Considering Postgraduate studies, am I on track?

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Reuben H
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Joined: Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:20 pm

Considering Postgraduate studies, am I on track?

Post by Reuben H » Thu Feb 04, 2016 11:08 pm


I'm an international student based in New Zealand and I've just finished my first year of my Bsc Double Major in Physics and Maths. I managed to get a GPA of 3.35 and a Major GPA of 3.6 which wasn't what I was aiming for but I put a lot of effort in achieve it. I learnt a lot this year and I'd expect I could possibly get a higher GPA next year as I've learnt a lot about learning... :P these past few months. I managed to get into my school's Scholars program which will allow me to do a Research project in my 3rd year (The degree is 3 years long).

I've been looking at the past performance of people who have made it in to Post Graduate programs in the US. To get accepted into a program and get tution paid for as an International student seesms like a very hard mark to hit. I think I could possibly raise by GPA to an A- average over the next 2 years which would settle my US GPA around 3.7. It also seems like the PGRE test for an International student can be no less than 850 as well.

I know that doing as much relevant research as you can is recommeded and I will be looking to do exactly that going ahead. It is still early days but I'm just planning ahead and trying to set realistic benchmarks early. I really enjoy theory work in the pure maths papers I've taken but I really haven't done enough Physics and Maths to really decide where to specialise and I'm just taking a broad range of papers at this time (Definitely leaning towards doing a Physics post graduate degree at this stage). I'm not looking at getting into top 10 schools as I don't think I really have the potential to meet the GPA requirements (I will go if given the oppurtunity ofcourse).

How realistic are my goals here? Is there a general benchmark that international students need to hit to get considered for paid tuition? I'd imagine it depends on the University I'm applying for but if there are any further words of wisdom you could offer I'd appreciate it :).

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Re: Considering Postgraduate studies, am I on track?

Post by TakeruK » Fri Feb 05, 2016 12:34 pm

Yes, you are on track. The first year is not going to matter as much as later years. It's also hard to convert a non-US GPA to a US GPA because every country does their grading very differently.

I don't think "benchmarks" is the right way to think about grad school admissions. In North America, graduate school admissions is done "holistically". This means that each candidate is evaluated on their overall qualifications and experience as a whole. You can have a pretty low GRE score (my Physics GREs were 640 and 690) and still get into a top school based on other factors (research experience, GPA, etc.).

Quantitative measures such as GPA and GREs only go so far. From talking to faculty members, it really sounds like they will establish a list of qualifications or experiences or other attributes that they want their students to have, and then seek these out in the applicants. Few people will say "GPA greater than 3.8" is an attribute (because it's not an attribute!). Instead, they would say something like "I want a student who has a strong understanding of quantum mechanics" (for example) and then one of the ways you could show that is high grades in Quantum Mechanics courses on your transcript. But there are certainly other ways to demonstrate the same thing, e.g. having completed a project in QM.

The profiles on this website are very skewed and biased. The profiles here do not represent the full range of students applying. If you count the number of students that post here and compare it to the number of people in graduate programs, you'll see it's just a small fraction. And it's likely the stronger your profile, the more likely you'll post. So, you'll just see mostly the top candidates post here. And, with a website like "physicsgre".com, it's more likely than not, in my opinion, that people with high GRE scores are going to post here, so that might be why you don't see very many acceptances below 850. The ones with strong applications in other ways might not show up here.

At this stage, you are early on in your degree and I don't think you should be worry about what you can't do. Don't set limits to yourself like "If I don't get a 3.X GPA this year, I won't make it!" Instead, work on learning and being the best candidate you can be. Getting that research experience will be vital.

Finally, you will be at a disadvantage applying to US schools because your undergraduate program is only 3 years while you will be competing with North Americans and their 4 year programs (an extra year for courses and research!). Since your school year ends around this time (correct me if I'm wrong?) then at least you'll be applying near the end of your 3rd year (most Americans will apply near the beginning of their 4th year, so the difference at time of application is just a few months of experience, but Americans will still be finishing the rest of their 4th year). So, my advice is to still apply to US programs at the end of your degree, but also apply to New Zealand Masters (or other places with funded Masters programs, like Canada). The 1-2 year Masters program will allow you to have an advantage over North American applicants.

PS Almost all Physics PhD programs in the US are fully funded---the ones that aren't would be fishy to me (i.e. some for-profit schools offer "degrees" of little value but charge students a lot). Schools will generally not accept a student unless that student was also good enough for full funding.

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