Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

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Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by ginoslug » Mon Jun 09, 2008 9:05 pm

Hey so I have taken a lot of math and sciences over the years. I have completed about 3/4 of a physics degree and about 1/3 of a chemistry degree but I am graduating with a degree in history (because I could finish this up and leave college in 4 years as opposed to making up the other classes in those other majors and having to stay for six).

Anyway, I have an interest in going to gradschool in physics (maybe) and I am not sure what kind of score I would need on the subject exam to get in without having a degree. Now before you say it is not possible I would like to say that I have taken three different practice gre physics subject tests where I would work through and write answer and someone else would grade it after i was done and I scored a 760 on one of them, a 810 on another and an 840 on the last...

Because that is a range between around 53-65 raw score (72-82%) I doubt these scores bode well for me. They are not really high if you think in terms of As and Bs....I mean that is a freaking B- to C- range right (more weighted on the B side of things though)?

I have basically missed the final year of the physics major at my university and then some electives but I plan to study up on the missed material before I take the gre for real and apply to a grad school.

So do I need like a 90% or something to get in without a degree and poor transcripts? It would be hard to do but if I catch up on the missing material it has to be possible.

I kind of want a goal number and I figured this would be a good place to look for one.

*my gpa is rubbish (so that can't help me) and i am not going to get a letter of rec unless I beg for some generic thing....and by and large I really didn't care about school at all these past four years. I just dabbled in like 4 majors and picked the one I could finish most quickly and am done with it all in about a week or so. I am not dumb as opposed to what my academic record might indicate (cause I have a ton of failures in everything including the physics and maths i did mixed in with my more decent marks) but I definitely have problems working hard on things I don't care about which is a big part of life (i know) and I working on that bit considerably.

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by perplexity » Mon Jun 09, 2008 9:35 pm

Just my opinion, but... I can't imagine in my wildest dreams that any grad schools would admit someone with a terrible transcript, no physics degree, and generic recommendations even if they had a PERFECT PGRE score and were sleeping with the head of the admissions committee. A great score can set you apart from the crowd if the rest of your application is not extraordinary or if there are a couple minor weaknesses on it, but it can't make up for an otherwise horrible application. The GRE just measures your ability to solve very basic problems.... Your transcript, degree, and recommendations speak much more to potential success in grad school.

If you really want to go to grad school in physics, I'd say to start over and go for another bachelor's degree. Of course you'd actually have to put some effort in and show that you give a damn... get good grades... get on good terms with faculty... the usual. Otherwise, I doubt you stand much of a chance.

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by zxcv » Tue Jun 10, 2008 1:22 am

There's no reason to go for another BA. In the worst case, take those upper level classes you missed and enroll in a masters program (assuming your end goal is a PhD). Doing well in those courses would help show your potential. Of course, it all depends on how picky you are and what you're aiming for. With your profile right now, you would probably have a hard time getting into PhD programs, because they include support that makes it really expensive to admit people who won't finish. You'll need a record of aptitude and interest including better grades, personal letters of recommendation and hopefully some research experience. But it's much easier to into master's programs or just start taking classes if you pay for them. If there is a particular place you have in mind, it also wouldn't hurt to talk to some of the professors there and get their advice.

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by fermiguy » Tue Jun 10, 2008 11:24 am

ginoslug wrote:
*my gpa is rubbish (so that can't help me) and i am not going to get a letter of rec unless I beg for some generic thing....
In regards to your PGRE scores, they are very strong. IMHO any PGRE score over 700 is pretty competitive but.....I think I share the same feelings as the other posters here. Without a physics degree, a poor transcript and generic reference letters you will have a pretty well impossible task of getting admitted to a physics grad program. Even perfect GRE scores will not trump those barriers. I must especially stress to you, the need for good reference letters. I have heard again and again the importance of good reference letters. They can "forgive a multitude of sins" and make the difference between admission and a rejection.

If you are 3/4 done a Physics degree I suggest you try to finish it and then apply to graduate school. Also make sure you apply to several masters programs as well.. If you have a sprinkling of failed courses here or there, I can't imagine too many PhD programs looking too well on that, even if you do very well in your more advanced courses. If Phd programs don't work out maybe a masters will and with the momentum from a strong masters you should be able to get admission to some desirable PhD programs.

A prof. once told me that "PhD students are all possible candidates to replace professors one day and we know this. That's why we are careful with who we choose [to become PhD students]". The only way they can make that decision is by a track record of success and dedication.

Good luck.

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by ginoslug » Tue Jun 10, 2008 4:45 pm

Well to the first poster. I am not so dumb nor crazy enough that I would apply to a school with only PGRE scores, I am surprised that you are so crazy as to think that anyone would do this. I am planning on taking the real GRE at some point, most likely after I have gone through the material I have yet to cover. I am just thinking if the PGRE scores are any indicator of a GRE score then I can't be doing horribly can I? I know I am doing better on the PGREs than my friends who finished the physics major but maybe PGRE scores never are close to real GRE scores? I DON'T KNOW and I was hoping to find that out to some extent.

Secondly I understand the thing about letters of reference. I could probably get a few I just don't want to ask. I built a pretty advanced recycled oil biodiesel processor for my university last summer, so the faculty who gave me the grant for that could probably write me a letter if I asked nicely. The thing is it was through the comp sci/eng department and not the physics department. I also could get one or two in the math and history departments. My last letter could come from a guy in the biomolecular engineering department cause we hit it off well but I only took one class from him so I am hesitant. I just don't have a great track record with my physics professors here and can't get letters from them. I was saying I couldn't get more than a generic letter because I would have to ask past teachers for them and I doubt they all remember me well or at all.

My grades are bad but you don't need to attack me about them, it is not like I desire the discouragement when I come to a forum asking for advice. They are not so bad that I got kicked out of university and they were good enough on a whole that I came pretty close to finishing three majors in 4 years. They are not great but they were good enough to get an offer to transfer to CAL Berkeley last year (which I refused) with an indication that I might be getting a similar offer this year if I applied. I didn't want to do Engineering Physics, I wanted to do physics, but when I decided to not transfer I was told by my University I could graduate sooner with history than physics and it was strongly suggested to me that I do just that to avoid the whole super senior stigma and to leave with a relatively high major gpa (my cumulative is what is hurting). I chose to take the advice to graduate on time as opposed to 1.5-2 years late.

The grades are relatively low but I have a bunch of very solid reasons and I have not found a professor or advisor who disagreed with me on any of them. For the most part things are low because I was doing so many courses that even still with me graduating on time I will have just over 50 credits (almost a years worth) more than what is required of seniors to have, I was working two full time jobs and sometimes with a third part time job on the side (gotta pay for school somehow) and in short I didn't have enough time to really give any of my classes a true go. I was more interested in experiencing what university had to offer than doing supremely well in one subject and that is a fault of mine but I am at least well rounded. Another reason it was suggested I graduate on time and not later is because with my current pace I would have probably 1.5 times the credits seniors are supposed to have by the time I left and the university didn't like that idea really.

I don't really have anywhere in mind for grad school, I was just curious if great GRE scores and no degree would be acceptable ANYWHERE? I am tossing my ideas back and forth between history and physics. I know I can go to UCB in history if I want but I don't like the campus but then again if it is an in to studying physics later then I might consider it more seriously. And If you are wondering why I said I could have gone there for engineering physics earlier and history now it is because I was in a program where I was studying both at one point. None of my advisors say I will have any difficulty getting into a grad school in history and some say going to physics would be harder but I should try for a phd program if anything and have a specific focus in mind when I apply.

One of my original plans was to go into grad school for history and take the undergrad classes I am missing in physics on the side and then once done with my history masters apply for a physics phd program at that same university I will have proven my worth at in another subject. I am used to crazy work loads.

I am sorry if I was not clear about everything earlier, I hope I did not cause too much confusion. I am good with school but I am not a great student and that might be hard to wrap your head around but it is true. I went to college to get an education and to challenge myself, not to prove that I could get As on exams in the one or two subjects I excelled at. So many times I would dive head first into subjects like compsci, econ, and some maths where I had no business being or was not ready to be in that my grades buckled in all subjects.

If YOU got into grad school then what were your physic gre scores? How important were those scores to your admittance?
Could a high GRE score help get me a letter of rec from the physics department which you all say is a must?

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by christopher3.14 » Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:42 pm

I've never heard of a "stigma" for staying on too long after your senior year if you are completing a second major. For instance, I stayed on for an extra year to complete the physics major (I started as a math major) and even added a minor in classical (ancient Greek) literature. I've never ever heard of any negativity toward me being a 5th year when I had two majors and a minor.

If physics is what you truly want to do, then who cares about some sort of perceived "stigma" -- you should follow your own path. (Although from your post, it seems that financing an extra year sounds like the real problem. Are loans available to you?)

Is your upper-division physics GPA strong?

Have you gone over your plan to get an MA in history then transfer to physics with your history and/or physics professors? I've heard of grad students transferring to other departments like physics to comp sci or to math, but history to physics sounds like a long-shot. Good luck, though.

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by quizivex » Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:51 pm

Don't lose hope, ginoslug. While the previous comments may have been discouraging, it's hard to believe that you couldn't be admitted anywhere. The official cutoff is 3.0, and some less recognized schools even use 2.75 or 2.5. Is your GPA that low??

The answer to many of the common questions depends entirely on who you ask. I've heard profs (and students who got advice from profs) that the recs are the most important aspect of your application, and I've heard just as many others say that recs are extremely difficult to read due to the fact that nearly everyone gets glowing letters, some profs write the same generic letter for every student and copy/paste names, some slack off and submit 3 sentences at 11:54 the night before the deadline etc...

Your situation may fall under the category of "exceptional circumstances" which graduate schools will recognize. Plenty of students decide late in their undergrad careers that they want to pursue a PhD in physics despite starting out in some other field. Such students often only finish with a minor, and usually lack formal research experience because they started too late to get involved in it. That does not mean such students don't have the same aptitude and diligence that the rest of the applicants do... That's why many schools (UPenn is one I recall) only formally require a "strong" minor. Of course, the other aspects of your profile must be strong to overcome the disadvantage you have against better prepared candidates...what is most important is your potential, and earning a strong PGRE score will prove your aptitude for physics. Your grades, if they're that bad, will hurt you, so you may want to try to explain yourself in your personal statement (for instance, write about your heavy course loads)... but a high GRE score should decisively prove your ability enough to get admission to some average PhD physics programs.

-Furthermore, your chemistry studies are close enough to physics to add some nice diversity to your record...
3/4 Physics Degree + 1/3 Chem Degree ~= 1 Physics Degree
-Recommendations from profs outside physics are welcome... as long as they're science (I'd avoid a rec from a history prof, unless you really can't find anyone else... If that's the case, make sure it focuses on and speaks extremely postitively about your personality, character and work ethic and qualities like that which would carry over to success in physics)... I got one from math... Your biodiesel fuel project sounds awesome, I'd definitely get someone to write about that!!!
-I'm not going to give you a specific score to shoot for... just review all your physics and do the absolute best you can...
-Also try to score high on the GRE general test... it's usually not too important, but since committees won't have research experience and stuff to judge you by, the other aspects of your profile become more important...
-Perhaps consider staying another year at your current school to finish the physics degree and earn some strong grades in advanced coursework??? Edit: Christopher3.14 posted the same thing right before I did :) Great minds...

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by noojens » Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:59 pm

If physics is what you genuinely want to do, then it is time to specialize. I can sympathize with having a broad range of academic interests; I'm the same way. It bugged me when, over the last year, I had to focus exclusively on math and physics classes - but eventually you gotta do it.

So if your goal is to get into a reputable physics PhD program, I would suggest going back to your undergraduate school for another year, finishing your physics major, and making it a priority to cultivate relationships with potential recommenders in the physics department. Study for your general and physics GREs, get involved in physics research in some way, and bang out some good grades in your upper level physics coursework.

No one is attacking you; we're just trying to give you a realistic assessment of your chances. The fact of the matter is, physics grad schools are competitive, and you're currently missing all three of the staple elements of an application (test scores/GPA, recommendations, and research). It's not the end of the world, though - if you're serious about physics, then show it. After all, what's another year of undergrad when you're looking at 5-6 years of grad school and a couple years of postdoc studies before you get a real job? :P

Best of luck to you.

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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by marten » Wed Jun 11, 2008 1:42 pm

Sounds like you've gotten some good advice already. My personal opinion is that you probably do have a chance of getting into some of the lower ranked schools. You could try contacting some physics departments, briefly explain your situation, and see if they have any advice. Some will take the time to suggest applying, or explain why you probably wouldn't get admitted.

Depending on what your actual grades are in the physics classes that you took (that matters more then your GPA) you may have a better chance then anyone here thinks. It looks like you're on track for a good PGRE score which should demonstrate good comprehension of the basics. If you could add at least one more key ingredient (good grades in upper level physics, strong letters of recommendation, or completed degree), then your application would be much improved. But as it stands, you could try applying to lower-level schools with relatively high acceptance rates and see what happens if you have the time, money, and inclination to do so. But you may not like the type of school that you get admitted to anyway, so you have to weigh that against taking the time to improve your application.

Like quizivex said, you may show yourself to be an exceptional student in a exceptional circumstance, and your ambition, work ethic, and science knowledge might appeal to the right admissions committee. Always play up your strengths. Physics minors with mediocre PGRE scores get admitted, but every aspect of an application is evaluated to determine different aspects of a potential grad students preparation, abilities, and future potential.

Good luck,


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Re: Physics GRE score with no Physics degree.

Post by vicente » Sat Jun 14, 2008 1:25 am

ginoslug, based on your style of English, you are not a North American English speaker (though possibly UK/Ireland/Australia/NZ/South Africa), so you are obviously an international student. With that in mind, your PGRE predicted scores are good but not excellent. And since that is what you are relying on to get into graduate school, I would recommend that you either pursue a Master's degree first or take more physics courses that you can add onto your transcript, and at the same time, get to know professors who can write you good recommendations.

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