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Need to know if I'm overestimating my power with my selections. (Condensed Matter Theory)

Posted: Sat Oct 28, 2017 7:18 am
by masterwindu
Hello there. I'm an international student trying to apply to US grad schools. Here's my background:

Undergraduate degree: Undergraduate Master degree in Theoretical Physics from a UK uni (Top 5 in Physics, not Oxbridge)

Grades: We don't have GPA. I was however, top in the cohort overall last year and my average mark is well beyond the first class threshold.

Research experience: Haha :roll: . Besides my current master thesis on topological phases, I only did one or two physics numerical projects. No publications obviously.

GRE: P:990 V:162 Q:164 AW:4

I'm currently looking to apply to schools relatively good at condensed matter theory (topological phases, fractionalized phases, phase transitions, high Tc superconductors, etc) and/or particle theory (Strings, LQG, Black holes etc) and here are my tentative choices (I have a few potential advisors in mind for each of them) :


Okay (I think)
UIUC (got a reply from a professor who says he would consider my application more closely, if that helps)
UC Berkeley

(Penn State)
(Texas at Austin)
(Colorado boulder)

Am I being too ambitious? Looking at the previous applicants profile and results, my academic record may look okay, but it's certainly no guarantee to admission, since a lot may still depend on LOR and SOP, or even the reputation of my university. I'm also slightly concerned that my lack of research experience, since apparently the discrepency in opportunities between US and UK is sometimes taken into consideration. What other schools could I consider for safety choices (PhD)?

Re: Need to know if I'm overestimating my power with my selections. (Condensed Matter Theory)

Posted: Sun Oct 29, 2017 1:41 pm
by TakeruK
I think you are a competitive enough candidate that it's worth applying to every school you may be interested in. So don't avoid any schools because it is a competitive one. Fit matters, so if you are a good fit, you have a good chance.

I notice that you have a lot of public state schools on your list. In the US, public schools charge way higher tuition and fees for international students compared to domestic students. This doesn't mean you pay more, but it means the Physics dept will have to pay more. Thus, at many schools, especially UC Berkeley and other UC schools, it is much harder to get in as an international student. Basically, there are only so many spots for international students and you have to compete with the top candidates around the world for them.

So, I would suggest that you add more private schools to your list that interest you.

Re: Need to know if I'm overestimating my power with my selections. (Condensed Matter Theory)

Posted: Tue Oct 31, 2017 8:58 am
by masterwindu
Thanks. I will keep that in mind!

Re: Need to know if I'm overestimating my power with my selections. (Condensed Matter Theory)

Posted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 12:41 am
I was also an MPhys student last year (also roughly top 5 for Physics, not Oxbridge) and applied for CMT. Had no publications when I applied, just a few undergraduate projects and had done my MPhys project for a couple of months at that point, so pretty similar to you. I wasn't top of my year though (but still in the top few percent) and had a PGRE of 950, so you've a better academic record than I had, but I'd still encourage you to apply to a few more safeties and schools outside the top 10. The competition is just really high - UC Berkeley had 970 applications for 45 spots last year and also take a look at the AIP enrollment data, UCSB has just 25 international physics graduate students out of a total of 135, so they only accept around 4 or 5 international students per year. So I wouldn't consider either of those schools much easier to get into than MIT or Princeton, even with your profile. CU Boulder and UMD are both great choices, some other schools you might want to look at are Boston University, Rice and Brown - all good schools for CMT, which also admit more internationals than they do US applicants, according to last year's data.

That being said, coming literally top in your year at a top 5 UK university is seriously impressive, so you definitely have a shot at getting into a top school. I still get the impression though that serious research experience (e.g. for several years of undergrad, having done multiple REUs, maybe having a publication etc.) is the most important thing for US schools. So it's hard to say if you're being too ambitious with your choices, but be prepared for the possibility of mostly rejections - I would just advise you to apply to a greater number of schools if you can afford it.

Good luck with your applications, I'm now in my first year at a UC school and really enjoying it! Feel free to PM me if you have any other questions.