I am a senior undergraduate (electrical) engineering student, exceedingly interested in physics. 4 years ago when entering university, for some reasons (better: illusions) I chose engineering as my major, while I was interested (and also really knowledgeable) in physics . Soon after the first semester I realized that I've decided wrong, and I must have chosen physics.

Since our university is a technical institute and does not have a strong physics department I decided to study physics on my own, without changing my major.But I took and passed the basic graduate physics courses (advanced quantum mechanics, advanced statistical mechanics, electrodynamics I & II), have done a few research projects and had a paper published (maybe 1 more in the future). I have explored lots of research areas in physics and I think I have a good potential for doing research.

While concentrating on physics, I was inattentive to EE courses. Today, while searching for graduate programs, I saw that some schools require a minimum GPA, usually 3. I just calculated my GPA and found out that it is 2.95!

  • Do all universities have a GPA threshold?

  • Since I'm changing my major and also have a good GPA in graduate physics courses, is there any way I can compensate for my (very) low electrical engineering GPA? (like by taking subject GRE, etc.)

  • If I first (somehow) get a masters degree in physics and then apply for a PhD, can I throw away this electrical engineering GPA in my PhD application ?

Any other suggestion is warmly appreciated.

  • I stumbled on this guide some time ago. I can't say much about accuracy, but the author seems to know what he's talking about. Check under "A word on GPA cutoffs" matt.might.net/articles/…
    – chipbuster
    Jan 16, 2014 at 4:30
  • hey did you ever get an admission for your masters? I am kinda in the same boat, computer information technology with a 3.07 GPA and 303 GRE and I am freaking out. I need encouragement
    – user31252
    Mar 3, 2015 at 23:51
  • Are you by any chance Iranian? (I'm Iranian FYI) Mar 12, 2016 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


I can't say "all" for sure, but I think you'll find that many if not most schools do have a minimum GPA requirement.

Whether you can compensate for a low GPA depends on how the school handles it. In some cases it may be difficult, as admissions committees may literally scan apps for GPA and put all that do not meet the standard in a "reject" pile without even reading the rest of the application. In other cases the minimum may be "soft" and they will read the app. My advice would be to: A) get advice from a professor at your school you have a rapport with; and B) contact faculty at the schools you're applying to (or considering applying to). I would not just bluntly ask the GPA question on its own, but email them in general saying you're interested in the program, and mention the GPA issue along with whatever else you ask them about the program.

You almost certainly cannot "throw away" your undergrad GPA in a PhD application. Even if you have an MA, most schools will want to see all your college transcripts.

You should also take advantage of the time you still have during the year to bring your GPA up as much as possible. Even consider doing this by taking easy classes that you might not otherwise take. Personally, if I were in your situation, I would even consider delaying graduation by a year or part of a year, if it's financially feasible and your school will allow it, just to have more time to take classes and bring up your overall GPA.

You have already made a significant blunder in letting your GPA get that low, as a GPA below 3.0 will be a red flag to many graduate programs. However, from what you say, you would be a strong candidate in other regards. If you can get people to look at your app long enough to read your statement of purpose and see your grad coursework, then you probably have a decent shot. To do that, you should leverage your strengths. If you have taken many grad classes, done research, and published a paper, you presumably have good contacts in the physics department. Lean on those people to write you glowing letters of rec.


I just graduated from school X in BS. Physics & Astronomy. I graduated with a CGPA of 3.0 (did not do so well due to family health issues). But then I applied for only one school for my Masters in Applied Physics in school Y and got accepted. I also got the Graduate Assistantship (GA) position with that which gives me full scholarship and a stipend. I did not even have to take the Physics GRE to get accepted, just the General GRE.

My advise get to know your professors really well. It's really amazing, what professors can do to get you accepted into a grad school. Get at least 3 excellent letters of recommendation relevant to Physics or Astronomy. Be the top student in the class you would like ask the professor for a letter. Be noticed by your professors as a determine & excellent student in class during your undergraduate.

Be a TA or SI in Physics/Astronomy during your undergraduate, and this will show you can teach, looks very good on your resume and you can be accepted into GA positions in grad school.

Publish papers & books in Physics/Astronomy journals. I did that, and I'm proud of my accomplishment and I stand out from the rest.

Be good at computer programming. Matlab, IRAF, IDL, Python, Zemax are some good programming skills looked by most Physics/Astronomy grad schools. Knowing a computer language for grad school is essential for research and publications.

Do research with professors from your Physics/Astronomy Dept. You will get to know your professor better and show that you can do research in lab. Lab skills are very important especially when you are going to grad school, as it shows you are knowledgeable and also experienced. Grad school will find it easier to select you this way.

While taking classes irrelevant to Physics & Astronomy to boost your CGPA, sound like a good idea, it actually may not be the case all the time. Grad schools are only mostly concern with how well you did in your physics, astronomy & math classes. They are not bothered if you get A's in all your art or language paper if you're applying to Physics/Astronomy grad school. What matters to them the most are your Physics, Astronomy & Maths.

While getting into grad school is one thing, but getting any financial aid or scholarship is another thing. Many student find grad school to be very expensive and in addition, they are still paying their loan back for their undergraduate. So funding your grad school is another thing to worry about, even if you got accepted. Most grad school requires a better grade to get any sort of scholarship or financial aid. For example, in my school only about 30-40 % of student got accepted into the grad school, will receive the GA position which gives student a full tuition waiver, a stipend and other benefits. I was the lucky few :)

My general advise in CGPA to apply for grad school around the US (other criteria will be considered for admission) for Physics/Astronomy grad schools. Disclaimer:This is just a rough gauge on where you are standing and where do you see yourself in the future.

1) 3.70-4.00 (Top schools in the nation) 2) 3.50- 3.69 (Good schools) 3) (Most state schools) 4) 2.80- 2.99 (Community colleges, small schools & mediocre schools) 4) below 2.80 (Don't be a science major)


There is a lot of politics in academia, and being nice or knowing the right people can get you pretty far.

In your case, I would look at the universities that you want to study graduate level physics at, travel out there, and speak with the professors. They are used to meeting with students that are looking at several different graduate programs, so its all part of their job. You can ask them if they'd like to get coffee, and it doesn't hurt to look at the campus map and know which coffee shop is around the corner from their office.

Read and know their work before hand. They almost always have a CV listed on their personal web page, with the most recent publishings at the top. Start with that.

Expect to spend no more than 30 minutes talking to them, but if the conversation is good, it can go an hour or more. At that point, you can talk about your background, your interests, why you transferred from EE to physics and so forth.

While you're in town, talk to some other professors in that department; it can just be a casual swing by the office. Talk with the graduate student advisors in their office. See if you can get a tour of the labs, and while you're in there, talk to more people.

I guarantee you that when your application is being reviewed, they will recognize your name and give you a much higher consideration.

Grades are not everything. I made it into the #1 ranked program for my masters with a 3.0 GPA and a decent GRE score, then leveraged the 3.8 GPA to jump to a PhD program. Two years were knocked off my PhD requirements for having an M.S. And, I did the schmoozing all over again when I applied for the PhD.

EDIT: One last thing, as was mentioned elsewhere, take some extra classes to get that GPA up. Even if they're summer courses, just get it up enough to push you above a 3.0. The last 60 hours are the most important. It demonstrates your level of commitment.

Also, many schools have a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS). Its not a masters, but its graduate level studies. If you get really good GPA in a CAS, then you'll make up for the low undergraduate GPA.

EDIT #2: One more thing... heh... part of applying for any graduate program isn't simply a matter of if you meet the qualifications. The best programs always have people storming at the door. What the admissions committee is also going to look at is whether or not they are a good fit for you. So they will try to figure out not only if you have what they need, but if they have what you need. That includes deciding whether or not you would be in over your head after a year of study and then drop out, having wasted a slot that could have gone to someone else. And, there is one thing that benefits you, and that's having studied EE. That means you're essentially a non-traditional physics student. You can say that you're interested in studying the intersection of EE and Physics, and that professor Y's research would be the perfect compliment to augment your studies.


Requirements are not set in stone, but meant to filter out weak candidates and create a sense of selectivity. I remember a recent case where we accepted a PhD student who seemed strong, though for various reasons had a low GPA, which was below the threshold set by our Graduate College. This just meant we needed to write a letter to the Graduate College petitioning for an exception in this case. Incidentally, that student didn't accept, presumably having got into a better school.

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