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Preparing for Physics graduate school

I'm a third year undergraduate in a physics program getting my bachelor's degree. I'm primarily interested in graduate school, and I was wondering if there was any advice regarding how to prepare for applying?

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Lindsay’s Answer

Hi Anthony!

Look into the programs you want to apply to and make sure you fulfill their requirements! That's the first thing you should be doing when you apply to graduate school. There's nothing worse than finishing your bachelor's and realizing that you don't have all the pre-reqs done for grad school. Also, if you apply to schools without hitting all the requirements, your application won't be considered, so just make sure that you have all of the tests, coursework, experience, etc that your schools want.
Also, I found it super helpful to see where I was relative to the most recent matriculating class. It's not great to compare yourself to others, and you don't always have to hit the GPA/GRE marks that are described online, but it's a great way to see what you need to work on. If your GPA is lower, it could help to study hard and perform well on your entrance exams to show academic maturity. You want them to know you can take on a hard course load, even if your transcript shows otherwise. You can always explain why your GPA/exam scores are low during your interview, but you have to get there first! If you do have lower grades/exam scores, you might want to consider taking post-bacc classes as well. Seeing as you're a 3rd year, you have plenty of time, so don't stress out about grades too much. Just try your best!
Another piece of advice is to start on your personal statement EARLY. You're going to write out your personal statement and want to have people edit it to make sure it's the best statement. That being said, make sure that you're not OVER-editing it to keep it personal! A lot of people write out their statement and end up over-editing it (aka sending it to like 20 people). Their personal statement then becomes a reflection of the people who edited it and it doesn't show your own voice and passion. This is the one chance for the admissions team to get to know you before your interview, so you want them to understand why you're perfect for the program and why it's right for you and only you. It's good to go to the writing center at your school and ask them to look over it so that they can fix any grammatical errors and make sure your statement makes sense.
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of networking. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Make connections! When I was shadowing to prep for my own grad school program, I met a lot of professionals who were on the board/faculty of my dream program. It is SO important to have people who can connect you to the program and show the school that you're a good fit. Whether it be on LinkedIn, or through other means, try to reach out to as many people as you can and build relationships! These are people you could be working with/for in the future, so making sure you give off a good first impression means a lot. If someone on the physics board/faculty of the graduate program you're applying to knows you and can explain to others why you deserve to be there, you'll look like an even better applicant.

I know this is a lot of advice, but I hope it helped! Don't worry too much, you still have time. Good luck applying to grad school! You'll do great (:
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Andrew’s Answer

If you have a specific discipline in physics in mind, you should search for a graduate school that is strong in this area. Otherwise, a solid graduate school should suffice.

As far as preparation is concerned, take as many mathematics classes as possible because it will expand your horizon in the choice of disciplines in physics. Improving your programming skill will also be a good idea.

I got my BS in physics, MS in physics, and PhD in geophysics. When I was an undergraduate, I did not know what discipline in physics I should get into when I went to graduate school. I did quite a bit of exploration and ended up in geophysics in my PhD program.
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Nicholas’s Answer

Look ahead, beyond your bachelors degree, beyond the masters, beyond the PhD, look at the post doctorate research fellow opportunities, particularly at Oak Ridge National Lab. Find a problem set or collection of topics you are passionate about and want to invest years in. Begin with the end in mind, as it were.
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Gizem’s Answer

Hi Anthony,

If you are interested in PhD programs, I would recommend thinking about the sub-field or research area you would like to focus. It will help you a lot in narrowing down the programs you would like to apply. Also most MS or PhD programs value undergraduate research experience a lot so I would definitely try to get as much undergraduate research experience as possible. More importantly, it will help you have an idea about your areas of interest. If you are already involved in research, I would definitely recommend talking to your advisor(s) or other lab members such as graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Additionally, if you are close to any faculty members in your institution, it would be beneficial to contact them and get their input as well. Depending on your interests, you can always ask them if there are any programs or potential advisors they can suggest. Apart from these, attending conferences, symposiums etc will help you a lot to meet with potential advisors or colleagues in your field. Even in the current pandemic environment, there are still many online scientific events you can attend.

Wishing all the best in your applications and all future endeavors!
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