4.0 Masters GPA, 3.0 undergraduate GPA, what are my chances for a top programme?

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Joined: Mon Aug 02, 2021 2:00 pm

4.0 Masters GPA, 3.0 undergraduate GPA, what are my chances for a top programme?

Post by t1h782a » Thu Sep 09, 2021 7:41 am

Hi, I am an international student (UK) and as the title says, I received a 3.0/4 in my bachelors due to various personal circumstances at a top university in the UK (QS ranked top 10 in the UK for physics, top 100 globally).

Fortunately, I was able to get into another top university (Also, QS ranked top 10 in the UK for physics, top 100 globally) for my masters largely due to a supervisor who was sympathetic to my circumstances and excellent recommendation letters, I recently graduated from that masters with a grade equivalent to a 4.0/4 GPA, top of my class in several modules/courses. This university didn't release class ranks so I don't know where I stood overall but I suspect if not at the top, near it.

Whilst at my masters I did significant research work in experimental astrophysics. Because this work is mainly being used internally by the research group I worked with and also because in my experience UK institutions are a lot less eager to have their pre-PhD students releasing publications than US ones are, my work hasn't been published. Despite this, I did have a notable contribution to a major experiment and I expect that will be reflected in my recommendation letters.

I have yet to sit the GRE or pGRE but I have been preparing for them for months and based on recent practice tests I expect to score quite high, possibly perfect scores in the quant, verbal and pGRE or if not, at least 95th percentile across them, but of course there's no way to know for sure until I take them.

Since the top US astrophysics PhD programmes (Stanford, Caltech, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkely etc) are incredibly competitive I'd like some candid feedback, what are my chances of getting into one of them? Would the combination of my masters grades, research work and a high pGRE/GRE score overshadow my undergrad and illustrate that it was an outlier?

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Re: 4.0 Masters GPA, 3.0 undergraduate GPA, what are my chances for a top programme?

Post by FRANKZANE » Mon Oct 04, 2021 10:28 pm

I'm from the UK and currently doing my PhD in the US after graduating with my MPhys a few years ago, although within the physics department, not astrophysics. I would encourage you to apply to top schools if you can afford the application fees, but be prepared for the possibility of rejections across the board if you only apply to top tier places. I applied to several of the schools you mentioned and didn't get into any, although I got into some lower ranked programs which I was still very happy with, and accepted. The competition is just very high -- the year I applied, UC Berkeley had had 970 applications for only 45 spots. Another thing to keep in mind is that generally, public schools are less likely to accept international students due to the cost, so you may have more luck with private schools. You should look up the AIP 2020 enrollment data for all the schools you are interested in, in particular the proportion of graduate students which are foreign. Some schools accept very few international students, e.g. UC Santa Cruz has only 13 international students in total, so they probably accept 2-3 per cohort.

The top US applicants will have significant research experience during their undergraduate years, possibly for 3-4 years, and the top will have some publications. Also, some US undergraduates will take masters level classes during their bachelors, due to the flexibility of the US system. Generally I think it's hard for UK students to be competitive when it comes to research experience, but since you've already completed a master's degree you may be in a better position than most. If you have done original/novel research, you could consider writing a paper and potentially submitting it before the Dec 15 deadlines, or try presenting your research at some astrophysics conference to boost your application.

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