Grad School – Where to apply?

Discuss how to make choices on grad school applications.


19 Responses

  1. The following links might be helpful in selecting grad schools in physics to apply to. Schools are ranked in general and by field. Use the lists as another source of info and not as a definitive way of selecting your schools.

  2. Northern Arizona University has sent us info on their Applied Physics Master’s program. The following info was on their flier:
    Learn skills for research and industry
    Research or course-only option for degree
    Teaching and Research Assistantships available
    Research programs in experimental condensed matter physics, planetary science, foundations of quantum mechanics
    Prepare for employment and Ph.D. programs
    • Application deadline is January 15, 2011

    Their website can be found at:

  3. My thesis advisor, has just informed me that Rutgers University CPS Laboratory has received funding from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Office of Naval Research (ONRL), Department of Defense (DOD), and National Science Foundation (NSF) for several American students interested in pursuing their PhD’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering. If interested you should be in your sophomore year of graduate school with at least a 3.5 GPA. If you want more information on the funding through our lab please feel free to contact me. Also if you are interested in going to graduate school for engineering (which I highly recommend 😉 ) at Rutgers University, realize this type of funding is available. The ECE department does not give scholarships or funding to incoming graduate students, but after your first year you become eligible for the funding. I know my advisor (he has high expectations of students working with him) would love to have additional American students working with him. Funding is there is you want a PhD in engineering. Our lab is focused on simulations, emulations, and experiments pertaining to: Localization Algorithms for Mobile Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.

  4. Hey everybody. Dr. Ochoa asked that I post about what I’m studying to encourage students about the value of physics. I graduated a few years ago from the bio-physics track. I’m now at the University of Oregon doing a masters in physics from the material science institute. I’m studying semiconductors/photovoltaics, and part of the program is an internship at one of the many electronics companies here in silicon forest or in silicon valley. There are two tracks at this school for physics, one in optics and one in semiconductors.

    For me, the electronics I took at TCNJ is extremely useful in my program. A lot of physics majors from other schools never had electronics and it’s very difficult for them. Solid state and condensed matter is also very important for semiconductors, although I never took it at TCNJ, I’ll be taking a class in solid state physics in the fall. And for the optics track, well, obviously optics is a very important class to take.

    There are a lot of opportunities for physicists in optics and semiconductors. The companies that our school partners with range from making lasers and fiber optics to solar cells, diodes, and even computer chips at Intel.

    If you’re interested in the program, you can find the website here:

    And I’d be happy to answer any questions.

  5. Figured I would revisit this section just to point out two things:

    First of all, I love it here at U.Mich. As much as I may have been nervous at first, especially with having not as many options as I would like, I really do like it here and would suggest to anyone that they should come to this school. I have a strong feeling this is true for everyone else as well though, as I feel like at this point, the department is far more important than the school and, assuming you are doing what you like through going for a higher degree, you are really going to enjoy the grad school experience (overall – you are still going to work hard)

    Second, I just want to emphasize again that if you are planning on going into the Astronomy/Astrophysics field, do your research for the school you are going to carefully as far as the research being done at the schools. I don’t know how true this is in physics, but I was surprised to learn that many schools have a strong specialty (or two) in the kinds of research that is taking place there. For example, on this campus there are a lot of people looking at dust (clouds, accretion disks, planet forming, etc) and black holes/jets. If your interest was in say, exoplanet detection or gamma ray bursts or something, this would not be the best school for you. I didn’t look into this much when applying, as I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do and didn’t realize this was something important, but it is definitely something to check before you apply or make your decision!

  6. Well, now that I’m finally a Physics Major according to this blog…

    I have to admit, reading all this has me a bit worried. After I graduate this May, I’m moving to Colorado and getting married. Going to a grad school more than commuting distance simply isn’t an option. That list is only 3 schools, and two of them are rather prestigious for the field I’ll be entering (atmospheric sciences), which is good for if I go to one of them, but bad for actually getting in. And I don’t have the most stellar academic track record to begin with (graduating 10 years after I started with a B- GPA).

    So I guess I’m just asking, do I stand a chance at all?

  7. Ed,

    You stand a chance if you do apply… I had an advisee that got into a geophysics program applying in late March. You will need to be a bit aggressive and convince them that you are capable of performing. Find out as much as possible about each institution and give it a try. You should also talk to Dr. Magee for some advice.

  8. Alright, the results are in, and I think I’ll go school by school as Chaz did on the responses. Each of these are for the astronomy/astrophysics departments, or the physics department if astronomy/astrophysics is absorbed in that larger department:

    Berkeley – Rejected via e-mail
    BU – Accepted via e-mail, $17,500+tuition, medical insurance, and all fees+summer work pay
    Cal Tech – Rejected via e-mail
    Cornell – Rejected via letter
    Harvard – Rejected via letter
    Michigan State – Accepted via e-mail, no mention of financial
    MIT – Rejected via e-mail
    Northwestern – Rejected via website (had to log-in and check for myself)
    Princeton – Rejected via letter
    Stanford – Rejected via e-mail
    University of Michigan – Accepted via e-mail, 21k+tuition, medical insurance, fees+summer work

    Accomplishment wise, this is with having done 6 semesters of on campus research, summer REU at Goddard Space Flight Center, summer REU at Cornell University, and the DPX project (working at PPPL and Johnson Space Center). GRE Scores: 83% Verbal (590), 94% Quantitative (800), 97% Analytical Writing (6.0), 41% Physics (630). GPA over 3.8 for both general and physics. Presented at conferences, had a publication, lots of leadership and work experience… the list goes on.

    My main point is, make sure to apply to back-up/safety schools. I thought my resume was incredibly packed and very strong, and yet it seems I couldn’t stand up to many other applicants out there. Even Cornell, which I thought would be a definite since I applied to the same department which I had just worked for the summer before, turned me down without so much as a wait-list.

    This is not to scare any of you, as you can see that a lot of us still were able to get into graduate school, often with some form of options. Still, always have some back-up or safety schools ready!

    • Your list of accomplishments sounds so impressive. Good grades, lots of experiences, good test scores. I don’t understand why you didn’t get in to Berkeley, Cornell, Princeton, MIT, etc. What more could the MIT-s and Princeton-s of the world want? It seems to me that you did everything right.

  9. I’ve applied to 7 schools for the Ph.D program in physics: Princeton, U. Rochester, SUNY Stony Brook, U. Penn, Rutgers, U. Delaware, Drexel. Just as a note… U. Rochester and Drexel were both free applications. The others had an average cost of $70 a piece, which gets pricey as one can imagine. In my written statement, I focused on an interest in experimental physics, specifically optics.

    As far as acceptances go, here’s how it turned out thus far:

    Princeton: Rejected via email late February

    Stony Brook: No response

    U. Penn: No response

    U. Rochester: Accepted via email, $17.8k TA, +$2-4k research opportunities for the summer

    Rutgers: Accepted via email, $24.3k TA, + $2-4k research opportunities for the summer

    U. Delaware: Accepted via email, $21k TA

    Drexel U. : Accepted via email, $21k TA + $5k fellowship per year for 2 years

    As far as my accomplishments or activities prior to applying to grad schools, I did an REU at U. Rochester in theoretical computational astrophysics, and an independent research with Dr. Ochoa in Raman spectroscopy. GRE scores were okay, 90% reading, 80% math, 50% physics gre. 3.85+ gpa. My only regrets: not doing research sooner in my undergraduate career and not studying for the physics gre enough!!!!

  10. I applied to two schools for Electrical & Computer Engineering:

    Fairfield University: Accepted with full tuition remission and stipend from local company internship.
    (please note: If you plan on applying to Fairfield they have no assistantships or scholarships. They contacted a local company, which pending my enrollment would hire me as an intern and pay for school in full and give me a salary on top of that. If you are interested your best bet is to email them.)

    Rutgers University: Accepted and waiting on stipend amount. I will definitely be attending Rutgers in the fall.

    I was not sure how smooth the process of transitioning over from physics undergrad to electrical & computer engineering grad was going to be. The process has been relatively simple and transparent thus far. I am waiting to find out if I need to take any undergraduate catch up engineering courses since I was a physics undergrad, I will keep you updated on the process, this is useful for any physics majors wondering what the transition from physics to engineering is like. I just found out three days ago that I got in. The electrical/computer engineering grad program is highly competitive, with 1800 applicants and only 500 acceptances in 2008 for the masters program. There is no direct phd route, in other words you must complete your masters first or have attained a masters prior to going for your phd. If you successfully complete your masters at Rutgers with 3.5 or higher you simply change your status upon matriculation to the phd route and continue on. If anyone is interested and wants more info,

    I know that quite a number of TCNJ graduates have gone on to completing a masters in both electrical and mechanical engineering. I don’t believe that anyone has gone for electrical and computer, if anyone has any questions on the whole process or anything feel free to post it up!


  11. Yo guys, just thought that I would blog about my grad school experience. I was recently accepted to Baylor University for physics. They gave me about 21k. I wasn’t sure exactly if I wanted to go on to grad school or work first, so this was the only school which I applied to, so I guess its kinda lucky that I got in haha. I haven’t decided whether or not i’m going yet, mostly because I would like to visit the school first.
    As far as the school itself goes though it seems like a good program. They are located in Waco Texas. They offer Ph.D.s in theoretical and experimental particle, solid state, material, atomic, nuclear, and space physics, as well as astrophysics and cosmology. There is also a small engineering physics group and the department recently joined the CDF collaboration at fermilab. They are a smaller department, and they reminded me of TCNJ in some ways. The research they do there is also what I want to pursue. I think what stood out about them the most though was when I was applying to the school was how down to earth they were. I called the school to find out about the application, and I was shocked to transferred straight to the head of the department. What surprised me more is that he took the time to talk to me about what I was interested in and what my goals were. Even though Baylor is a smaller school, I never expected to be treated with such respect. For me though it was important to know that if I needed help there were people I could go to in grad school. This attitude also seems to prevail throughout the department, I’m not sure exactly how grad school is since I’ve never been there but the professors seem very nice. They have a lot of office hours and seem willing to work with students. I also found out today that they put the text books online so that saves the student a little bit of money.
    So anyway good luck everybody on finding/ applying to grad school ! later

  12. I’m tempted to say that I should start too… seeing as the last two people both said the same thing….

    Anyway, while I have not heard from all schools yet, I have two acceptances so far: University of Michigan and Boston University, both in the Astronomy/Astrophysics Department. Due to my ‘two-body problem’ as the professors term it, and after visiting the campus, I am very likely to be attending UMich. UMich is a strong institution with a program I am more or less in love with right now, and I will gladly tell anyone more about it if they desire.

    From a more practical standpoint, UMich is also offering ~24K (including working over the summer) while BU is closer to 20K, in addition to full medical, no tuition and other benefits.

    Another big consideration for everyone is a message which my fiance received from MIT, which I will paraphrase here: “We are putting you on the wait-list for admission this year. Had this been any other year, we would have accepted you immediately, but as it stands with financial situations and considerations, we are having to move you to the wait-list and feel it is very unlikely that we will be able to admit you this year.”

    So while I to some extent agree that I applied to too many schools (11) and may have wasted some money there, I feel it is the much better alternative at current than applying to a few only to find that the new competitiveness of this year kept you out of graduate school.

  13. So Dr. Ochoa thought it was a good idea for students accepted into grad schools to post their schools here… so I guess I’ll start.

    I got accepted to the High Energy Theory departments at UC Davis and the College of William and Mary. I got rejected from Stanford, UCSB, Cornell, U Chicago, and U Maryland. I am waiting to hear back from U Penn, U Washington, and Boston U.

    From both of the schools I got accepted to I received 22K+ stipend along with a tuition waiver and health care coverage.

    Good luck to everyone!

  14. So Dr. Ochoa thought it was a good idea for students accepted into grad schools to post their schools here… so I guess I’ll start.

    I applied to ten schools (about 5 too many, now that I think about it): NYU, Columbia, Rutgers, UNC Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, U Penn, Drexel, UC Riverside, and UC Berkeley. Columbia was a no go, but I was accepted to Drexel and recently visited the physics department. I’m strongly considering going there, so I’m pretty happy about it. Now I’m just playing the waiting game until the other schools get back to me.

  15. All these years I thought that JC was good only at spiking and Spaz only at getting clobbered in volleyball…it turned out they played other sports. Let that be a lesson to current majors that you can do sports, or other activities, and still get excellent grades.

    The other side of the current economy is that in weak economies people do go back to college in search of career changes or retraining. Thus, many in the physical sciences and engineering fields end up taking physics courses. In turn this requires more teaching assistants which imply more physics grad students.

    One current senior got accepted to Michigan (physics/astrophysics Ph. D. program)a few days ago while another one has been accepted to at least 4 MD/Ph.D. programs!

    We do want more students to go into good paying jobs in the non-physical fields…MBAs, engineering, MDs, MD/PhD, geophysics (read oil)…so that in that no so far future they can donate to TCNJ. Imagine an optical table named after Dr. Spaz…but everyone can donate!

  16. My awesome flag football QB is right; if you are serious about graduate school you really should be applying to a large number of them. The wars/economy has screwed up funding for a lot of stuff, both with public and private schools. A lot more people are looking for postgrad opportunities, so you definitely need to expand your search radius and loosen your criteria. Many quality schools are often overlooked because of their size or location. Rankings are important, but you should look at where people who have the job you want went to school. Ask the faculty about their impressions of a school or program, and always try to find graduates of the school or program to talk to.

    Also, remember that your degree gives you some flexibility in terms of the types of programs to apply for. You don’t have to go into the physical sciences. Ochoa may cry, but think of it as payback.

  17. I am currently in the physics Ph.D. program at the University of Connecticut and a former TCNJ physics grad (class of 2002). For those of you that are thinking of applying to grad school, you might want to know that the economic downturn is having an impact on Universities, especially those funded at least partially by state governments. Here in Connecticut, as in many states around the country, the state is facing a large budget deficit and as a result, funding here at UConn has been, and may continue to be, cut. There has been serious talk about taking fewer new graduate students this year or even possibly not taking any new students at all. I think this is something you should consider when applying to graduate programs. You really should include some fall back choices if you are intent on going because many programs may be cutting back on the number of new students they admit. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about grad school, so let me know.

  18. For infromation on graduate school. (Acceptance Rates & General Info)

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