"Fluff" Students?

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"Fluff" Students?

Post by geshi » Sat Jan 30, 2010 10:24 pm

I have heard from my professors that some programs accept way more students than they want (and bring them in) for the purpose of TAing. They then proceed to make qualifiers so incredibly hard as to purposefully weed out a large portion of the class (in the case of 1 school I heard they were weeding out 30%+ of each class).

I was talking to my friend the other day, and he mentioned a program that he knows does this. It got me thinking. I'm not sure I really want to go to a program where they're expecting to kick out a large portion of the class after quals. That doesn't sound like a pleasant experience. However, it seems a bit tricky to figure out what schools do and what schools don't do this. I've been looking at acceptance numbers and comparing them to the number of PhDs granted and such on http://www.gradschoolshopper.com/. I look for any inconsistencies. It sends up red flags to me if the numbers don't seem right. That doesn't seem like the best method

Does anyone know a good place/method to find this kind of information? The only other method I can think of right now would be talking to current graduate students at specific schools and asking.

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Re: "Fluff" Students?

Post by Mataka » Sat Jan 30, 2010 10:57 pm

You can look on this forum, this has been discussed before, I think they call it "weeding out students". If I remember correctly, the consensus was that a lot of Californian schools used to do this, but it's less common nowadays.

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Re: "Fluff" Students?

Post by ultraballer2000 » Sat Jan 30, 2010 10:58 pm

I've definitely heard of this kind of stuff happening, too. My advisor would tell me about how insanely competitive physics grad programs are and that they will purposely admit way more students then they can hold on to, and just weed them out with the qualifying exams, or I guess kick them out if they can't find a professor to work with. The best way, to my knowledge, would definitely be to contact the grad students and ask about the departments, I'm sure they'd be happy to let you know, and should probably give you an unbiased opinion (this is what I did for several astro programs). Another way is to talk to professors from your undergrad and ask if they know anything about the kind of department the schools you are interested in have.

Also, I suppose that since you'll be visiting the schools you get into, you will have a chance to talk to the grad students about their experiences there.

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Re: "Fluff" Students?

Post by admissionprof » Sun Jan 31, 2010 9:52 am

I don't know of a central location for this, other than the AIP guide. But one should be careful about just comparing the numbers admitted vs. the number of PhD's granted. At some places (e.g. Stanford in computer science), there are so many attractive outside offers given by firms in the area that many students don't finish the PhD.

The best way is simply to ask the question: how many students leave the program involuntarily (bad qual, bad grades) every year? And ask students when you visit, not faculty.

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Re: "Fluff" Students?

Post by grae313 » Sun Jan 31, 2010 7:55 pm

Also, be careful with rumors. For example, everyone told me that UC Berkeley does this, and about how competitive and cut-throat the program was. Apparently this was definitely true in the past but not any more. A lot of schools are making more of an effort to only admit the number of students they anticipate being able to support until the end of their degree. Ask around when you visit, the grad students will tell it to you straight.

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Re: "Fluff" Students?

Post by abeboparebop » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:14 am

I'm a first year at Berkeley, and my sense is that this isn't standard practice at all any more. Prelims were difficult (unreasonably so, in some minds) but the grading scale was quite loose, and a clear majority pass on their first try.

I don't have any direct experience with quals yet, but my sense is that the same is roughly true -- if they accepted you, they want you to do well.

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