What schools should I apply to in the US? (British student)

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Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:49 pm

What schools should I apply to in the US? (British student)

Post by vader95 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:55 am

I will be graduating with a BSc Physics degree from the UK next year. I have recently decided that I want to get into a PhD programme in the US. However, I have little money and would not be able to fund myself. I know getting into a fully-funded programme will be very competitive but is it even realistic for an international student like me with barely any research experience?

Here is my profile:

Undergrad Institution: Above-average Arts/Science University in London (top 20 for Physics but not that well known)
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): None
Overall GPA: Above-average (will probably graduate with a first-class honours which means scoring between 70-100%)
Length of Degree: 3 years
Type of Student: International

Research Experience: None. But will be doing a final BSc research project from November 2016 to March 2017. This is a requirement for my course and the final mark will count towards my degree. My project is very computational, involves lots of programming, modelling and data handling. I want to do a PhD in something similar.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: I got a scholarship worth £10,000 at the beginning of my degree.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: I'm doing an internship this summer for a small IT company where I will be using a lot of C++ and Python (will help me out majorly for my BSc project). I was also an outreach ambassador for the South-East Physics network in the UK.

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Will volunteering experience help? I volunteered at an organisation in India where I taught Maths and English to kids living in slums.

I will be taking the GRE soon but I'm confident I won't do too bad.

Considering everything above, what schools would you recommend I apply to (for a fully-funded PhD programme)? I don't want a list of names, just the tier that I should realistically consider.

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Re: What schools should I apply to in the US? (British student)

Post by TakeruK » Sat Jun 25, 2016 2:49 pm

What will your letters of recommendation look like? I hope you will get one from your final project advisor. When you get these letters, make sure that your letter writers know that US letter of reference styles might be different than what they might write for a UK school. It's definitely possible to get into a good US school without research experience, but this would mean relying on your application showing that while you don't have the experience (yet, other than your final project), you have loads of potential and your letters will need to convey that.

How intensive is your research project? When you apply, you would have just started, so I would recommend working extra hard at the start to get a lot done in the first month. This will help you get a better letter and also help you be more knowledgeable when you describe your work in your Statement of Purpose. All of these things will help show that you have a lot of potential as a researcher.

Also, remember that being international means that public schools in the US are a lot harder to get into than private schools. At public schools, the department will have to pay for your full tuition and international students cost a lot more in tuition. However, at private schools, everyone has the same super high tuition rate. This means that for most international students, it's better to aim higher (since generally, private schools rank higher than public schools).

To answer your question though, all of this leads me to say that you could have a profile strong enough to be worth applying to any school in the US where you have a good research fit. That is, don't strike a school off your list just because you think it's on too high of a tier. The top tier schools will be harder to get into without any experience, but it's not impossible.

And finally, have you considered doing a Masters in the UK so that you end up with a 4 year program? A 3 year degree does put you at a disadvantage in terms of opportunities for research experience. You can also consider just applying to the schools you really want to get into and then stay for a Masters at your school if you don't get into these "dream schools". I think if you do a Masters, you will be much more competitive and staying another year would potentially allow you to enter a much better PhD program than if you entered directly from a 3 year BSc. I'm at a top tier US school and most British students I know are coming in from the 3+1 BSc+Masters programs.

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Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:49 pm

Re: What schools should I apply to in the US? (British student)

Post by vader95 » Sun Jun 26, 2016 8:40 am

My research project isn't very intensive or novel. It has already been done multiple times by other students so all I will be doing is recreating it from my perspective. The professors are quite flexible though so they wouldn't mind if I take it in a direction no has before.

The reason I don't want to go for one more year here is because it will cost me a lot of money. I will still try and apply to some good schools just to keep my options open though.

Excellent advice btw. Thanks a lot.

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