CMT admission

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Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2014 6:00 pm

CMT admission

Post by playoff » Fri Nov 07, 2014 4:31 am


A bit of information about my academic status: I am a physics freshman at a mid-ranked state university. I am taking sophomore level courses.

I was lucky enough to get a research opportunity from a professor well-known in his field. If I can hold my ground, I think it is a big possibility that I will get a strong recommendation letter from him and another professor who's from a top university also working in that field.

Here is my plan to achieve my goal:
1.) Take graduate level theoretical condensed matter and materials courses in my upper-division years.
2.) Get a 1-year master's in materials/nanoscience at my home institute. From this program, I will take courses such as nanomaterials characterization, electrochemical storage/conversion, and computational materials, and also work on an applied project.
3.) Apply to grad school after my master's to my dream schools. If not accepted to any, work for a year and reapply.

I felt that my plan was very strong, and that I wouldn't need any advice, but slip ups recently in few of my exams and assignments look like they will cost me in my GPA. It seems that my cumulative math+physics GPA will be in the range of 3.56 to 3.68 (physics GPA 4.0, although it is only 1 class).

I was a B- student in high school, and have been mediocre at anything I liked to do throughout my life. Although I may have said this several times already, I feel that I can confidently say physics is my life. 2.9 GPA in high school, 3.19 during summer, and this semester my GPA will be at least 3.7, so I would like to think that I am at least in an upward slope (although I am aware that courses will get harder as time progresses). Ultimately, I am looking to shoot for a 3.7 in undegrad and 4.0 in master's, and around an 85 percentile on the PGRE.

I am hugely interested in the field of theoretical/computational condensed matter physics, and would like to apply to Stanford, UC Berkeley, Caltech, UIUC, UChicago, Princeton, and Cornell.

Here are my questions:
1.) In general, how competitive are programs in condensed matter theory? And is it considered applied physics?
2.) What would be a safe range of GPA and PGRE for CMT in the listed schools?
3.) Is it possible to apply to different concentrations within a same school?
4.) Any tips and advice are welcome!

Thank you for your time!

Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Apr 01, 2013 5:59 pm

Re: CMT admission

Post by tsymmetry » Fri Nov 07, 2014 4:55 pm

I'm a first year grad student in CMT and chose from many of the schools ony your list as well as a few others. Before I answer your questions I want to say that CMT is a very diverse field ranging from things that are more applied to very exotic things that use similar techniques as research in HET. The use of computational approaches also varies a lot. Some groups are basically all computational, others a mostly analytical pen and paper theory. There is also a division that can be made in CMT between hard matter (High Tc/other strongly correlated systems topological insulators and other systems with nontrivial topology like the fractional quantum Hall effect, fractional statistics in solids etc. Soft matter involves things that are usually not quantum mechanical like the properties of liquid crystals, foams, membranes and other mechanical properties of things in biophysics, non equilibrium systems, etc.).

Now to answer your questions.

1. Very competitive, especially in more analytical areas. There were only five students admitted to Stanford for CMT this year.
2. The best you can get. While grades and test scores are less important that recommendations and research experience, it is good to have good grades in a challenging curriculum. Don't stress too much about your grades just learn as much and work as hard as you can.
For the PGRE, you want to get above a certain threshold like maybe 830 or something a bit higher to be competitive at all schools. It is definitely possible to overcome a low PGRE if the rest of your application is strong though. However, experience suggests that some schools like Princeton and MIT examples may have a hard cutoff probably at least at 800 if not 850 where they may not even look at your application. For example, I got into Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago and got special fellowships at two of these for being one of the top applicants. However, I did not get into Princeton or MIT, and it was very likely that my PGRE played a part in that.

3. You can indicate several interests on your application.


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