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I got admitted to Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University, for a bachelor's in physics. I am starting this fall and it'll take around 4 years to graduate.

It'd be good to do the right things early, from the beginning. I want to have a clear roadmap of what you have to do right now, in order to get admitted into a US graduate school.

Of course, the top HYMPS colleges, etc. are really attractive, but I am open to all options out there in America.

I am not really sure If I should go into a master's studies or start pursuing a Ph.D. right after undergraduate school. Does getting a master’s degree improve the chances of being accepted into a Ph.D. program, or, perhaps, would it be a positive addition to my CV/ Resume for employment purposes?

If it does, is it important that the master’s degree has the same direction as the desired Ph.D.? For example, would it be okay to have a master's in Engineering and a Ph.D. in physics?

From what I know, probably a few things are needed in order to be accepted as an international student at a US grad school:

  • High undergrad GPA (3.8 out of 4 or higher)

  • High GRE score. Is it still relevant, though?

  • Concise and meaningful application essay. Describe exactly what you want to do. Explain why you are applying there. Explain the specific details of the school that would contribute to your mission/goal positively.

  • Solid scientific publications record

  • Affinity for the school. Really know the college. Laboratories, professors, etc. At least be aware of them.

  • Letters of recommendation from known professors and people in the field would be a boost to the application

  • Clean social media profile

  • I have also heard from a few interviews [1], [2], that it is good to present your ideas for research and experiments in the application.

I am interested in Quantum, Condensed matter, Nuclear physics

Also interested in Molecular biology and Biochemistry

However, I am ready to focus on one direction.

At the same time as studying, I'd like to earn money on a part-time job/freelancing/business.

I've accepted the fact that I am going to work/study all the time, for 15 hours or plus a day, every day.

What do you have to do to achieve acceptance to a US Ph.D. in physics as an International student? I'd be glad if you could suggest a roadmap/way to do this.

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    There is one thing you missed : TOEFL/IELTS English test. Your post looks fine. But, you need to pass the English test.
    – Nobody
    Aug 27, 2023 at 13:12
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    I'm not sure what is typical for undergrad students at your institution & in your country, but I encourage you to re-examine spending 15+ hours a day studying/working. Getting enough sleep (& having a fairly consistent sleep schedule) really helps process everything you're learning. Also, make time for having fun with friends & classmates! Brains need downtime Aug 27, 2023 at 17:06
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    I sincerely hope that the situation 4 years from now is better than today but for purely political reasons I would assume that currently your chance to go to a US grad school with a Russian bachelors degree is close to zero no matter how good your degree is.
    – quarague
    Aug 28, 2023 at 6:36
  • @AlysaObertas "Brains need downtime" - While I agree with this, one would also need to earn and save some money for visa/flight tickets and other expenses. Which means dedicating substantial (majority) amount of your time to just 2 things: 1) Study 2) Earning money Aug 28, 2023 at 16:38
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    @EmmaLincoln Not directly admission chances but chances to get a visa.
    – quarague
    Aug 28, 2023 at 19:58

2 Answers 2

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First of all, congratulations on your admission to St. Petersburg Polytechnic University! You can't pursue a Ph.D. without an undergrad education, so you are about to take the first important step!

I intend to write a detailed response later, but a few tips for now, stemming from personal experience:

  1. Use American textbooks when you study for your classes or at least try. It'll help you learn the English jargon and also understand how the American education system works
  2. Find a mentor, if possible. A professor, a senior student, a post-doc, or anyone who can provide guidance with respect to graduate studies. This person will usually be related to a research direction you choose so their role might be dual (research advisor and mentor)
  3. Engage in research projects whenever you feel ready, don't rush into things. Do something you like. If you like it, you'll do a good job, and recommendation letters will follow (and perhaps publications)
  4. GRE and TOEFL, were vital when I applied, but you should check the current requirements
  5. Network. Network. Network. Connect with peers aiming for U.S. studies. Sharing experiences helps, and being around like-minded individuals grows the right mindset
  6. The more I grow up the more I add this item. Please enjoy the process and have fun
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    Get close enough to a few professors in your intended field of study and impress them enough so that you can get good letters of recommendation. Very important in US. See academia.stackexchange.com/a/176909/75368
    – Buffy
    Aug 27, 2023 at 13:15
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    @Buffy. Very true! I hope I can return to my post and add a few items later, cause I'm working on something. But this takes me back. The OP is me from a while ago :) Thanks for the link!
    – cconsta1
    Aug 27, 2023 at 13:16
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    Big thanks for the response! Aug 28, 2023 at 17:38
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I can offer some answers to your specific questions based on my own experience from about a decade ago. Things may have changed somewhat since then, but probably not too much. (Also bear in mind that this is only one person's perspective and that requirements can vary from one university to another.)

I am not really sure If I should go into a master's studies or start pursuing a Ph.D. right after undergraduate school. Does getting a master’s degree improve the chances of being accepted into a Ph.D. program, or, perhaps, would it be a positive addition to my CV/ Resume for employment purposes?

In the US it's typical to go directly from a bachelor's degree program into a PhD program, with no intervening master's degree. The first couple years of a US PhD program are often pretty similar to a master's degree program: you take classes and do some amount of educational research, like a literature review rather than a truly novel research project. (Of course you can also be working with a professor on some original research on the side.) If you do get a master's degree and it is in the same subject (i.e. physics), you might be able to skip those first couple years, but this depends on the university.

  • High undergrad GPA (3.8 out of 4 or higher)

Most graduate programs do not have a strict cutoff on what undergrad GPA you need to get admitted, and for those that do, it's certainly not going to be as high as 3.8 (except maybe at a few of the most exclusive schools, but even then I kind of doubt it). If you do have a GPA of 3.8 or higher, then that's fantastic, but even if it's as low as, say, 3.3, you'll probably still have a good chance of admission to many PhD programs in the US as long as the rest of your application is reasonably strong. The expectation here also depends on the reputation of your undergraduate university: if you go to a rigorous school which has a reputation for turning out well-prepared students, then you can get away with a lower GPA than if you go to a school whose standards are loose. I don't know offhand how Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University fares in that respect, but based on some quick research it seems to be reasonably well regarded academically so that probably helps you.

Also note that your "major GPA" - that is, the average grade from among classes relevant to your major, i.e. physics, math, maybe computer science or engineering if you want to specialize in an area of research where those are relevant - is probably more important here than your overall GPA.

  • High GRE score. Is it still relevant, though?

The general GRE (verbal and math) don't really matter. However, the subject GRE in physics does matter. It's similar to GPA in that there is probably not a strict cutoff, but a high score will be impressive, while a moderate score will not be a deal-breaker if the rest of your application is strong.

  • Concise and meaningful application essay. Describe exactly what you want to do. Explain why you are applying there. Explain the specific details of the school that would contribute to your mission/goal positively.

I'm really not an expert on application essays but this all sounds pretty good. :-)

  • Solid scientific publications record

This is not necessary at all. If you have publications, that's great and will certainly be a major benefit to your application, but as far as I know, the majority of incoming graduate students at US universities do not.

  • Affinity for the school. Really know the college. Laboratories, professors, etc. At least be aware of them.

Again, not necessary.

Knowing a professor helps though. Specifically, if you've worked with or communicated with a professor at the university you're applying to, enough that the professor is willing to advocate for you to be admitted so you can work with them, then that will be extremely useful. This is one thing I wish I had known about graduate admissions when I went through the process: it goes better if you treat it more like applying to a job with a specific research group rather than applying to a university. But if you don't have that, no need to panic, it is certainly possible to get admitted without it and find a professor to work with after you enroll. (I did!)

  • Letters of recommendation from known professors and people in the field would be a boost to the application

Yes, absolutely.

  • Clean social media profile

This really doesn't matter at all. If there's anything extremely offensive on your social media then it might disqualify you, but it's also possible nobody will check.

At least, back when I got into grad school it would have been nearly unthinkable to take social media into account when considering applications to grad school. Maybe things are a bit stricter now.

I have also heard from a few interviews [...] that it is good to present your ideas for research and experiments in the application.

Yeah, probably true. Like many other things I've listed here, I don't think it's necessary, but it will help if your ideas are good.


One other thing I happened to notice while looking up information on your undergrad university: the Wikipedia article says

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the University issued a public statement strongly supporting Russian actions, calling the assault a "denazification operation" and accusing Ukrainian leadership of endangering the security and existence of Russia and "all of humanity". According to Andrey Rudskoy, head of the university, while scientific cooperation with Western universities had been developed over decades, after the invasion it was almost completely destroyed, with foreign universities halting their ties with the university.

Now, I don't know exactly what "halting ties" entails, but it's possible that US universities are declining to admit graduate students from Russia right now, and especially from Russian universities which have supported Russia's position in the war. If that's the case, then all your other preparation may be wasted. However, it's also possible that the political scene will look very different in four years; if the war ends and there are some significant changes in the position of the Russian government and Russian university leadership, then I can imaging US universities might relax any restrictions they may currently have. So this is not a reason to give up hope. I just wanted to point it out because it's an important factor to be aware of.

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    The social media profile may be important to getting a student visa and being admitted by Customs and Border Patrol into the US. Even if the situation is different in 4 years.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 28, 2023 at 17:09
  • Thank you a lot for the answer! Aug 28, 2023 at 17:39
  • It's becoming increasingly common for incoming PhD students in astronomy to have publications, so I imagine it could be similar for physics. It certainly wasn't the case when I applied to grad school (almost a decade ago). Most of the discussion I've seen about it from academics is how it would be absurd for it to be a requirement, fortunately! Aug 29, 2023 at 19:33

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