Concern about research and GPA

Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Aug 04, 2019 11:41 am

Concern about research and GPA

Post by QuantumGradApp » Sun Aug 04, 2019 12:19 pm

Hello all,

So I am currently a rising junior at an Ivy League school double majoring in physics and computer science. I have decided that I want to go to grad school to do research in quantum information / quantum computing. My dream schools for this are MIT, Berkeley, and Caltech. However, I am concerned about my GPA and research experience.

As a rising junior, my GPA is currently sitting at around a 3.5 for both my physics/math classes as well as my overall GPA. My school is known for its difficulty, particularly in my major, but I also know that there are others here who have a GPA higher than mine. However, I have spent some time this summer studying ahead for my upper level physics classes next semester. I am extremely confident that I can manage to pull my GPA up to at least a 3.7 by the time I apply. If I can manage enough A+'s, I might just be able to pull off a 3.8, as those are weighted at 4.3.

However, I am fully aware that GPA is not the most important factor. But at the same time, after looking at the acceptance threads, it seems that nearly every person who has gotten into the schools I mentioned above has had a GPA above 3.9.

If I can manage a 3.7 by the time I apply and get 900+ on the PGRE, would I at least meet the initial cut of applicants and have my research experience considered at the schools I mentioned above? If I do manage this, it would be a pretty significant upward trend. How much does that count for?

Additionally, I am concerned about my research experience. So far, I have the following experience:

-Summer after freshman year: Did lab work in a physics lab unrelated to quantum computing. I mostly just helped take some measurements and prepare samples. I did help with some calculations though and gained some good technical skills.

-Summer after sophomore year: Worked in a research and development engineering lab on campus. I did a lot of coding. I don't want to get too detailed on what I did here, as I don't want to dox myself. It's not really physics related, but I did work on some technology that is going to be used commercially soon. I think it was a good experience.

Over that last summer, I reached out to a professor about his research in quantum computing and attended a few of his lab's meetings. His work immensely interests me, and he is going to let me work in his lab over the next year. I will do work combining my two majors. Although I haven't worked in his lab yet, I know I'm going to love it. He sent me some papers to read, and I keep finding myself looking for more. Additionally, I have found that there is some very minor overlap in the research I did this summer and quantum computing.

Over the next year and next summer, I plan on staying involved in the lab I worked in this past summer, as well as the quantum computing lab. I also plan on completing a senior thesis-like project to graduate with honors, but I'll only be halfway done with that by the time I apply.

My concern is that I found my true passion for research a little too late. So many other applicants here have had 3+ years of research under their belt in addition to their 3.9+ GPA and near-perfect GRE scores. I'll only have 3 summers and about 1.5 years.

Given my GPA and research situation, assuming I do extremely well on my GREs and everything else goes according to plan, would I at least stand a chance or be a competitive applicant at my dream schools?

Thank you all so much!

Posts: 19
Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2018 7:26 am

Re: Concern about research and GPA

Post by scytoo » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:12 am

It's probably best not to get your hopes up.

If you look at the profiles of people who were rejected from those schools you'll see that they also have pretty high stats and lots of research experience. Admission at that level depends just as much on your connections and research fit as it does your grades/experience, and while loads of people have a fighting chance of acceptance, exceptionally few people can expect to get in. You'd still be in this position even if you had a publication with a GPA of 3.8-3.9.

If you can raise your GPA and do well on the PGRE then you'll have a chance. Exactly how big your chances are depends very much on your research fit and how much the department/professors like you, none of which is decided yet. As you said yourself, you are below the average for those schools, but you're not disastrously below and people with less than you are occasionally accepted.

No one can tell you what your odds are, unfortunately. It's just a solid maybe.

Posts: 941
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Concern about research and GPA

Post by TakeruK » Thu Aug 29, 2019 3:30 pm

I don't go here much anymore, but I decided to join this discussion because I see this misconception a lot. I know it might also be too late for OP to see it but hoping others who will stumble upon this thread later won't be discouraged by the first reply here.

The super important thing to keep in mind: PROFILES OF PEOPLE HERE ARE NOT REPRESENTATIVE. They have a very high selection bias. The majority of applicants to graduate schools do not post on this forum and those that do are much more likely to have impressive profiles that they are willing to share.

I am someone who have completed graduate school, mentored students applying to grad schools and have seen how graduate admissions actually work.

In my opinion, if you have a GPA at 3.5 or above, demonstrated passion and interest in your work, and even some research experience, then you will have a good enough chance at any school. If you are applying mostly to US schools, then your citizenship/PR status does matter. If you will be an international student, your chances are going to be much higher at private schools than public state schools. This is nothing to do with the school's difficulty or anything, but just because of the way tuition works due to policies and laws.

So with this caveat, I'd say that any US citizen/PR student with the above conditions should apply to any US school that interests them. For a non-US person, they should still apply to all levels of US schools that interests them but I would advise to lean more heavily on private schools (e.g. Ivy, Caltech, MIT, instead of U. California etc.)

Unless you are in the few upper percentiles with everything going strong for you, your chances at most schools will be a solid maybe. That's just how admissions work. But you also know how probabilities work: if a probability of a single success is low, as the number of trials increase, so does the probability of getting at least one success. And in graduate school, one success is all you need. So, find all of the programs that interests you and allows you to meet your goals. Then apply to as many as you can. It doesn't matter if you only get one acceptance if these are all places you want to be at.

I say this because the other common misconception, in my opinion, is that getting 6 acceptances in 8 applications is "good". As long as you only apply to places you actually want to be at, 1/8 or 8/8 is effectively the same thing. You can only attend one school anyways. So when you construct your list of places to apply, don't worry about your chances at any one school. Worry about finding programs that fit you. Aim for getting "at least one" program that works for you, not to mitigate risk of rejection.

Post Reply