Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post Reply
fduffy0328
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Feb 01, 2020 12:50 pm

Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by fduffy0328 » Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:47 pm

Hi all,

Working on determining my reach, match and safety schools. I've been using US News rankings as a start but it looks like there's some debate about whether or not these rankings are very useful for this in other threads. Anyone have some info they'd be willing to share?

Thanks!

geekusprimus
Posts: 51
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by geekusprimus » Sat Feb 29, 2020 11:18 pm

They're not a bad place to start, but they shouldn't be the final say in anything. They give you a very general idea that says, "Yes, lots of people think this physics program is very strong," or, "People think this school does a lot of notable research in this field," but it doesn't tell you what the specialties within that field are ("condensed matter" can mean anything from superconductors to playing with rocks), what professors are at the school, or what the grad student to mentor ratio is like.

EDIT FOR CLARIFICATION: The actual methodology the US News uses for calculating a program's strength is basically a popularity contest. They ask a bunch of academics in each field what they think about every other school on a scale of 1 to 5, add up all the scores, and rank each institution from highest score to lowest score. Since it's asking people who are hopefully knowledgeable in the field, it's definitely not useless, but it's not particularly rigorous. That being said, it gives you a pretty good idea what schools other people think are prestigious, which will have an effect on how academics will look at your job application for that postdoc or that tenure-track faculty position.

rhmancil
Posts: 16
Joined: Wed Feb 06, 2019 5:52 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by rhmancil » Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:23 am

There are two different rankings from US news.

First, the grad school (national) ranking of 2018:
https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-sc ... s-rankings
This is more about prestigious.

Second, the global ranking of 2019 (2020?):
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-g ... sics&name=
The methodology here is more professional. Some part is about prestigious, but it based on mostly about publications and their impacts.

From my point of view, it is better to see the ranking by tiers. First, not all universities are good in a specific area, besides there are many rankings. For some ranking, X university can be a top ten university, for another ranking X university can be far away from being the top ten. It is really important your specific area of research, I mean is really different from the high energy physics and AMO. Rice University is pretty good at AMO, but I would not say the same in Hep-th.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Sun Mar 01, 2020 6:23 am

geekusprimus wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 11:18 pm
That being said, it gives you a pretty good idea what schools other people think are prestigious, which will have an effect on how academics will look at your job application for that postdoc or that tenure-track faculty position.
I 100% agree with that part.

But I also agree with your comment about needing narrower sub-fields. I think breaking them up like arXiv does but with two separate CMT and CME categories would be a huge help on US NEWS.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Sun Mar 01, 2020 6:23 am

rhmancil wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:23 am
There are two different rankings from US news.

First, the grad school (national) ranking of 2018:
https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-sc ... s-rankings
This is more about prestigious.

Second, the global ranking of 2019 (2020?):
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-g ... sics&name=
The methodology here is more professional. Some part is about prestigious, but it based on mostly about publications and their impacts.

From my point of view, it is better to see the ranking by tiers. First, not all universities are good in a specific area, besides there are many rankings. For some ranking, X university can be a top ten university, for another ranking X university can be far away from being the top ten. It is really important your specific area of research, I mean is really different from the high energy physics and AMO. Rice University is pretty good at AMO, but I would not say the same in Hep-th.
I think while the 1st link isnt perfect as we discuss in this thread above, its still more helpful than the 2nd link.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Sun Mar 01, 2020 6:27 am

fduffy0328 wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:47 pm
Hi all,

Working on determining my reach, match and safety schools. I've been using US News rankings as a start but it looks like there's some debate about whether or not these rankings are very useful for this in other threads. Anyone have some info they'd be willing to share?

Thanks!
But this is a good strategy and the same I used! :)

It just requires that you know what you're thinking of pursuing! If you have no idea, than the best this method can do for you is expose some neat ideas for things you'd like to work on.

My strategy was to go down the list, look into that schools department page and then catalogue all the PIs doing work there I could potentially seeing myself enjoy. ArXiv, Google Scholar, and InspireHEP were game changers in this step.

I did that for the top 20 ish schools on US news and picked the top 5-10 ish who have the most (and most popular) PIs I was interested in to apply to as my reach.

cat_mama
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:07 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by cat_mama » Mon Mar 02, 2020 2:05 pm

fduffy0328 wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:47 pm
I've been using US News rankings as a start but it looks like there's some debate about whether or not these rankings are very useful for this in other threads.
I don't think the US News Rankings are useful, because they often don't distinguish subfields well. For instance, the main physics ranking which is the only ranking that includes more than 10 schools is useless because schools excel in different ways across subfields. Even looking at the subfield ranking, they don't distinguish theory vs experimental. For instance, I'm in condensed matter, where US News ranks as:
1. UIUC, 2. Berkeley, 3. MIT, 4. Harvard, 5. Stanford, 6. UCSB, 7. Cornell, 8. Princeton, 9. UChicago, 10. Caltech, 11. Penn State-Univ Park, 11. Maryland-College Park, 13. UPenn
but UIUC is much stronger in CMT than in CME, while IMO, Princeton belongs in Top 5 for CME. Also, the ranking doesn't reflect how many faculty in the field are at these schools, which could be important in case things don't work out with a single advisor in your field. Additionally, the rankings don't reflect the age of the advisors (which may indicate your PhD research potential) since the future research output of a professor with a PhD from 1980s is likely very different from a professor with a PhD from 2010s.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Mon Mar 02, 2020 6:16 pm

cat_mama wrote:
Mon Mar 02, 2020 2:05 pm
fduffy0328 wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:47 pm
I don't think the US News Rankings are useful, because they often don't distinguish subfields well. For instance, the main physics ranking which is the only ranking that includes more than 10 schools is useless because schools excel in different ways across subfields. Even looking at the subfield ranking, they don't distinguish theory vs experimental. For instance, I'm in condensed matter, where US News ranks as:
1. UIUC, 2. Berkeley, 3. MIT, 4. Harvard, 5. Stanford, 6. UCSB, 7. Cornell, 8. Princeton, 9. UChicago, 10. Caltech, 11. Penn State-Univ Park, 11. Maryland-College Park, 13. UPenn
but UIUC is much stronger in CMT than in CME, while IMO, Princeton belongs in Top 5 for CME. Also, the ranking doesn't reflect how many faculty in the field are at these schools, which could be important in case things don't work out with a single advisor in your field. Additionally, the rankings don't reflect the age of the advisors (which may indicate your PhD research potential) since the future research output of a professor with a PhD from 1980s is likely very different from a professor with a PhD from 2010s.
seriously! CMT and CME need their own. But also... what the heck is "quantum?!" haha everything is quantum! haha

geekusprimus
Posts: 51
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by geekusprimus » Mon Mar 02, 2020 6:46 pm

jabennett2194 wrote:
Mon Mar 02, 2020 6:16 pm
But also... what the heck is "quantum?!" haha everything is quantum! haha
I think they're specifically referring to the actual study of quantum mechanics, so things like quantum information and computing, studying different interpretations to look for ways to differences that could be tested experimentally, and stuff like that. But I agree, it is rather vague, and it could probably be safely lumped in with AMO. Most would neither care nor notice.

cat_mama
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:07 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by cat_mama » Mon Mar 02, 2020 7:10 pm

jabennett2194 wrote:
Mon Mar 02, 2020 6:16 pm
seriously! CMT and CME need their own. But also... what the heck is "quantum?!" haha everything is quantum! haha
Totally! I can see how maybe superconductivity can be lumped in with 2d materials/graphene transport+optical stuff into a CME. Electronic structure measurements like ARPES being in CME makes sense. But ion trap or even ultracold atom (which is also could be seen as CME, I guess, though I think it's more AMO) are very different, which is why even if CME and CMT was separated, I wouldn't put too much stock into any aggregate ranking.

Also the problem that I have with CMT being lumped in with CME is that a lot of CMT might as well be string theory to me. The kind of CMT that I like are Kane/Mele quantum well or Kitaev QSL or spin-orbit coupling whatevers, not Yang-Mills or holographic duality, but that's just my philosophy of physics, which is that theory should predict significant experimental result, and otherwise that theory is math, not science :) (whoops sorry HET people), but that's a topic for another day.

User avatar
Nishikata
Posts: 194
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:37 am

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by Nishikata » Mon Mar 02, 2020 7:31 pm

At least this ranking separates the fields. QS lumps physics together with astronomy. :shock:

On the other hand, I have no idea how Univ. of Tokyo can be higher here (7th) in Cond.Mat. alone, while it is 10th (QS) when lumped together as P&A.
I thought this university is much better known for HEP/PP/other Universe-stuff. :D

AstroObs
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:42 am

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by AstroObs » Mon Mar 09, 2020 12:13 pm

I have found it common for astronomy applicants to hear UCSC or OSU are good for astro and apply thinking they have found a gem safety school, when in fact their particular strength in the field makes them just as hard to get into as HYP. Thus, rankings are at least important in the sense that they roughly correlate with admissions selectivity.

A big down side with rankings is that both publications and word-of-mouth surveys prefer larger departments, whereas you can do just as well at a lower ranked, small program if they have professors doing good work in your area. In the end, a strong adviser at a lower ranked school who has past students at faculty positions or prestigious fellowships is probably a better option than an average supervisor at a higher ranked school.

If you are curious about astrophysics / astronomy rankings, here are a few sources I used as a vague guide when trying to select reaches and safeties:
US News: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-g ... ce-science
URAP: https://www.urapcenter.org/Rankings/201 ... trophysics
CWUR (Top 10 Only): https://cwur.org/2017/subjects.php#Astr ... trophysics
NRC (US Only): https://www.stat.tamu.edu/~jnewton/nrc_ ... rea27.html
QS (Physics and Astronomy): https://www.topuniversities.com/univers ... -astronomy
There was also an older discussion on this forum: viewtopic.php?t=1536#p12956

Again, I wouldn't say any of these are reliable, but they are a good starting point in terms of where to look for exciting programs and slightly safer options. If a school is in the top 20 of any the above lists you can count on it being incredibly difficult to get in.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Mon Mar 09, 2020 2:09 pm

AstroObs wrote:
Mon Mar 09, 2020 12:13 pm
I have found it common for astronomy applicants to hear UCSC or OSU are good for astro and apply thinking they have found a gem safety school, when in fact their particular strength in the field makes them just as hard to get into as HYP. Thus, rankings are at least important in the sense that they roughly correlate with admissions selectivity.

A big down side with rankings is that both publications and word-of-mouth surveys prefer larger departments, whereas you can do just as well at a lower ranked, small program if they have professors doing good work in your area. In the end, a strong adviser at a lower ranked school who has past students at faculty positions or prestigious fellowships is probably a better option than an average supervisor at a higher ranked school.

If you are curious about astrophysics / astronomy rankings, here are a few sources I used as a vague guide when trying to select reaches and safeties:
US News: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-g ... ce-science
URAP: https://www.urapcenter.org/Rankings/201 ... trophysics
CWUR (Top 10 Only): https://cwur.org/2017/subjects.php#Astr ... trophysics
NRC (US Only): https://www.stat.tamu.edu/~jnewton/nrc_ ... rea27.html
QS (Physics and Astronomy): https://www.topuniversities.com/univers ... -astronomy
There was also an older discussion on this forum: viewtopic.php?t=1536#p12956

Again, I wouldn't say any of these are reliable, but they are a good starting point in terms of where to look for exciting programs and slightly safer options. If a school is in the top 20 of any the above lists you can count on it being incredibly difficult to get in.
Great points and good links! :D Cheers!

throwaway2468
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by throwaway2468 » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:06 pm

jabennett2194 wrote:
Mon Mar 09, 2020 2:09 pm
AstroObs wrote:
Mon Mar 09, 2020 12:13 pm
I have found it common for astronomy applicants to hear UCSC or OSU are good for astro and apply thinking they have found a gem safety school, when in fact their particular strength in the field makes them just as hard to get into as HYP. Thus, rankings are at least important in the sense that they roughly correlate with admissions selectivity.

A big down side with rankings is that both publications and word-of-mouth surveys prefer larger departments, whereas you can do just as well at a lower ranked, small program if they have professors doing good work in your area. In the end, a strong adviser at a lower ranked school who has past students at faculty positions or prestigious fellowships is probably a better option than an average supervisor at a higher ranked school.

If you are curious about astrophysics / astronomy rankings, here are a few sources I used as a vague guide when trying to select reaches and safeties:
US News: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-g ... ce-science
URAP: https://www.urapcenter.org/Rankings/201 ... trophysics
CWUR (Top 10 Only): https://cwur.org/2017/subjects.php#Astr ... trophysics
NRC (US Only): https://www.stat.tamu.edu/~jnewton/nrc_ ... rea27.html
QS (Physics and Astronomy): https://www.topuniversities.com/univers ... -astronomy
There was also an older discussion on this forum: viewtopic.php?t=1536#p12956

Again, I wouldn't say any of these are reliable, but they are a good starting point in terms of where to look for exciting programs and slightly safer options. If a school is in the top 20 of any the above lists you can count on it being incredibly difficult to get in.
Great points and good links! :D Cheers!
Here are the top 20 US astro schools based on their average ranking (among just American schools) across the 6 links:

California Institute of Technology
Harvard University
University of California Berkeley
Princeton University
University of Chicago
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Stanford University
Johns Hopkins University
Yale University
University of Arizona
University of California Santa Barbara
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
University of Texas Austin
University of California Santa Cruz
Ohio State University
Columbia University
University of Maryland College Park
University of California Los Angeles
Cornell University
University of Michigan

Not that the exact order based on averaging across a handful of rankings is meaningful, and there is nothing magic about the number 20; after Michigan, the 21st lowest average would be Penn State which is plenty good. So this is definitely not a guide for deciding between offers (eg, the biggest factor with physics departments like MIT is physics courses and qualifying exams).

AstroObs
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:42 am

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by AstroObs » Wed Mar 18, 2020 10:02 pm

People also seem to be surprised when they find out these schools have <5% or <10% acceptance rates (at least in astronomy), but undergrad admissions at top 20 schools aren’t much higher and here they are paying you $20-40K! So please, whatever your credentials are be sure to look beyond “top” schools as well. It is an incredibly wonderful thing that there are dozens more universities who will pay you just as much to study what you love for the better part of a decade. Call them safety schools if you like but in the end, if you get rejected everywhere, you won’t care about rankings - only that your dream of studying the universe is... postponed, at least.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:18 am

AstroObs wrote:
Wed Mar 18, 2020 10:02 pm
People also seem to be surprised when they find out these schools have <5% or <10% acceptance rates (at least in astronomy), but undergrad admissions at top 20 schools aren’t much higher and here they are paying you $20-40K! So please, whatever your credentials are be sure to look beyond “top” schools as well. It is an incredibly wonderful thing that there are dozens more universities who will pay you just as much to study what you love for the better part of a decade. Call them safety schools if you like but in the end, if you get rejected everywhere, you won’t care about rankings - only that your dream of studying the universe is... postponed, at least.
YESSSSSS!!! This. I get so anxious when I see people (regardless of their profile!!!!) applying to only top 10 programs.... admissions is ... at best, a crapshoot. My advice has always been to apply to 3 safety schools if you have the money to apply to 10 schools (ask for fee waivers, they would just say no if your situation doesn't warrant it), and to apply to 4 safety schools if you have the money to apply for 15+ schools

AstroObs
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:42 am

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by AstroObs » Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:40 am

jabennett2194 wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:18 am
YESSSSSS!!! This. I get so anxious when I see people (regardless of their profile!!!!) applying to only top 10 programs.... admissions is ... at best, a crapshoot. My advice has always been to apply to 3 safety schools if you have the money to apply to 10 schools (ask for fee waivers, they would just say no if your situation doesn't warrant it), and to apply to 4 safety schools if you have the money to apply for 15+ schools
Yeah, sorry I was a creeper and saw your recommendation here viewtopic.php?f=21&t=173843&p=247293#p247293. I think that seems about right. Some professors recommend lower numbers but they likely came from a time when acceptance rates were higher and it was much harder to actually apply (by mail, etc). However, I’d say 20 or more applications is not helping you much more, and is pretty unfair to rec letter writers. Even for internationals I think those are good numbers, as long as you remember that funding is often citizenship specific (a huge factor - at least in the UK they are more open about it) so that might change what exactly is a reach/match/safety for you.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Thu Mar 19, 2020 12:28 pm

AstroObs wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:40 am

Yeah, sorry I was a creeper and saw your recommendation here viewtopic.php?f=21&t=173843&p=247293#p247293. I think that seems about right. Some professors recommend lower numbers but they likely came from a time when acceptance rates were higher and it was much harder to actually apply (by mail, etc). However, I’d say 20 or more applications is not helping you much more, and is pretty unfair to rec letter writers. Even for internationals I think those are good numbers, as long as you remember that funding is often citizenship specific (a huge factor - at least in the UK they are more open about it) so that might change what exactly is a reach/match/safety for you.
Please keep in mind...

"However, I’d say 20 or more applications is not helping you much more, and is pretty unfair to rec letter writers. "

this is not the case. A rec letter to Harvard and a rec letter to MIT are identical. I've applied to .... omg like 30 schools over the last two years! and my advisers told me only 2 of them had "specific-question rec letters" while the rest (most of them) are simply rec letters.

I.e. requesting ONE rec letter is likely NO different from requesting 20 rec letters! All they do is change the name of the program in their LaTex document.

Please don't worry about your rec letter writers... it is part of the job as a an academic to support the success of your advisees.

If money is not an issue for you (although I highly recommend asking for fee waivers! I had an extenuating circumstance this year, and I expressed this to the departments and ended up receiving 19/21 fee waivers for re-applying this year), I highly recommend applying to 20 schools.

AstroObs
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:42 am

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by AstroObs » Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:05 pm

jabennett2194 wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 12:28 pm
AstroObs wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:40 am

Yeah, sorry I was a creeper and saw your recommendation here viewtopic.php?f=21&t=173843&p=247293#p247293. I think that seems about right. Some professors recommend lower numbers but they likely came from a time when acceptance rates were higher and it was much harder to actually apply (by mail, etc). However, I’d say 20 or more applications is not helping you much more, and is pretty unfair to rec letter writers. Even for internationals I think those are good numbers, as long as you remember that funding is often citizenship specific (a huge factor - at least in the UK they are more open about it) so that might change what exactly is a reach/match/safety for you.
Please keep in mind...

"However, I’d say 20 or more applications is not helping you much more, and is pretty unfair to rec letter writers. "

this is not the case. A rec letter to Harvard and a rec letter to MIT are identical. I've applied to .... omg like 30 schools over the last two years! and my advisers told me only 2 of them had "specific-question rec letters" while the rest (most of them) are simply rec letters.

I.e. requesting ONE rec letter is likely NO different from requesting 20 rec letters! All they do is change the name of the program in their LaTex document.

Please don't worry about your rec letter writers... it is part of the job as a an academic to support the success of your advisees.

If money is not an issue for you (although I highly recommend asking for fee waivers! I had an extenuating circumstance this year, and I expressed this to the departments and ended up receiving 19/21 fee waivers for re-applying this year), I highly recommend applying to 20 schools.
I agree, it is just the same letter they send into multiple links/forms, possibly a couple of percentile evaluations. But I think it can get tiresome to do so more than 20 times. Then again, if you are close with them they will probably be happy to do so. Plus you can just as easily have a 4th letter writer and mix up who does where which could have its own advantages. I stand corrected.

I myself applied to 17 schools last time and 14 this time. Glad I did, this process was rough. And no one at my undergrad uni explained to me how critical research results like publications are, how difficult it is to switch fields, or how experiment/observation can be just as fun as theory but with much better admissions rates/job prospects. It seems like for MDs and JDs they lay out a clear path for freshmen, but not for PhDs.

geekusprimus
Posts: 51
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by geekusprimus » Thu Mar 19, 2020 6:04 pm

AstroObs wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:05 pm
jabennett2194 wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 12:28 pm

Please keep in mind...

"However, I’d say 20 or more applications is not helping you much more, and is pretty unfair to rec letter writers. "

this is not the case. A rec letter to Harvard and a rec letter to MIT are identical. I've applied to .... omg like 30 schools over the last two years! and my advisers told me only 2 of them had "specific-question rec letters" while the rest (most of them) are simply rec letters.

I.e. requesting ONE rec letter is likely NO different from requesting 20 rec letters! All they do is change the name of the program in their LaTex document.

Please don't worry about your rec letter writers... it is part of the job as a an academic to support the success of your advisees.

If money is not an issue for you (although I highly recommend asking for fee waivers! I had an extenuating circumstance this year, and I expressed this to the departments and ended up receiving 19/21 fee waivers for re-applying this year), I highly recommend applying to 20 schools.
I agree, it is just the same letter they send into multiple links/forms, possibly a couple of percentile evaluations. But I think it can get tiresome to do so more than 20 times. Then again, if you are close with them they will probably be happy to do so. Plus you can just as easily have a 4th letter writer and mix up who does where which could have its own advantages. I stand corrected.

I myself applied to 17 schools last time and 14 this time. Glad I did, this process was rough. And no one at my undergrad uni explained to me how critical research results like publications are, how difficult it is to switch fields, or how experiment/observation can be just as fun as theory but with much better admissions rates/job prospects. It seems like for MDs and JDs they lay out a clear path for freshmen, but not for PhDs.
From a slightly different perspective, I only applied to five schools. I had a pretty good idea of my interests, so I only looked at schools that had faculty actively working in that field. I picked two safety schools, two matches, and one reach (although I'm now finding out that one of my "matches" was probably a reach). While it really stinks if you don't get in, the advantage to fewer schools is that you have more time to write individualized SOPs for each school. Since a lot of schools have slightly different SOPs, it can really help to write each one from scratch, even if it mostly ends up the same as the others.

TLDR: Applying to tons of schools is great, but make sure you have the time to write individualized SOPs, particularly for the schools you really want to get into.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by jabennett2194 » Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:54 pm

geekusprimus wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 6:04 pm

From a slightly different perspective, I only applied to five schools. I had a pretty good idea of my interests, so I only looked at schools that had faculty actively working in that field. I picked two safety schools, two matches, and one reach (although I'm now finding out that one of my "matches" was probably a reach). While it really stinks if you don't get in, the advantage to fewer schools is that you have more time to write individualized SOPs for each school. Since a lot of schools have slightly different SOPs, it can really help to write each one from scratch, even if it mostly ends up the same as the others.
I disagree.

Allow me to outline my persoanl statement to show you why it is not a good idea to write a new statement for each school. Make a LaTex document and change one section and the name of the schools.

Latex sections marked with 1,2,3,... subsection with 1.1,..2.1,....


1 Academic purpose (why are you doing this?)

2 Intended fields of study (do your research to find PIs that you would like to work under)

2.1 specific area

2.2 specific area

2.3 specific area

3 Research experience (more indepth descriptions of your work compared to your resume)

3.1 resume item 1

3.2 resume item 2

3.3 resume item 3

4 Future goals

References (for your publication citations, not necessarily peer-reviewd, posters and stuff too from section 3)



The only (sub)section(s) that change with each school are those in section #2.

I make this point because applying to 20 schools my first time left me.... depressed, drained, and ready to give up and just accept any offer I got. The process of applying as you outline it led me to this feeling. APPLICATIONS ARE LUCK OF THE DRAW. Do not drain yourself by spending an insane amount of time on them.

geekusprimus
Posts: 51
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by geekusprimus » Fri Mar 20, 2020 12:09 am

jabennett2194 wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:54 pm
geekusprimus wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 6:04 pm

From a slightly different perspective, I only applied to five schools. I had a pretty good idea of my interests, so I only looked at schools that had faculty actively working in that field. I picked two safety schools, two matches, and one reach (although I'm now finding out that one of my "matches" was probably a reach). While it really stinks if you don't get in, the advantage to fewer schools is that you have more time to write individualized SOPs for each school. Since a lot of schools have slightly different SOPs, it can really help to write each one from scratch, even if it mostly ends up the same as the others.
The only (sub)section(s) that change with each school are those in section #2.

I make this point because applying to 20 schools my first time left me.... depressed, drained, and ready to give up and just accept any offer I got. The process of applying as you outline it led me to this feeling. APPLICATIONS ARE LUCK OF THE DRAW. Do not drain yourself by spending an insane amount of time on them.
I wouldn't call it a luck of the draw. It feels like that sometimes because we're not on the admissions committee and usually just get a 'yes' or 'no' answer, but most of my time during the application process was spent learning about which schools were the best candidates for my interests. I think I should have applied to more schools (though since my interests are in gravitational theory, not applying to HPY, Caltech, and the like probably saved me a lot of time, money, and rejection letters), but I was able to spend a lot of time on all of my applications. It worked out for me, though I suppose your mileage may vary.

I look at SOPs like project proposals or scholarship essays: they're all basically the same, but the directions for each one change enough that they're all looking for something slightly different. One of mine had really strict character limits. Another wanted more than two pages. One wanted some personal details. Most did not. For me, I thought it was worth my time (especially with such a short list of schools) to put a lot of time and effort into individualized SOPs.

AstroObs
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:42 am

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by AstroObs » Fri Mar 20, 2020 2:27 am

geekusprimus wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 6:04 pm
From a slightly different perspective, I only applied to five schools. I had a pretty good idea of my interests, so I only looked at schools that had faculty actively working in that field. I picked two safety schools, two matches, and one reach (although I'm now finding out that one of my "matches" was probably a reach). While it really stinks if you don't get in, the advantage to fewer schools is that you have more time to write individualized SOPs for each school. Since a lot of schools have slightly different SOPs, it can really help to write each one from scratch, even if it mostly ends up the same as the others.

TLDR: Applying to tons of schools is great, but make sure you have the time to write individualized SOPs, particularly for the schools you really want to get into.
The first time I applied I made another mistake - I did not reach out to the professors I was interested in working with, despite in a majority of essays mentions profs names (this time I reached out to all of them, had extended conversations with 11, and Skyped with 3). Last time there were 4 who were retiring or not taking on new students, which specifically resulted in my rejection. If I had applied to just 6 I would have had no chance at 4 without knowing it.

You figured out a match was a reach? What if you made that mistake twice more and had 1 safety? Actually I did the same thing my first time and had... 1 safety I got rejected from.

Yes, applications require more work than they seem. This time I did heavily individualize my essays to each school, and emailed professors months in advance. You can get into schools without doing this, but it significantly helps your chances. In any case, however much work you put into 6 essays, you can do twice the amount of work and apply to 12.

Look, if I knew a female US citizen with a 4.0/990 and 5 first author papers with a dear friend/professor they wanted to do a PhD with, I wouldn’t be that worried if they just applied to that 1 school, even if it was HYP. But these things are specific, and most applicants have flaws somewhere between their GPA, PGRE, and research experience/results. Many want to do theory or switch fields. To them I’d say if you can work hard emailing profs and tailoring your essays to 6 schools, you can do it for 15.

geekusprimus
Posts: 51
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by geekusprimus » Fri Mar 20, 2020 3:06 am

AstroObs wrote:
Fri Mar 20, 2020 2:27 am
You figured out a match was a reach? What if you made that mistake twice more and had 1 safety? Actually I did the same thing my first time and had... 1 safety I got rejected from.
Yeeeeeeeaaaah... I applied to UCSC's astronomy and astrophysics program thinking that my research, GPA, and GRE score made me a reasonable fit. The application, though, was different from the other schools I applied to, and I don't think I handled it very well. None of my recommendation writers (2 GR guys at my home institution and a cosmologist at LANL) are particularly well-known in the specific field I was applying for, either, so it's probably more of a reach. I haven't heard from UCSC yet, so I haven't been rejected, per se, but I'm not optimistic about the outcome anymore. I'm fortunate, though, that I was a little smarter in what I called a "safety" school (lower entrance averages + connections = safety), and I got into the two schools I was much more interested in.

throwaway2468
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:10 pm

Re: Does US News Ranking Matter?

Post by throwaway2468 » Fri Mar 20, 2020 3:11 am

Here is how the global astro top 20 compares using straight up average of rankings from US News, URAP, CWUR, and QS:

Harvard University
California Institute of Technology
University of Cambridge
University of California Berkeley
Stanford University
Princeton University
University of Oxford
University of Tokyo
University of Chicago
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sorbonne University
University of Toronto
University College London
Yale University
University of Michigan
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
University of Maryland College Park
University of California Santa Barbara
Ruprecht Karls University of Heidelberg
University of Munich

I excluded University of Paris Diderot and PSL Research University Paris since they weren’t listed across the global lists. I am not familiar with French schools, in any case there might be yet more excellent ones in Paris. The US order changes without the other two ranked lists. No idea how they handled the German Max-Planck institutes vs universities, ie the IMPRS on Astrophysics vs LMU Munich; looks like they’re properly represented as top schools at least.



Post Reply