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Any advice for a mature student?

Posted: Thu Aug 27, 2009 3:32 pm
by flyingcoati
I'm in a fairly unusual situation, and not sure what's the best way to approach applications - or indeed whether I stand a chance at all. On the positive side, I have a strong degree - a first-class physics MA from Oxford. The negative side is that I got it in 1997, and have been out of science ever since. Whilst I think I can make a decent case for how my years in the workplace will make me a better grad student, they sure don't make me a better PGRE-taker.

I looked through ETS's example PGRE paper and had the depressing realization that - whilst I think I could have got a respectable score 12 years ago when I finished my degree - any attempt I made now would be absolutely pitiful. I'm pretty sure, given time, that I can re-learn what I need to re-learn - but I am also pretty sure that any attempt to do so by November, considering that I also work full-time, is not going to produce anything close to the best I can do. I'm an impatient person, and fall 2010 already seems an eternity away, so spending a year practicing physics and then applying for 2011, while it's a logical solution, isn't something I really want to do unless I can't find any other alternative.

Just to add to the confusion, I'm an international student (British, and living in Denmark - which, incidentally, doesn't even offer the PGRE, meaning I will/would have to travel abroad to take it in November). I'm also, for what it's worth, female.

My question is - do you think there is any point in attempting to cram for the PGRE, given that I can't imagine I will be able to get a wonderful score in the time I have available? Is a not-so-good score better than nothing? Am I better off looking for a not-so-fancy school or a not-physics-but-related-to-physics program that doesn't require it, and focusing on getting a top-flight score in the general GRE (I'm much more hopeful about being able to achieve that)? Am I stupid to even think this is achievable at all? (I spoke to a careers advisor at my alma mater, and she recommended that I shouldn't waste time trying to take PGRE - but will that prevent me from getting in to any decent schools?)

Is it worth approaching colleges and explaining my situation? If so, what sort of people should I be approaching? Professors? Admissions officers? I'm so far removed from the US university system, that I'm not really sure of the best way to attack it - but I AM sure that I want to get into the best school I can, do as good a job as I can, and that I will make as good an effort as I can to achieve that. Any advice would be very, very welcome! Thanks in advance.

Re: Any advice for a mature student?

Posted: Thu Aug 27, 2009 4:25 pm
by grae313
The answers to almost all of the questions you have posed depend on your end goals. In fact, you didn't even state why you want to take the PGRE, although I assume it is because you want to get a PhD in physics and work in science.

If this is the case, almost all of the top 100 programs require the physics GRE for admission, so you will indeed have to take the exam. As to whether a passable score now is better or worse than a much better score a year from now, the answer to this, too, depends on your end goals. If you want a career in academia (that is, as a professor at a good research University) then statistics seem to indicate that, although there are plenty of good exceptions, the rank of your degree-granting institution plays a large roll in your future job prospects. A good score on the GRE would be very important. If you are aiming towards a research position in industry, or some other less competitive career, a passable GRE score and a degree from a mediocre University would probably do fine.

However, my feeling is that you've already been out of school 10 years, another year isn't that big a deal, and the difference between doing, say, 50th percentile versus 70th+ percentile on the exam can make a huge difference in the caliber of the school to which you are accepted.

Re: Any advice for a mature student?

Posted: Thu Aug 27, 2009 5:18 pm
by flyingcoati
Thanks for the good advice, even if it isn't what I wanted to hear. And yes, if possible, I am hoping for a career in academia. (I'm NOT hoping to be stuck in Denmark for another two years doing my bland and irrelevant office job, because to me, another year DOES feel like a big deal - but maybe I need to find another way around that. It's better to deal with that as a separate issue, than to go to a school that isn't going to help me achieve my goals.)