3 semesters to go, where to even begin?

  • 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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3 semesters to go, where to even begin?

Post by tomato_soup » Wed Jun 27, 2007 4:19 pm

I am looking to finish undergrad in Fall '08, due to me taking an extra semester I am already going into the grad school hunt assuming waiting for Fall '09 would be much better than try for programs that will start for Spring '09.

1) When should I take the GRE(s)? I was thinking of taking the general one this fall (or is it too late to sign up?) but I have no idea when to take the physics one. Due to how my school schedules classes (and why I am taking this extra semester to graduate) I will not have taken QM until my final semester, though I did pick up some of it here and there from my other classes. Is this going to really screw me over?

2) How do I begin looking for schools without knowing my GRE scores? I don't really know what I want to go in for specifically since I haven't had too much research experience right now (currently in an optics REU but finding the electrical circuit design components more interesting than the actual optics, will be volunteering/working with a biophysics prof at my school starting in the fall) so it's probably best to go for a school that's not just really good in only one specialization.

I guess the disclaimer I have to put on where to apply is I want to stay within 250-300 miles of NYC and prefer a suburban or urban location, but since there's no lack of schools in that radius I don't think I'm not limiting myself too much. But maybe I am. There's just so much out there, I don't really know where to begin. My advisor said while not 4.0 perfect, my grades are good enough to get me most anywhere, so it's just how much reasearch I can get under my belt and how I do on my GREs will be the big ones.

3) Foreign language requirement. I've been looking at some programs, and it looks like at least half of them want me to be able to read either Russian, German, Chinese, etc etc. This is bad for me, since I'm a full-blooded American whose foreign language knowledge is limited to butchering the pronunciation when ordering off restaurant menus. While I'm not opposed to learning another language, it seems nifty even if it wasn't required, I don't know if it's possible TO learn enough by the time I need to apply. I know there's no way I'm the only person in this situation, any advice on what I can do or which language is preferable? Decided to not deal with learning another language looks like it will knock far too many schools off my list far too quickly.

I think those are all the big ones, but if I think of more questions I'll be sure to ask them too!

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Post by Helio » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:53 am

1. GRE Physics is usually just before you apply so Nov./Dec. '08, about the general I am even a bit clueless at the moment. I am guessing you are going to take the second semester of Quantum during your final semester. It shouldn't be too much of a problem. I am going to be in the same situation because of the stupid scheduling here. So shouldn't be too much of a problem, from what I have seen the older physics people go through.

2. Foreign Language... depends on what you are most comfortable with. I would discourage anything with a different alphabet (Russian, chinese, arabic, etc.). That leaves only German and French for most schools. I am biased here, as I am a German native-speaker, but my recommendation is to go with that what you had in HS. You have some background, even if it is limited, but it comes back after a while. [/i]

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Post by phantom » Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:46 am

If you're planning to take the general GRE, you've got plenty of time. I think if you try to register now, there should still be some space available. You can take this test any day of the week, so it's much more convenient than the GRE physics test.
About the foreign language... what kind of programs are you thinking to apply? If you want to do physics, then I haven't seen anywhere that they have some sort of the foreign language requirement. Anyway, I do agree with the person above me that starting Chinese or Russian with a completely new alphabet would be kind of insane at this point... at this point, you should concentrate more on GRE tests! If you really think you need a foreign language, then you can start on your own or take classes in German or French. One of my friends continued taking German once she got into graduate school, so you could consider that option as well.
Good luck! :)

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Post by grae313 » Fri Jun 29, 2007 2:23 am

In general I think you want to wait as long as possible with the physics so you have a chance to take as many of the physics classes as you can. If you are finishing quantum fall of '08, I'd take the test that November/December right before application are due. Don't worry, most people will be in your same boat. I think the time it would take to self-learn enough QM for taking the GRE before then would be better spent doing more research. Just my opinion, of course. For the general, I'd sign up now for the next one available and get that sucker out of the way. Foreign language... whaaat? I've never seen or heard that requirement and I've done a lot of looking.

As for picking which grad schools to apply to, some people on here have suggested taking one of the practice tests available online (like the one on the official GRE website) to get a ballpark score, and they said to assume you could raise your score by 100 or so by studying. I think that's a pretty good idea.

I also think you probably have at least some vague idea as to where abouts you might score, and I would take that as a starting point and begin looking into schools. If you want to stay within a certain area, start with a list of all the schools that match that criteria. Start crossing the ones off you know you don't want to go to, and when you have a small enough list start visiting webpages and reading about research. Keep a list of the ones that look good to you. Include schools that might be ambitious, include schools that could be your super-duper backup. Take your list to your profs and ask them their opinions. Consider looking into a few programs farther away. Grad school is a great opportunity to experience something new for a few years, after which we can all run home if we want (I know I will!), but at least we'll have the experience under out belts for the rest of our lives. 8) If you're not sure what you want to research, Maryland might be good to look at because their department is so big. They have tons of neat stuff going on. A lot of schools require a lab-rotation "class" your first semester where you, well, rotate to a new research group every few weeks or so. That might be just the thing for you.

Good luck!

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Post by quizivex » Sun Jul 01, 2007 8:47 pm

while i haven't looked at applications yet, i highly doubt they require foreign language fluency. they're quite tolerant of students who can't speak english so it'd be hypocritical to deny students who can't speak a foreign language.

worst case scenario, just write down that you speak one of those languages fluently. they'll have no way of checking... if they're expecting courses, then say you took them in high school, or were an exchange student in country XYZ.

finally, if you're admitted, be sure to learn just enough of the language to curse off anyone who tries to test you on it...


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