Advice on my grad school list?

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Advice on my grad school list?

Post by hopefulastro » Fri Oct 11, 2019 3:15 pm

Advice on my grad school list

I’m trying to finalize my grad school list soon and was hoping for advice on my current list. Is it realistic, or should I aim lower or higher? Also please feel free to suggest any schools not on this list that you think might be a good match for my stats + research interests (if you know of any).

Last year I applied to 10 schools, all PhD programs in physics and/or astronomy. 8 of them were UC schools (the other two were UT Austin and U Washington), and I said in all my applications that I wanted to focus on theoretical and computational cosmology. I got rejected everywhere (in retrospect, not surprised). I applied during the fall of my 5th year (took an extra quarter so this was my last quarter). Last year, here were my stats:

GPA: 3.63 (last two years cumulative GPA from a top school); 3.92 (first two years at a lesser-known public school before transferring to the top school)
Major: Physics
GRE: 163Q, 156V, 4.0AW
PGRE: 21st percentile (5 out of 10 schools I applied to required this; didn’t send it to the others)
Letters of rec: 2 from former PIs + 1 from a prof of a class I did well in (but he didn’t know me very well)
Research: Did research in theoretical astrophysics (creating models of interstellar dust extinction) throughout my 4th year, which resulted in a poster presentation at my school’s undergrad research day as well as at an astronomy conference. I also did two summers of research (summer before 4th year and summer before 5th year) in the Planetary & Space Sciences department, and this professor told me his letter of rec was strong.
Other: I was very involved with the Physics department (leadership positions in almost every astronomy/physics/women in physics club), and was also the manager of a student-run research project where I mentored younger undergrads.

Updated stats of this year:

GRE: Going to retake next month
PGRE: Going to retake this month. I don’t expect to do significantly better, but less of the schools require the score this time around.
Research: Since I graduated (Dec 2018), I’ve been doing a lot more research. From Jan-June I worked with a professor at my school in observational astrophysics and we are currently prepping a publication. In July I started working full-time doing science and data analysis of data from a NASA-funded satellite which is run out of my school, and this is what I’m doing currently.
Additional coursework: I took a grad course at my school in cosmology/extragalactic astrophysics (the second one in the grad series, without taking the first one), and got an A. I’m also currently taking a machine learning in R class online (offered through my school), which I expect to get an A in.
Letters of rec: I will now have 4 letters available, all from previous or current PIs and I believe they will be stronger.

My current grad school list:

1. UCLA — PhD in Astronomy/Astrophysics
My undergrad school, and also applied last year. Requires the PGRE.
2. UC Irvine — PhD in Physics
Also applied last year. Does not consider PGRE.
3. UC Santa Cruz — PhD in Astronomy/Astrophysics
Also applied last year. PGRE is optional but recommended.
4. University of British Columbia — Masters in Astronomy
PGRE is optional, but they say to report if you’ve taken it…
5. Georgia Tech — PhD in Physics
PGRE is optional (will not submit).
6. University of Oregon — PhD in Physics
PGRE is required.
7. Cal State Northridge — Masters in Physics
PGRE not required (I think).
8. University of Southern California — PhD in Physics w/ Masters in Computer Science (joint program)
PGRE is required.
9. UMass Amherst — PhD in Astronomy
PGRE is optional (will not submit).
10. San Fransisco State — Masters in Physics w/ concentration in Astronomy
PGRE optional or not considered (will not submit).
11. Wesleyan University — PhD in Physics
PGRE recommended but not required (will not submit).

I’m also going to saying in my apps that I’m interested in observational astronomy (primarily extragalactic); I have a strong interest for the CMB and large-scale structure (such as large galaxy surveys and SN1a observations). All advice is welcome! I don’t really want to apply to any more than this number of schools, but I am open to replacing some on here with better options if available. Thanks!

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