A few questions from a second-time applicant

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Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 3:01 am

A few questions from a second-time applicant

Post by casual.omniscience » Fri Dec 11, 2009 2:51 pm


Last year I applied to various schools for Astronomy PhD programs, and did not get in. This year I am changing a few schools and reapplying to some schools from last year. A few brief stats:

GPA 3.6 (Physics 3.42)
Research Exp: 3 summers' worth, two doing observational astronomy and 1 doing nuclear experimental stuff, including work with the NSCL MoNA collaboration
Rec Letters: Presumably pretty good. I have continued to maintain great relationships with my professors and have subbed for them teaching their classes on a few occasions.
Other stuff: Physics research award, pres. scholarship, dean's list 5/8 semesters, BS cum laude in Physics
GRE: Q770/V490

My application overall is a lot stronger than it was last year, so I was pretty confident. Then I called ETS on Monday to find out my PGRE score: 560. This is actually the same score I got last year with no prep. Not sure how the second one happened given how much more prep went into it, how much more confident I was afterward, etc. Who knows. Can't do anything about it at this point.

My questions then, are as follows:

-Does anyone think I need to edit the list of schools to which I'm applying. After searching the 2009 profiles, it seems that people get accepted to these schools based primarily on PGRE and GPA, my two weakest links.

UCSB (Gravity/Cosmology)
USC (HEP Theory)
U. Washington Physics (Particle Theory)
U. Arizona Physics (Theoretical Astrophysics)
U. Colorado Boulder (Gravity/Nuclear/HEP)
MSU Physics (Nuclear Astrophysics)
UMD Physics (Gravity)

I could probably easily convince my profs to write one more letter to a lower-tier school to which acceptance would be guaranteed. I'm thinking I still have maybe a long shot at some of the schools and a decent shot at USC given my research experience and at MSU given that I worked there a bit over the summer.

-Should I bring up either my PGRE score or the fact that this is my second application to graduate study? I'm torn between sweeping the PGRE under the rug and just focusing on what I do have to offer or addressing it briefly as an outlier in an otherwise decent offering. And as far as second application goes, would mention of it hurt or help ("couldn't do it the first time" v. "very committed to going")?

Maybe this is rather long for a first post. Apologies if so and thanks in advance for any pending advice.

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Re: A few questions from a second-time applicant

Post by Mataka » Fri Dec 11, 2009 4:33 pm

Well as you may have noticed by looking at the 2009 profiles, a bad PGRE and HEP theory is never a good match. I think you may have a better shot with astro programs, who care a lot less about the PGRE, or lower ranked HEP programs ...

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Re: A few questions from a second-time applicant

Post by casual.omniscience » Fri Dec 11, 2009 5:48 pm

Ok, noted. I'll look at some other schools. Also I should note that those interests are simply that - interests; I am also interested in other fields of physics and wouldn't mind doing other stuff. Would claimed experimental interests change anything at the above schools?

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Re: A few questions from a second-time applicant

Post by nathan12343 » Fri Dec 11, 2009 5:58 pm

As stated above, getting into grad school in HEP theory with low PGRE schools is a foregone conclusion, especially at top schools which is where you want to be if you want to make a career out of it.

A stated interest in experiment will definitely help you out, also, I'd look into applying to astronomy schools that have a good mix of observation, theory, and instrumentation. Stating an interest in observation or instrumentation will certainly help you out, especially if you can credibly demonstrate abilities in those areas. There's nothing keeping you from going into theory groups after you get in, even if you state an interest in experiment or instrumentation, so keep that in mind.

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