What went wrong in my application?

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Posts: 15
Joined: Thu Apr 24, 2014 10:57 pm

What went wrong in my application?

Post by vagnox92 » Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:23 am

Hi all graduate applicants, for some of us the admissions season is over, for others not yet. It is over for me, so I would really like some feedback on my credentials and the outcome of my application season, if you have some time to spare. I also would like to with best of luck to those who are still waiting for offers or are on waitlists. Hang on and keep faith!

My credentials are below. I thought I had a strong application, but apparently not strong enough to get into top-10 US places (including UCLA), Oxford, Heidelberg or the Max Planck Institute. Curiously, I contacted Professors during the application process, only if I was honestly interested in their research or their research overlapped with mine. I did so everywhere except in the places I was rejected (with the exception of Heidelberg and UCLA, where the professors did not reply), i.e. wherever I contacted Professors I got in. I hear there are mixed opinions about contacting faculty members while applying, but that certainly looks like a very funny coincidence to me.

I would appreciate some feedback as to where were the weak parts in my application. I actually applied for hep-ph, but I assume that would fall under hep-th in our classifications. I was really hoping to get into a top-10 place, and was very disappointed at getting all these rejections, but I got over it and am now extremely happy of where I'm heading to.
vagnox92 wrote:Undergrad Institution: University of Trento. Very small public University in Italy, building a good reputation for physics
Major(s): Physics
GPA in Major: 29.6/30
Overall GPA:
Length of Degree: 3
Position in Class: Top 3

Master's: University of Melbourne. Big foreign public University, strong reputation for physics
Major(s): Theoretical Particle Physics
GPA in Major: 91.4/100
Overall GPA:
Length of Degree: 2
Position in Class: Top
Type of Student: International Male

GRE Scores: revised
Q: 169 (97%)
V: 159 (81%)
W: 4.5 (80%)
P: 960 (91%)

TOEFL Total: 118

Research Experience: at my Master's institution, 2 years of research experience. 2 papers, one accepted by PRD and chosen for an Editors' Suggestion (yay! they said it was really interesting and well written) and one submitted for publication. Two poster presentations at a workshop and a Winter School. Since I finished my Master's in December I am spending the period of time until Fall 2015 as a visiting student at a very important research institute in Europe, the Niels Bohr Institute, doing research with a visiting Professor from Oxford.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: various within my school and college (such as "you have good marks" stuff), plus a recognition the ministry of public education in Italy and a prestigious scholarship from the government of Australia. Graduated with 110/110 from my Undergraduate institution and with First Class Honours from my Master's one.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: tutor in College and at the University, laboratory demonstrator, Postgraduate Physics Students' Society Secretary, engaged in a lot of outreach, good programming skills.

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Master's thesis was awarded a very high mark, hold a violin diploma, speak 3 languages, lived in several different countries (hopefully can help on diversity statement), attended various workshops, attended two Winter Schools recently.

Special Bonus Points: three very famous recommenders with very good connections in most of the places where I applied to.

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: spent some time on exchange at Imperial College and now working at the Niels Bohr Institute with a visiting Professor from Oxford. I think my recommendations are very strong and people have told me my SoP was very well written. Mentioned 3-4 Professors I wanted to work with in my SoP, and was very specific about parts of their research I'm interested in, I read their papers very carefully. Also kept an open mind mentioning other opportunities should these Professors not be available. Took graduate courses and obtained high marks.

Applying to Where: all for particle phenomenology, cosmology and mixtures of the two.

MIT - Physics - Rejected 2/18 via email
Caltech - Physics - Rejected 2/23 via email
Harvard - Physics - Rejected 3/2 via website
University of Chicago - Physics - Rejected 3/3 via email to check website
UCLA - Physics & Astronomy - Rejected 2/27 via email to check website
University of Pennsylvania - Physics & Astronomy
Johns Hopkins - Physics & Astronomy - Accepted 2/3 via email - Declined
Carnegie Mellon - Physics - Accepted 2/20 via email - Declined
Ohio State University - Physics - Accepted 2/12 via email - Declined
University of Minnesota - Physics & Astronomy - Accepted 1/29 via email - Declined
UC Santa Cruz - Physics - Accepted 2/20 via email - Declined
UC Irvine - Physics & Astronomy - Invited to Open House 2/23 via email - Unofficially accepted 2/24 upon email enquiry - Declined
University of Utah - Physics & Astronomy - Accepted 2/5 via email - Declined
Temple University - Physics - Withdrawn
McGill - Physics
University of Melbourne - Physics - Accepted 1/20 via email - Declined
University of Heidelberg - Institute for Theoretical Physics - Rejected 1/17 upon email enquiry
IMPRS - Elementary Particle Physics - Rejected 11/05 via email
Royal Holloway - Physics - Invited for interview 2/15 via email - Interview 2/16 via Skype - Accepted 2/20 via email - Declined
University of Oxford - Physics - Rejected 3/4 upon email enquiry
University of Southampton - Physics - Invited for interview 2/26 via email - Withdrawn
University of Sussex - Physics - Invited for interview 3/9 via email - Withdrawn
University of Edinburgh - Physics & Astronomy - Invited for interview 2/16 via email - Interview 2/25 via Skype - Unofficially accepted 3/11 upon email enquiry - Declined
Durham University - Physics - Invited for interview 2/26 via email - Interview 3/3 via Skype - Accepted 3/12 via email - Declined
Stockholm University - Oskar Klein Centre - Accepted 12/14 via email - WILL ATTEND!!!! Joint position between the Oskar Klein Centre for Cosmoparticle Physics at Stockholm University, and the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (NORDITA). Primary advisor will be Katherine Freese, director of NORDITA and a very big name in hep-th, hep-ph and astro-ph. Salary starting at 23700 SEK/month (~2800 US$/month), increasing to ~28000 SEK/month (~3300 US$/month), eventually with extras from TA :lol:
Utrecht University - Institute for Theoretical Physics - Selected to write a research proposal 1/23 via email - Withdrawn
University of Amsterdam - GRAPPA - Invited for interview 12/22 via email - Interview 2/12 and 2/13 in person, 2/16 via Skype - Accepted 2/17 via email - Declined
Leiden University - Leiden de Sitter Cosmology Programme - Invited for interview 12/18 via email - Accepted 1/19 upon receiving Leiden/Huygens fellowship - Declined
Leiden University - Leiden/Huygens Fellowship - Accepted 1/19 via email - Declined
Leiden University - Instituut-Lorentz - Withdrawn

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Joined: Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:47 am

Re: What went wrong in my application?

Post by slowdweller » Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:49 am

Join the club (consisting of people with no top 10 hep-th acceptance despite a strong application). Looking at your application, you're right everything is very strong. But I think some years the situation in ones particular subfield is just bad at a particular school. As an example, I was told by an MIT prof that this year they only have room for about 1-2 high energy theory applicants, whereas in another year they accepted upto 10 or 12. Similarly at Harvard, Matt Schwartz say (a hep-ph guy), already has 4-5 students, so he probably wasn't looking for more. Plus you only applied to 4 big name places in the US, which isn't a lot. Had you applied to more (Stanford, Berkeley, UCSB, Princeton) I would imagine you would have had a better shot of getting into at least one of them. There is certainly no rhyme or reason to this process.

One thing we have no access to is your letters. I have a hard time imagining they weren't up to par, given your successful research experience, but that's one unknown which possibly could have affected your app. With such competition, something like even one mediocre/lukewarm letter could have a negative impact.

Posts: 61
Joined: Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:01 pm

Re: What went wrong in my application?

Post by blackmass » Sat Mar 14, 2015 11:01 am

Honestly, I would say nothing went wrong. You got into 15(?) places, all of which are great institutions. Like slowdweller said, you also didn't apply to very many "big names" in the US, ie. Stanford, Princeton, etc, in which case you may have had a better shot. You have an exceptional profile, but I imagine the competition for internationals in US schools is even stiffer, and for hep-th nonetheless. So, yeah. I wouldn't be upset if I were you (easier said than done, I know). You got into an absurd amount of schools -- that's a huge achievement!

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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: What went wrong in my application?

Post by TakeruK » Sat Mar 14, 2015 1:41 pm

To me, your application profile looks good and your results are good!

Looking at the US schools, I only see a few "big name schools" and only 3 of them are private (Caltech, MIT, Harvard), and I would agree with the others that you didn't apply to enough top 10 schools to get the results you wanted.

For a domestic applicant, even ones with top scores will have a hard time getting into the best programs so many people apply to a larger number to increase their chances. After all, if there are, say 100 people better qualified than you, and each school takes 20 students, then if you only apply to 3 top schools, then there is a chance that all 100 people will take those 60 spots at those 3 schools. But if you applied to say 6 or 7 schools, it's less likely that coincidentally the people better qualified will take all the spots. Or, to put it another way, each great candidate can only take 1 spot (although they may be admitted in more than one spot), so your goal should be to maximize chances by increasing applications.

For international applicants, we cost a lot more at public schools so we should target private schools even more! Schools like UCLA don't have a ton of money and have a very low international student population. With only 3 US private schools, luck likely played a factor in not getting into a top program.

Here is my honest opinion (hope it's not mean!). Overall, I would say that your profile is good enough to have targeted top 10 schools but not good enough to be a top candidate at one of these schools. If your goal was to get into a top 10 program (in the US or internationally), I think you did not focus your application enough in this way! You have way too many acceptances, which to me, meant that you aimed too low if your goal was a top 10 program.

However, I'm only focussing on the top 10 program aspect because you brought it up. It actually sounds to me that you are really happy with the program you've chosen to attend and that's really all that matters. I would not worry about not getting into a top 10 program because it sounds like you've found something that is a good fit for you and that's also really important for success. Good luck!! :)

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