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Applying to grad school sophomore year


barisekim

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Hello,

I'm a rising freshman (incoming class of 2020) at a top-tier Institute of Technology. I'm thinking of applying to grad school my sophomore year since I'm able to graduate at that time (through advanced placement and transfer credit). What would be the pros and cons of this, admissions-wise? Is there any specific advice that you might be able to offer me? I am especially concerned about the research experience I will be able to get (3 semesters and a summer in total). Would this be insufficient, or, would I be able compensate for the lack of experience with the content or the merits earned from the research projects?

Is it a good idea to split the list of programs into three, and apply to separate schools every year?

Thanks in advance!

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You haven't even gotten to college yet - please focus on your freshman year of college and succeeding there! You may be surprised and find that as many AP and transfer credits as you thought are not going to be accepted; you may also find that you still need 3 years to complete all of the major requirements. Even if you transfer in with 60 credits, they may not be the right 60 credits you need to fulfill requirements, and many courses are sequenced and require 2-3 prerequisite courses before you can take them.

You're also assuming that you will have 3 semesters and a summer of research in total by the time you finish, but that's assuming a lot. A lot of students don't start doing research until their sophomore year - some labs have a policy not to take freshman because they want them to focus on the introductory coursework. (Brand-new freshman, quite frankly, are not really useful in the lab. They don't know enough yet.) And a lot of summer research programs don't take rising sophomores for the same reason. Actually, most of the summer research programs I was looking at as a college student took rising juniors and seniors only. You may find one to take you your first summer, but you may not. So, at best you will have three semesters and a summer of research experience, which is not very competitive, but you might not even have that.

I advise that you see what happens and revisit this topic at the end of your freshman year - you may find that you don't have to worry about this because it's not actually possible.

To answer the question, I think a lot of professors would choose not to admit a student who had only spent two years in college. You simply don't have the research experience or expertise to compete with students who spent longer - if for no other reason than a student who spent four years in has more research experience than you. If you do apply in the fall of your sophomore year, and best-case scenario you've actually gotten into a research lab as a second-semester freshman, you'd only have one semester of research (and maybe a summer) under your belt before applying. They'd be concerned with 1) whether you've even had enough experience to make a well-reasoned decision that you want to go to graduate school, and 2) whether the research experience you've had to date was deep enough to actually prepare you for the rigors of graduate school, since it's going to be stuff you can do with only intro-level knowledge.

Now, if you were kicking butt and taking names and proved that your research was on par with the senior-level applicants, that'd be different.

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I would not split the list into three and apply to separate schools every year. I'm not sure there are too many people in your situation so you're definitely unique. I may only be speaking for myself, but if I were you I would not apply yet. If I were in your shoes I would try to get a research position for at least a year and make some money! Why not? As long as your staying productive towards your goal then I would say there's no need to stress over applications immediately. This will also give you time to become confident about everything you are doing in a lab or whatever it is. If you are thinking of applying to master's programs then I would say go for it if you have money to spend. If not, then see if there are any masters programs that will give you a stipend. If you were to get a job for a year, you would have plenty of time to explore possible graduate schools while also possibly being able to save some money, which could be a huge payoff in grad school because it's not like you make enough money to save a lot! 

Hope that helps! 

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Get a job or co-op for at least a year so you have some real-world experience! Jumping into grad school right after undergrad is generally fine for people who have been working in research in undergrad and taking internships, but your time is so short, that I feel like you'll miss out on some of those "critical" experiences. Quite frankly, if I were a PI, I'd have to ask you to defer so you can have one of those experiences under your belt. But, that's not to say you're not prepared. You sound like a high-achiever. And--bonus!--you'll have some money in the bank if you spend some time in the real world.

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I recently graduated from college and will be in a biochemistry Ph.D. program beginning in the Fall. I decided to apply to graduate schools at the beginning my junior (3rd) year, because I planned to graduate after my third year (and I did). I had 5 semesters and one summer of research experience at my institution, as well as a research internship last summer at another. I completed my degree (in chemistry) in three years, but I didn't broadcast that in my applications. Obviously, it was on my resume and indicated by my "duration of attendance" at my university, but I didn't want to use it as a selling point, so to speak. Actually, I wasn't sure whether graduate programs would consider my ambition an advantage or a disadvantage, and I didn't want to make it a big deal. On one hand, a grad school could see your accelerated undergrad career as evidence of perseverance and dedication, but on the other, they might ask why you didn't stay longer to complete another major or minor or to do more research. They might wonder what you missed out on by completing your program early. You certainly sound like you'll have the qualifications, but significant research experience and strong letters of recommendation are incredibly important to how your application may fare. 

Ph.D. programs, in sciences especially, are often accompanied by a stipend, meaning the institution is making an investment in YOU, not the other way around. They'll likely want to know that each of the applicants they admit is completely dedicated to the program and the department. (This is why many prospective med students will take time before going to medical school to pursue a Masters degree or work). In the end, I decided that grad school is the path for me. But everyone is different, and your preference may well change within the next year or so as you begin your college career. You can only benefit from working a bit once you graduate (lab tech, industry, etc.); there's no rush. See what the few semesters bring (a lot can change, believe me), and start thinking about this again next summer. Good luck! :D

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