Apply to Graduate school this year or wait until graduation?

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Apply to Graduate school this year or wait until graduation?

Post by Lagraaaange » Thu Jul 02, 2015 2:25 pm

Ideally I'd like to apply to graduate school for physics (leaning towards Astrophysics or Condensed matter); however, I don't think my course work or research is sufficient. I'm already using an extra year to complete the degree (I changed to physics the end of my Sophomore year) and wouldn't like to be behind at least two years before starting graduate school (I'd be 24). However, I don't want to risk being rejected from my schools due to insufficient course work and research.
Some schools I'd like to attend: UNC chapel hill (number one option), Dartmouth, Georgia Tech, UCLA, NYU, other schools in the top 30-60ish range.

GPA: 3.44 (Will be 3.5 at best if I get all As)
BA Physics from Public University (CUNY), small physics department but reputable school in general (many premeds end up going to ivy league med schools)

OPTION A (Preference, Fall 2016 start)
Physics courses I will have taken by application date in December: General 1: B, General 2: B, Classical Mechanics: A, Modern Physics lab: A; (This Fall) Statistical Mechanics, Atomic and Nuclear Physics, Classical lab (Which I will kill myself to get all As in, so give me the benefit of the doubt)

GRE general in August (hear its not very important)
GRE Physics in October if I decide to go for Fall 16; give me benefit of doubt of doing well
Research and LOR: Very minimal (Did medical physics internship with some "research", might be good LOR, but would need two more letters from physics professors)

OPTION B (Fall 2017 start; work to pay off loans before graduate school)

Add to coursework: Quantum mechanics, E&M, Electronics, Electronics Lab
Add Research: Perhaps with Professor and REU (maybe Fermilab in Summer?)
GRE Physics in April or October

Please let me know what you recommend. I know I have no shot at top programs , but aiming for top 50 like above. Please give me honest advice what my best option is and whether I have a good chance at those schools.

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Re: Apply to Graduate school this year or wait until graduation?

Post by admissionprof » Thu Jul 02, 2015 5:03 pm

As director of graduate admissions at a top 30-60, I urge you to go for Fall 2017. General physics and modern physics are considered introductory and not too relevant. Thus, it looks as if next year you will have a grand total of three upper-level courses, and zero EM or QM. No way would we accept someone with that background. Someone with at most one semester E&M taking Jackson? Someone with at most one semester QM taking graduate QM? You would have to take undergraduate courses when you enter, and that's generally not advisable. By Fall 2017, you'll have plenty of courses and will be much stronger.

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Re: Apply to Graduate school this year or wait until graduation?

Post by astroprof » Fri Jul 03, 2015 12:20 pm

Does your school offer 2 semester sequences of E&M and QM? If it does, then I agree with Admissionprof that you should stay in school to take those courses prior to graduate school. However, my interpretation of your posting is that you are planning on only taking 1 semester of E&M and QM, regardless of which option you pursue. The only difference is when you apply/start, not what further classes you will take as an undergraduate student. In that scenario (i.e., graduate in Spring 2016, with all the courses listed), I recommend that you take the Physics GRE this fall. If you do well, then proceed with the application process. You will need to be explicit in your statement about your background and the courses you will take in the Spring semester that will fill in the gaps, since you have so few upper level physics courses on your record at the time of application. If you do not do well on the Physics GRE, then you can re-assess your options and consider the benefits of additional course work (stay in school to get those advanced undergraduate courses) relative to work experience.

If you do decide to apply to graduate school this fall, you may wish to contact the departments in advance to see if they will consider your application. If you contact the department, your e-mail should include sufficient detail that it is clear why you need this information in advance of the application process (i.e., not a "will I get in" type of email, but a specific question: "my school only offers 1 semester of advanced E&M and QM, will this be acceptable preparation for your program?" or "I became a physics major late in my undergraduate career, if I am admitted to your program, would it be possible/appropriate for me to take an undergraduate course if it turns out that my preparation in insufficient in some area?"). Most programs will be willing to answer the direct questions (but not the "will I get in"-type, as per this posting), and that may give you sufficient information not to waste the application fees applying to programs that will reject you based on your preparation alone.

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Re: Apply to Graduate school this year or wait until graduation?

Post by TakeruK » Fri Jul 03, 2015 2:51 pm

I was thinking the same thing as astroprof. When you say "E&M" and "QM" for Option B, I'm not sure if you mean just one course or it was just shorthand for "the 2 standard courses in E&M and the 2 standard courses in QM". I know that some departments are not able to offer all of the courses.

To help you decide if your current course plan covers enough QM and E&M as most 4-year Physics programs in North America, I've copied and pasted the course description of these courses below. Of course, it shouldn't match exactly, but it should help you determine how your courses compare. You can also search other universities to see what they teach too.

First upper level E&M course: "Maxwell's equations and their applications, electrical fields and potentials of static charge distributions, current, fields of moving charges, magnetic fields, electromagnetic induction." My course used the first half of Griffith's EM book.

Second upper level E&M course: "Applications of Maxwell's theory. Wave propagation in dielectrics, conductors and plasmas, wave guides, radiation, antennae, and special relativity." My course used the second half of Griffith's EM book.

First upper level QM course: "Principles and applications of quantum mechanics, wave mechanics, the Schroedinger equation, expectation values, Hermitian operators, commuting observables, one-dimensional systems, harmonic oscillators, angular momentum, three dimensional systems, time dependent perturbations." My course used the first half of Griffith's QM book.

Second upper level QM course: "Spin and angular momentum addition, perturbation methods, and applications in the fields of Atomic, Molecular, Nuclear, and Solid State Physics."

Hope it's helpful!

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