This week I frantically and compulsively checked on three (it began with WUSTL, UChicago and Princeton), and the number of schools that I checked on increased as the week progressed and that new offers came out. I was stoked when Michigan sent out new offers the day before Wolverine Access added new buttons pertaining to financial aid (Accept/decline financial aid, Financial planning calculators, My scholarship profile) so I thought that perhaps I would receive a decision (acceptance or waitlist at this point) from Michigan. But this meant that I would be deferred yet again. Then came Notre Dame (sent out its first offer) and that it added a fifth school for me to check compulsively.
Last night, I was stoked to see that Carnegie Mellon sent out its first decisions (8 total, 6 admits and 2 waitlists) but I realized that all of them were US residents. This means that, until this afternoon, I had six schools to check compulsively, of which two are among my four big reaches. Princeton reached a decision by 3:15 PM… I must say that I had three sources of advice all suggesting Princeton for whatever reasons they might have had (Taras at my undergrad, Erickcek at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as PhysicsGRE.com) although only PhysicsGRE.com did issue a warning about how difficult it would be for me (and everyone in fact) to gain admission.
It may sting but honestly, I didn’t expect much from Princeton because I knew Princeton’s astrophysical sciences department rejected dozens, if not hundreds, of students that had what it took to succeed once there, so I would say that it is not, in any shape or form, an indictment of any lack of ability on my part. Of course, perhaps I was going on a limb by saying that most applicants at Princeton had what it takes to succeed once there; they all seem to have some research experience, GPAs 3.5+, high physics GRE scores. Hence why I didn’t expect much from Princeton.
However, looking at my application, I would say that my low-ish GPA (in Princeton’s context, even though the GPA cutoff is about 3.5, as is common of top-10 schools for theoretical physics) and my lack of papers basically killed me, although I cannot know for certain. Oh, of course, I didn’t have a connection in the form of a research collaborator, or a recommender that went to Princeton in any capacity (PhD, postdoc, BA, or even as visiting faculty) despite Steinhardt coming to my undergrad for a departmental seminar on quasicrystals. The primary reason why I wanted to go to Princeton in the first place was because of Steinhardt and his work on the very early universe.
I ended up caring more about getting into non-reaches (and the more reachable schools) than getting into Princeton, to the point of emailing the graduate secretaries at two of these more realistic schools (WUSTL and Carnegie Mellon). Because a decision has been made, I have updated the decisions list.