how is my school list ?

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Joined: Thu May 13, 2021 6:53 pm

how is my school list ?

Post by govsunset » Thu May 13, 2021 7:42 pm

hi all,

i just completed my junior year of undergrad and am planning on applying to phd programs in the fall. i do not yet know how to determine which schools fall into the reach, match, and safety categories for me, so i am asking for help. below i have put together what my application will look like when i apply in the fall, as well as a short list of schools i am very interested in. i am posting in hopes to receive your opinion on how competitive my application is at these schools. thanks !

note: have not taken gre yet. also do not know if anyone is accepting them this term so the application below is pretty complete.

Undergrad Institution: Big State School, Top 50 in Physics
Major: Physics
Minor: Mathematics
GPA in Major: Phys - 3.72, Math - 4.00
Overall GPA: 3.82
Length of Degree: 4 Years
Type of Student: Domestic White Male

GRE Scores :

Research Experience:
Theoretical Dark Matter - 2 Summers, 3 Semesters (~20 Months)
2 APS Presentations, 1 nth Author Paper
Vacuum Energy QFT - 2 Summers, 3 Semesters (~18 Months)
Senior Thesis

Dean’s List
Awarded summer research stipend twice. (1 Accepted, 1 Declined)

Pertinent Activities or Jobs:
Mathematics Department Teaching Assistant and Grader (4 semesters)
Mathematics Directed Reading Program - 1 Semester
1 Presentation at End of Semester

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help:
Won my school’s Integral Bee as a freshman :)

Special Bonus Points:
1 Graduate Mathematics course (Received an A), 1 Graduate Physics course (Received an A, Prof was a Nobel Prize Laureate), 1 Recommender has Wikipedia Page.

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter:
Heavily involved as an extended orientation program leader for incoming freshmen at my home institution (3+ years)

Applying to Where:

all hep-th

Northeastern University
University of Massachusetts - Amherst
Dartmouth College
Syracuse University
Boston College

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Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: how is my school list ?

Post by geekusprimus » Thu May 13, 2021 8:39 pm

You've got a decent GPA (and if there's an upward trend in your physics courses, even better) and a fair amount of research experience. If you've got good recommendation letters (as you've implied), you're playing it pretty safe, even for HEP-theory. I'm not saying that you're a shoe-in for Harvard or anything (not that I'm saying you don't have a shot, either), but I'd put all of those schools as safeties, maybe lower-level matches.

Based on your list, I'm going to guess that you're interested in staying in the northeast, possibly close-ish to Boston. In that case, maybe throw out applications to Harvard and MIT. Your odds are as good as anyone else's. Also consider applying to Brown. They're not quite as competitive as some of the other Ivy Leagues, but they've got some really tremendous people working there. Since you had CUNY on the list, take a look at Stony Brook. They seem to be mostly experimental, but they might have a theorist or two worth investigating. If you go out a little further, Princeton and Pennsylvania both have very prestigious particle theory programs, Maryland has a fantastic physics program in general, and Penn State recently hired a couple new particle theorists who are making pretty big waves in the community. If I've assumed wrongly that you're fixed on the northeast and are actually willing to go anywhere, most of the other Big Ten schools have pretty good HEP-th programs (I know Michigan has some really outstanding people), UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara are among the best in the world, UT Austin is also very good, and I think Florida and Arizona probably have some people worth looking at.

You certainly don't need to apply to all of these schools (that would be a massive waste of time and money), but I think you're selling yourself short with your list right now. It's good to cast a wide net so that you have somewhere to go, but don't forget that "wide" includes the obvious reaches in addition to the obvious safeties. I also highly recommend that you reach out to your research mentors and recommendation writers to find out where they know people and where they recommend applying; all the schools I got into had potential mentors who were reasonably familiar with my research advisor's work.

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Re: how is my school list ?

Post by mcentag » Fri May 14, 2021 1:14 pm

With the research you've done, you definitely have a good shot at even better-recognized schools if your skills match well with a potential advisor. Your GPA won't keep you out of any school that isn't named Princeton, and maybe not even then. That said, after browsing almost a decades' worth of admissions results on this website I've seen one person get into Harvard for hep-th (a domestic female with stellar research) and no one into Princeton or MIT. So when the time comes I myself might apply to Harvard (for Matthew Schwartz) but almost certainly not the other top names.

If your interest in hep-th is QFT (lattice, nonperturbative, etc) and not string theory then UMD and Brown are very very good programs that are good competitive reaches. Two other schools with good all-around physics programs are Washington-Seattle and Wisconsin-Madison. Also consider Rutgers, they have a comparatively big particle group and I think you stand a good chance of getting in. I think UT Austin's particle group is actually getting smaller but besides that, geekusprimus's list is pretty complete.

My general impression is that you can apply to more reaches and be a strong applicant to all of them. I'm not gonna say that location shouldn't matter at all, but because hep-th has become so competitive, restricting yourself further to schools in the Northeast would be too much for my liking. If your goal is to continue in academia, it's especially important in this field that you choose a place matching your research interests and skills.

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