Some advice for list construction

In a field like physics, especially in countries where professional schools are undergraduate-level (say what you will but Quebec is, for educational purposes, a country in its own right), many in these fields will want, or feel the need, for some professional reason, to pursue graduate education. But before you go on to take the GRE, prepare your statement of purpose, transcripts or translations thereof, here’s one major piece of advice:

– Most importantly, begin the process with choosing what subfield you intend to specialize in. It is alright (straight from undergrad) not to know the specific topic; however, more than anything else, the subfield will help you narrow down where you can study. It is important to understand, from the onset, that a department will be capable of providing specialized training only in a few subfields. Remember that, if you’re completely undecided, you may be a poor fit for a department since you could take forever to decide on a supervisor and a topic if you are completely undecided.

Knowing this, then you can prepare for the GRE, the TOEFL (if necessary), as well as other application materials. But there are a few dos, and their corresponding don’ts, for the entire process:

  1. Do check against your credentials before deciding whether to put a school on your list or not.
  2. It is alright to aim high, given one’s credentials, but don’t apply only to the big-name schools in your subfield; you might find yourself shut out.
  3. Do check whether there are other characteristics that can make your stay at that school enjoyable.
  4. Don’t put a school on your list, or cross a school off your list, merely because of other extraneous reasons (the prestige of the school, a partner currently attending the school, logistics, for example)

There definitely are more factors to consider when applying to graduate schools; some departments have formal physics GRE thresholds (650 at USC) or general GRE thresholds (307 V+Q at Dartmouth) but a common academic threshold is a 3.0 GPA. So keep these thresholds in mind as you build a list and be prepared to cut a school off your list if you can barely clear these thresholds.In fact, cut a school off your list if there is more than one threshold you have trouble clearing in a multi-threshold school.

But more on the general and physics GRE tests later.

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