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Finding the right school (less than stellar performance)

Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:25 pm
by LiquidBlue
Less than stellar performance is something of an understatement. For several years I really just floundered in school; I have really got my act together over the past 2 years and I will be graduating this December. My overall GPA is about 2.6. My major GPA is about 3.7.

I have taken the GRE and received 740 on the Verbal portion, and 800 on the Quantitative portion. I took the PGRE this April and received an 840.

I have no real research experience.

I am interested in experimental physics, particularly applied quantum mechanics, so I am look for opportunities to research nanoparticles or nanosystems, or condensed matter.

I am very concerned about my overall GPA, although, my recent performance is much, much better.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I know that I am not competitive for any top tier school, but can I still find a place? Preferably in school that aligns with my research interests?

Re: Finding the right school (less than stellar performance)

Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:47 am
by bfollinprm
You aren't in terrible shape, the 3.7 major GPA probably matters more, though don't count out the awful overall--it can certainly hurt your chances, and will keep you out of the top 15-20. The good news is if you have an aptitude for experiment it matters less--I knew a guy with terrible grades who got into Columbia on the strength of his experimental work (though he was a special case, having done detector building for a few years beforehand). You need to be very convincing in your efforts to demonstrate your aptitude for experimental physics to have a good shot at the second tier of schools. Also, 840 is good for an experimentalist, so you're solid test-wise.

Re: Finding the right school (less than stellar performance)

Posted: Thu Aug 18, 2011 3:14 pm
by LiquidBlue

Thank you for your reply. It was helpful in putting things into perspective. I would like to get further viewpoints from other people that have gone through this process.

I wish that I have had some good research experience that I could show. Unfortunately, it has taken a second seat to getting my life turned around. I am just getting comfortable doing well in school again, and my thoughts can now turns towards such thoughts.

I am looking forward to finishing this semester, but it will not provide mush opportunity to participate meaningfully in any research.

Re: Finding the right school (less than stellar performance)

Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 5:38 pm
by Andromeda
Firstly I was definitely a student who displayed an "upward trend" in her grades during undergrad, and if you can get good letters from your later profs explaining your situation (I was told not to mention it in my POS myself) then grad admissions tend to forgive a lot as long as you finish on a strong note.

The lack of experience coupled with that is probably your main concern because a grad admissions committee is primarily interested in whether you will succeed in their program, and you're not giving them much of anything to see whether you'll be successful at it. (Grades, besides being a cutoff, are often important to see if you can pass their qualifier, hence a low GPA is not unpardonable if you finish on a strong note.) I would definitely get involved with research ASAP- after all if you don't do it how do you really know you want to do it in grad school?

I would also strongly recommend applying for some M.S. programs in addition to PhD ones, as that will be a good way to add research to your resume and distance yourself a bit from the grades from the beginning of your undergrad. I'm an advocate of this because I know I would've never gotten into my awesome PhD program sans M.S. to bolster my skills first, and you sound like the sort of candidate who could be in a similar boat.