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Second Undergraduate Degree


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I am receiving a B.S. degree in computer science at the end of this summer. I know for certain that I am not the type of student that any top-tier graduate school wants to accept: my GPA is 3.0, I have completed very little research (a project that merely consisted of using genetic algorithms to populate a blackjack strategy card- definitely nothing groundbreaking), and am getting my degree from a fourth-tier dump in Florida that goes by the name of Florida Atlantic University. I am seriously considering getting a second undergraduate degree in physics. For some strange reason, the University of Maryland accepted me into their undergraduate program for the fall 2010 semester. An adviser there said I could have a B.S. in physics in two years. If, hypothetically, I were to earn a high GPA during the completion of my second degree and do research and get high GPA scores, is admission to a top university for physics or computer science, such as MIT, CalTech, Cornell, or Stanford still an impossible dream? My worries are that even if I were to get a 3.8 GPA, my total average GPA would still be below 3.5, and there is only one and a half years to go to the application deadline for these places. I'm afraid that my low GPA will discourage those undergraduate summer research programs from accepting me next year, so I won't have that on my transcript.

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No, it's not impossible. But it is going to be harder than usual.

There is nothing much you can do if some institution or other refuses to even look at your application because of your GPA, and as you say, that may happen on occasion. All that means, though, is that you'll have to apply to more diverse programs and to a larger number of them than a conventional applicant in order to get your foot in the door. If you're serious, you'll eventually get your break. The best way to get into a summer research program is to make connections with your professors during the school year and impressing them into hiring you, lower grades in your previous degree or no lower grades. You'll want to make those connections anyway in order to get the strong recommendations you'll need to get into tier1 universities.

You can't change your past, but you can change your future--and that's what you should be worrying about. If you have a clear game plan - get good grades, do some research, get to know the professors - you should be able to overcome your low GPA. Your application will show your dedication to your topic, and you'll have the higher grades and the research experience to back it up. As for applying after only 1.5 years at your new institution, my suggestion would be to see what happens when the time comes. If all goes according to plan you would have already made a good impression on faculty and have had some research experience. Apply and see what happens.. worst case scenario, you'll have to apply again after you graduate. For now, I think you should concentrate on getting your credentials in order, and not worry about things that are out of your control.

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Well, I'm asking this because I still don't know whether this plan is a good one, or whether I should just stay at this fourth-tier university I'm at for graduate school because I'm never going to get into one of the top universities anyway.

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It's not as simple as Yes or No. You need to take a step back and ask yourself if you're willing to spend two years doing another undergrad degree and only then apply to grad school, and take into account that you may not succeed the first time or even the second time. What are your goals? You wrote your dream was to get into a top tier grad school--but what for? A degree is not a goal, it's a means to achieve a goal. So what is it, a career in CS? in research? in the private sector? in academia? Can you achieve your goals if you stay at your current tier-4 school? Could you find the middle ground and achieve them at a tier-2 university? Only you know the answers to these questions.

My point is this: I'm an optimist. I believe that with hard work and devotion, you can achieve your goals. Or, at least, you shouldn't give up on something you want badly enough without trying. But you have to want it badly enough, and be willing to sacrifice for your goals. It's entirely legitimate not to want to do the work that is associated with a goal, you just need to do some soul searching and decide. If you decide you do want to pursue your dream, then make a plan of how to do it--basically kick ass in class, impress profs and get research experience--and give it your best try. It is not easy, it'll take some time, but it's not impossible.

One thing is possible, though, is that you may have to revise your plans and goals according to the progress you make during that second undergrad degree. If the only thing that can ever satisfy you is getting into one of those top 3 schools you mentioned, that might not happen right away, or ever. But if you can be happy at school #10 or #15 on list and still get what you're after, then you should have a better chance of getting there. Again, you need to decide how flexible you want to be, and what you really need to do to go where you want to go.

Edited by fuzzylogician
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My question would be how much debt are you going to get into to complete this second undergraduate degree? If you're already a resident of Florida, you might be better off going to FSU or UF. If you're already in-state in Maryland, then that's a moot point. But, if your question is whether there are other things you could do besides get a second BS, then the answer is yes. You could acquire research experience and solid letters of recommendation through that experience. Those things are often given more weight than grades are in the admissions process.

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My question would be how much debt are you going to get into to complete this second undergraduate degree? If you're already a resident of Florida, you might be better off going to FSU or UF. If you're already in-state in Maryland, then that's a moot point. But, if your question is whether there are other things you could do besides get a second BS, then the answer is yes. You could acquire research experience and solid letters of recommendation through that experience. Those things are often given more weight than grades are in the admissions process.

Oh, a lot of debt. But the good news is I don't have any debt now because I had a scholarship throughout the time I wasted here at FAU. My understanding is that MIT, ect. turn away students with GPAs above 3.8 all the time. I know of people with high school honors GPAs above 5.0 who got rejected to their undergraduate programs. I actually got through to MIT's computer science graduate office over the phone once, and they told me that, even if I enrolled in another graduate program and later applied to theirs, my undergraduate performance would still be heavily weighted. My original plan was to start somewhere else and try to transfer there. Another flaw in that plan is that I do not have the educational foundations or research experience to excel in graduate school at this time, especially if I enroll as a non degree seeking student in a decent one.

Oh, and I need to leave Florida. The culture here isn't exactly one that encourages discipline in academia. Or any form of intelligence.

Edited by NoPetrol
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1) What MIT says about admissions is what MIT does. It has no bearing on what other top schools do in their admissions processes. It would behoove you to investigate more than one program, particularly since you seem on the fence about computer science vs physics.

2) Getting a second undergrad degree won't wipe out your GPA from the first one. When a school asks for your undergrad GPA, you will have to calculate it based on both degrees you earned.

3) If you're worried about a lack of research experience, I don't think doing a second BS in two years is going to fix that. You're going to have to spend all of your time on coursework, and its associated labs and homework. If you want research experience, then get a job or volunteer gig that will let you get some. But don't think that doing a second degree alone will be enough to get you the research experience you admit you lack.

Oh, and I need to leave Florida. The culture here isn't exactly one that encourages discipline in academia. Or any form of intelligence.

Way to offend everyone from Florida. Just a FYI, there is plenty of serious research--by undergrads, grads, and professors--that happens in Florida. There is also a great deal of intelligence in the state, even if it may be lacking in its political leadership. Denigrating whole states won't get you very far in life, just so you know.

It's very likely that you could've gotten involved in research at FAU and taken advantage of the opportunities available there. There are plenty of people on this forum that have gone to "fourth-tier" institutions as undergraduates and have gotten into top-ranked graduate programs in a variety of fields. It's not our fault if you didn't get better grades or pursue research, either through summer REUs or by being an undergrad research assistant. Look inward, not outward. Think seriously about what it is that you need to do to make yourself an attractive candidate. Speak to graduate program directors at a variety of institutions you would be happy at. Know what your end goal is (it needs to be more than just the degree or you won't finish). Do informational interviews with people who have the job you want to have and find out what they recommend for you to get there.

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I'm just repeating what professors say about this place, but maybe they say that about their resident state no matter where they are, and maybe they wouldn't say that if they were at UF. Oh, and UF won't accept me to transfer. It's really strange that University of Maryland did.

Edited by NoPetrol
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My fiance graduated from a fourth-tier university and got full funding at NYU for his PhD. Just food for thought (he had a 3.9 UGPA though).

Honestly, I'm not really sure about earning a second bachelor's degree. Is it possible in your field to do a terminal master's instead? I'm in a similar situation with my UGPA and all of the advice I have received from professors in my field is to do an MA, because a lot of admissions committees believe that the most significant factor in estimating someone's success as a graduate student is their undergraduate GPA. However, if you can show that you can perform well at the graduate level, then that negates a few rough years you may have had as an undergraduate. It might be a better investment to look around for a decent MA program that has a history of students in your situation (lower UGPA, but just bursting with potential) going onto the type of schools that you're interested in.

And also, although those top level schools are amazing places that produce amazing minds, it's really the gunner and not the gun. You can still do great things at universities slightly out of that extreme elite range, it's not a question of the best v. the worst, but what's the best fit for you.

Best of luck.

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It's very likely that you could've gotten involved in research at FAU and taken advantage of the opportunities available there. There are plenty of people on this forum that have gone to "fourth-tier" institutions as undergraduates and have gotten into top-ranked graduate programs in a variety of fields. It's not our fault if you didn't get better grades or pursue research, either through summer REUs or by being an undergrad research assistant. Look inward, not outward. Think seriously about what it is that you need to do to make yourself an attractive candidate. Speak to graduate program directors at a variety of institutions you would be happy at. Know what your end goal is (it needs to be more than just the degree or you won't finish). Do informational interviews with people who have the job you want to have and find out what they recommend for you to get there.

Yes, yes, yes. As much as a school might consider the academic heft of your UG they look just as closely, if not more so, at what YOU did. No one made you not meet people from neighboring institutions, form relationships, go to conferences, etc. As much as your GPA is an issue the lack of mitigating evidence supporting your motivation is troubling. When combined it suggests that you are mediocre and content to remain that way.

My fiance graduated from a fourth-tier university and got full funding at NYU for his PhD. Just food for thought (he had a 3.9 UGPA though).

Honestly, I'm not really sure about earning a second bachelor's degree. Is it possible in your field to do a terminal master's instead? I'm in a similar situation with my UGPA and all of the advice I have received from professors in my field is to do an MA, because a lot of admissions committees believe that the most significant factor in estimating someone's success as a graduate student is their undergraduate GPA. However, if you can show that you can perform well at the graduate level, then that negates a few rough years you may have had as an undergraduate. It might be a better investment to look around for a decent MA program that has a history of students in your situation (lower UGPA, but just bursting with potential) going onto the type of schools that you're interested in.

And also, although those top level schools are amazing places that produce amazing minds, it's really the gunner and not the gun. You can still do great things at universities slightly out of that extreme elite range, it's not a question of the best v. the worst, but what's the best fit for you.

Best of luck.

I'm one of those toilet grads with a fully funded offer at a good school. And my GPA is lower than the OPs!

I, too, would suggest a terminal MA even if you have to do it at another school that fails to meet your standards. One, the opportunity to research is built into the degree. Two, theoretically you should have more courses available in subjects more narrow and in-depth than you'd find in an UG program. And finally, if you find yourself unable to get into a PhD program at the end of your MA program that you are willing to attend you at least have an advanced degree. Generally speaking, that's a greater ROI in the job market that two bachelor's degrees.

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I am receiving a B.S. degree in computer science at the end of this summer. I know for certain that I am not the type of student that any top-tier graduate school wants to accept: my GPA is 3.0, I have completed very little research (a project that merely consisted of using genetic algorithms to populate a blackjack strategy card- definitely nothing groundbreaking), and am getting my degree from a fourth-tier dump in Florida that goes by the name of Florida Atlantic University. I am seriously considering getting a second undergraduate degree in physics. For some strange reason, the University of Maryland accepted me into their undergraduate program for the fall 2010 semester. An adviser there said I could have a B.S. in physics in two years. If, hypothetically, I were to earn a high GPA during the completion of my second degree and do research and get high GPA scores, is admission to a top university for physics or computer science, such as MIT, CalTech, Cornell, or Stanford still an impossible dream? My worries are that even if I were to get a 3.8 GPA, my total average GPA would still be below 3.5, and there is only one and a half years to go to the application deadline for these places. I'm afraid that my low GPA will discourage those undergraduate summer research programs from accepting me next year, so I won't have that on my transcript.


Some points:

3.0 GPA: You can work with this! Others have before you. Take their advice and run with it.Fourth-tier school: Don't insult your school. You chose to go there for some reason, and it must have had some redeeming qualities. Remember why you chose to go there, and emphasize the school's best qualities, especially on any applications you fill out.Two years + 3.8 GPA = still below 3.5 GPA: While this would show an extraordinary amount of effort for admissions committees to (hopefully) appreciate, I think it seems like a desperate measure and potentially a huge waste of money still without giving you a super-competitive GPA -- which is your primary dismay in the first place -- so wouldn't it be better to focus on other things that would make you competitive? You'll need to, second undergrad degree or not.If you got a 3.0 the first time around, at a school you don't consider highly, and without doing much research (which is kind of like a second job), why do you think starting over right away (without any breather or much reflection on your previous degree-effort) with a new major at the University of Maryland (I take it a higher-ranked / probably more difficult school you'd need to adjust to) will go that much better? Even that seems risky and a bit presumptuous to me. And you might wear yourself out before even getting to grad school, your ultimate goal.
I don't know anyone who had obtained a second undergrad degree, but I do know people who got off to a rough start, took a break, worked, assessed their lives and came back and seriously aced their second-attempt at finishing their first degree. I'm talking 4.0's at Berkeley, highest honors and tip-top grad admissions. These people amaze me -- I want to be them when I grow up! -- but I think if you asked them, the break they took, often two or more years of selling cars or some other job, helped them to succeed in school the most. They had a lot of time to figure things out; themselves, how they work best as students, what their options are. Most of all, they really re-dedicated themselves to a path in education, without hesitation. But if they had just kept going in the first place, not much would have changed.

So, to clarify, I don't think plowing straight into a second undergrad career without any sort of breather may make you any more successful than you have been.

If I were you, I'd be doing more of a personal assessment right now than considering a re-do at my undergraduate career. It is what it is, for better or for worse; you'll always have that record following you regardless of what you do now.

I think you'd be best-served by emphasizing the positives of what you've already achieved (really, a "B" average is not so bad, and in CS -- a liberal arts person like myself would high-five you) and spending a lot of time assessing why you -- personally -- did not do as well as you hoped. The school may be part of it, but also think about what you would like to do differently.

Then, as others suggested, I would go for a terminal master's if I were you. If you can highlight what you did right, what you have learned, and suggest ways you'll excel in a master's program (how it's more suited to you and your skills and interests, plus your newfound motivation, compared to your previous situation), I think that kind of energy would suit you much better than wasting your energy on another minimum two-year undergrad attempt!

Try to respect what you've already done, and actually try moving on before you jump into trying to modify your past. If you're really hung-up on this U of Maryland thing, maybe you can try deferring your admissions there for a semester at least, preferably a year if possible, send out some master's applications this fall / winter and see how you feel about it. Edited by Jae B.
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I am receiving a B.S. degree in computer science at the end of this summer. I know for certain that I am not the type of student that any top-tier graduate school wants to accept: my GPA is 3.0, I have completed very little research (a project that merely consisted of using genetic algorithms to populate a blackjack strategy card- definitely nothing groundbreaking), and am getting my degree from a fourth-tier dump in Florida that goes by the name of Florida Atlantic University. I am seriously considering getting a second undergraduate degree in physics. For some strange reason, the University of Maryland accepted me into their undergraduate program for the fall 2010 semester. An adviser there said I could have a B.S. in physics in two years. If, hypothetically, I were to earn a high GPA during the completion of my second degree and do research and get high GPA scores, is admission to a top university for physics or computer science, such as MIT, CalTech, Cornell, or Stanford still an impossible dream? My worries are that even if I were to get a 3.8 GPA, my total average GPA would still be below 3.5, and there is only one and a half years to go to the application deadline for these places. I'm afraid that my low GPA will discourage those undergraduate summer research programs from accepting me next year, so I won't have that on my transcript.

Your situation is pretty identical to mine and I got into OSU for grad school with a 3.7 GPA in chemistry. I know it's not Top 10 but it's Top 30. Combined with my previous degree's GPA it was well under a 3.0 but they didn't care. Some friends who graduated with their 2nd degree in chemistry ended up at UW-Madison. So yeah, if you really buckle down and focus I don't believe that top competitive programs will be out of your reach.

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