When did (or will) you start the applications process?

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

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When did (or will) you start the applications process?

Post by quizivex » Thu Jun 14, 2007 12:00 am

This is really an awesome site.

Hmmm how should I try to explain this???

Ok as most people do, I plan to take the GRE (for the first time) in November.

I know how important the GRE is (and I agree, it should be important), but I can't picture me or anyone being able to decide where to apply without knowing what they scored on the darn test.

There are plenty of decent students, who have the grades and research background to have a chance at top schools, but end up bombing the GRE for one reason or another (such as poor time management and missing the last 40 questions, or not having memorized enough equations etc...) And since it's too late to take the test again, they are really screwed. Stupid things like an uncomfortably hot room or a lawnmower outside can mess people up too.

I'm not worried about bombing it, but coming from a mediocre school and having had some bad luck on the research front and elsewhere, I really need to smash the GRE to have a chance.

So basically, I wonder if it's ok to have a rough idea where I want to apply, and from now until November, put most of my effort into the GRE (meaning, reviewing basic physics rather than thinking about the test itself). And then after I get the scores by phone as early as possible, start filling out apps hardcore day and night?

That may sound silly, but as long as I alert the profs early on this summer who I plan to get recs from that I do need a rec, and knowing I can send my transcripts overnight for an extra fee, and the app itself can be done online, it seems to me that there would in fact be plenty of time for the schools who have deadlines as early as January 1.

I know most people start the application process as early as the summer. But in short, I don't want to even think about the schools I want to go to until after the test. Looking into dream schools would only be depressing and distracting.

Does anyone have any input on this? In other words, for those of you who already went through this process, do you think it would've been possible to wait until late Nov to throw together apps? Thanks

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Post by Grant » Fri Jun 15, 2007 4:05 pm

I changed the title of your post so people are more likely to chime in and answer your question. Feel free to edit it if you want.

I took the physics GRE a while back. I seem to recall not paying much attention to applications until after the November exam.

I believe this is the trend of visitors to this site as well. People seem to read this site before the exams without posting much (I assume they are studying). After the exam is when people start to become active in the forums with talking about getting scores, applications, acceptances, etc. I find this interesting because I built the forums so people can help each other prepare for the exam and it turns out people use it to talk mainly about the applications process. I guess most physics students know that working lots of practice problems is how to prepare but many have no experience with applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, etc.

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Post by quizivex » Sat Jun 16, 2007 3:23 am

Thanks Grant,

Ah it's good to know that we can comfortably wait until after the test to start filling out paperwork.

Since score reporting takes a while, we may not know our scores in time to decide decisively whether it's worth applying to some of the early deadline schools such as Princeton. Because each version test has a different difficulty, with drastically different raw scores corresponding to a given scaled score, I don't see how anyone can guess accurately based on their own experience with the test. But I guess we should have some impression of whether we did well, ok, or poor.

Yeah the other app components such as forms, personal statements and recs are probably secondary issues until after the test. I'm sure I'll be flooding the forum with plenty of that around November 6th-ish haha.

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Post by thecup » Sun Jun 24, 2007 10:01 am

What I did last summer is I studied for the test as much as I could then I periodically took tests (four old physics GREs exist, it may take some work to find them). I found that I had a good idea of how well I was doing from taking those and I could track my study progress. Just because you don't have your score right now, it doesn't mean you can't get an idea of how well you're going to do by taking previous tests. That will at least give you a ballpark.

In my case, I progressively got better then did considerably worse on the last practice test I took (I new too much and worked too slowly). After correcting my strategy, I ended up doing better on the real test (I found it easier than the practice tests).

In the meantime, study like crazy and TAKE THE REGULAR GRE. I didn't study at all for it and I didn't do well the first time. I had to scramble to retake the test.

One other thing to consider, especially because you're from a "mediocre" school: find out which of your professors have connections to other places. I just finished my undergrad degree from a mediocre school. I was accepted to a number of places but rejected from all of my top choices, except for one: the one I had a connection to (actually, it was my first choice by far, I lucked out). Visit schools and meet the people you want to work with if you can. The fact is that the admissions process gets flooded with so many applicants that attaching a face to a name helps you stand out. I would recommend starting soon. Fall semester can be hard if you're trying to balance applications and trying to get good final grades. In addition, professors may have more time over the summer to show you their research.

That's my experience anyways, best of luck and get ready for an intense year. Just remember that you'll get through it and it will have been worth it.

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Post by quizivex » Tue Jun 26, 2007 4:42 pm

Ah thanks.

Yeah it's a good idea to get the general GRE out of the way early, so we're not fooling around with corny vocab word lists while we have more important things to think about. I took it <deleted for anonymity>, and I highly encourage the rest of you to take it then, or perhaps over a winter break.

I was thinking about that "sending an e-mail to a prof at a favorite school" idea, but I'd just worry it could backfire if they're not interested in dealing with me, or they think I'm trying to use them. Though I'll consider trying it.

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