I'm new to these forums, but I thought I'd take a stab at asking about my situation. I have two BS degrees, one in electrical engineering and the other in physics. I'm wanting to go to grad school in either physics, engineering, or something in between. My problem is that I have a 2.3 cumulative gpa, however I do have a slew of other things going for me that I was wanting to get opinions on how much they would help with admissions.

I've done research in plasma physics for over 2 years. It was due to that project that I was place into the McNair Scholars program and was given the opportunity to travel overseas to perform research at a European fusion energy lab last year. I've graduated, but was hired by the same research group to perform data analysis work for the project. I learned alot about experimental physics: solid state particle detectors, vacuum chambers, spectrum analysis, linux operation systems, and so on.

In my engineering major I become involved with a team that built, tested, programmed and will be launching an amateur radio satellite. I worked on the power systems of the craft, and learned alot about surface mount soldering, solar cells and battery charging power circuits, etc. I'm also planning the building and programming of a rotating machinery for our ground antennas. Out of this might come the chance to work with a mechanical engineering group launching their own satellite.

I also work in the power industry, currently as an intern, where I've done a few projects related to internet monitoring of devices attached to power lines, learned pcb design skills here. My job also had me write a paper (so I'd be first author there) related to cyber security that will be going to a conference later this year. Not sure if this will help specifically since that work isn't necessarily what I want to do graduate research in.

I'm currently taking a year off to work, pay off debts, and study for good scores on the general and subject GRE's. I was also plannig on taking 1 or 2 grad courses and planning to ace them. My bad grades came from my first year courses, not from my junior and senior in-major courses. Come application time I can get plenty of good recommendation letters from various sources (not just in my university). I know my gpa is going to hurt me, but I was wondering if anyone has any experience about how much things I've done outside the classroom would offset that. Thanks for any opinions that might be helpful. Sorry for the wall of text.

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    JeffE is a full professor with a 2.4. Emphasize your research skills, and find the right supervisor who cares more about your research than your grades.
    – Moriarty
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 15:00
  • I read that post before I posted mine, the thing is I have alot more research experience than that poster (he had mostly teaching experience if I remember correctly). I figured my situation was different enough to warrant my own thread.
    – clope023
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 15:17
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    Hi clope023, it's great that you have research experience and it will certainly help for graduate admissions! But the advice in the linked post applies to your situation as well.
    – ff524
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 15:23
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    See especially the answer by TCSGrad :)
    – ff524
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 15:32
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    My bad grades came from my first year courses — Sorry, but that doesn't scan. With a first-year GPA of 1.0 (which would have led to your immediate suspension) your last-three-years GPA would be 2.7. Even if your first-year GPA was a perfect 0.0, your last-three-years GPA would be 3.0, barely above the minimum for graduate admission at most universities.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


It sounds to me as if you definitely have a chance, though the GPA is somewhat low.

The fact that you became better over time with regard to GPA is a very good sign. You may want to calculate your GPA by year so you can cite some figures if asked. Be prepared to explain why your GPA was low, or at least what you did to improve it. While interviewing, do not be late for an interview with faculty - study the campus maps and be sure to let any prior meetings to end soon enough to give you ample time to get to your next meeting! Being late may give professors time to look at your transcript and possibly ask some awkward questions that you otherwise likely need not worry much about if you have already gotten to this stage in the application process. Not to mention being late is not a good thing in general.

Make sure you can secure some good letters of recommendation from your research projects. This is absolutely critical.

Hopefully, the job you get over the next year is also somewhat research related. If it is not too late, I would try to find such a job. Also, I don't know if it will suit you, but if you can find such a job, then you may even want to keep it longer than a year depending on how things go. If you can finish a good project, that will boost your chances even more.

Finally, I think your plan for the subject GREs may be alright, if it does not interfere too much with my suggestions above. Taking tests is not a big part of most PhD programs, and even those where it is, only a few of the most selective programs require the subject GREs last I checked (which was a while ago).

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