for the rant - completely just my 2 cents, I should also add I have no idea what affect taking time off has on grad school apps, I certainly felt I had some explaining to do in my personnal statement

braindrain
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Tue Mar 20, 2007 10:42 am

@physicsgirl: I too am curious about your situation. I guess that was one point, did you describe yourself as nontraditional in your statement or did you let them figure it out? Would you advise people to explain themselves and hardships and such or just go by the accomplishments made? How did you prove to them you are likely to stay in your field of choice without them thinking, oh, she's just trying one more thing? Did you get a sense for how many students they actually put on an admissions committee, does the whole student body know your business or is it just one student? If you don't mind my asking, are you are also a minority? When they called you 'mature', isn't that just a euphemism for 'older'. Can I ask how much time off or is that too personal, I'm just wondering if its just a few years or is a lot more than a few? Sorry so many questions, but it may really crack the case of how an admissions committee might think.

All I can say is: Congratulations and good for you!!

physicsgirl
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Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 2:32 pm

Postby physicsgirl » Tue Mar 20, 2007 3:21 pm

braindrain - not too personal...

I am twenty six which I guess is about 4-5 years off from the norm. I did somewhat explain in my personal statement, but not in a whiny way. My 1st paragraph was esentially like (much more elagently) "when I first started school i was directionless, unfocused, yada yada but now I have found my true calling - physics" However, the rest of my statement just described my accomplishments and my research experience.

I think that if you feel you have some explaining to do try and do it in a "i made mistake X but here's what I learned and how it has enhanced my life experience" sort of way as opposed to a "here's all the bad things that happened to me that i couldn't control" sort of way. The comment from the graduate sectary that sticks out in my mind was she said the committee was very impressed with my honesty.

Does knowing any of this help anyone else? - I have no idea. Except maybe to say don't put yourself in the box of "I have X scores/GPA so I should apply to Y schools". There are schools which will actually look at your WHOLE application without culling you by GRE score/GOA/etc.

good luck to all

graviton
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Joined: Sun Dec 03, 2006 3:03 pm

Postby graviton » Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:48 pm

physicsgirl, what are the chances of you going to UChicago? I am waitlisted in astro and I really really really want to go there. Did you have a vist weekend or anything? How is it looking?

physicsgirl
Posts: 14
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 2:32 pm

Postby physicsgirl » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:32 pm

graviton - I hate to pick on you but....

I wish people need to stop posting and suggesting what others should choose, this just makes me not want to use this forum. I know this has been said before in other posts.

I know that it is frustating to be on waitlists (I guess I'm still on two - or just haven't received my rejections =) ) However, for example, at U Chicago, Astromy is a seperate department so I don't see how my decision regarding physics has any affect on your waitlist chances. Also, I am strongly leaning towards Chicago, I had a great visit there and was very impressed by many aspects of the department.

I posted my experience so others reading this would have an idea what varied applicants get into different departments. It can be discouraging reading the many perfect credentials lots of you great physicists post for us with a nonperfect record. I feel choosing a grad school is one of the most importnat decisions I will make in my life, and there are many factors to consider; I will way all my choices and think long and hard before deciding. I think this is what EVERYONE should do.

Good luck to all and sorry for ranting, but I think the posts asking a specific person X to withdraw their application at school Y are unwarranted.

graviton
Posts: 10
Joined: Sun Dec 03, 2006 3:03 pm

Postby graviton » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:59 pm

I'm sorry, for some reason I thought that you were into the astro department.

But it is not unreasonable to ask people who are certain to not accept a certain offer to notify the school in a timely manner for the sake of waitlistees.

imagine
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Sep 01, 2007 3:35 am

Postby imagine » Sat Sep 01, 2007 5:32 am

Hi physicsgirl,

I am interested to know how you got from directionless to getting to know physics as your calling?




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