How difficult is it?

<p>First off, Id like to say I apologize for the long introduction, but its the only way I can really tell you whats going on. </p>

<p>My son recently lost a close friend of his, and that seems to have had impacted his life in a huge way. He suddenly because very academic. Before, he was already taking all honors classes, but was getting mostly B's and some A's. Now he got straight A's the second half of sophomore (after his friend passed), and all A's on the courses he took over the summer. He is taking four A.P. classes next year, (and knows for a fact he wants to go into Physics, he thinks theoretical or astrophysics), started up a Chess club at his school, did over 150 community service hours this summer alone, and took three classes over the summer (two honors, one AP) and finished them already. With this sudden influx of good academics, Im sure he will get into a much better university than what he was heading for. However, he is going into Junior next year, and I think he knows that his lack of academic displays in the past may have cost him his chances at better university's. For now, he just wants to go to FSU (we live in Florida, it is the top physics college here) to study Physics and get his bachelors (he said he would be willing to transfer from community if he had to, and would try to get into a better university than FSU if that was the case). However, he really wants to go for his Ph.D. He is suddenly wanting to go amazing graduate schools for physics.</p>

<p>So my question is: Is his spotty first two years of high school going to ruin his chances of going to an amazing school for a graduate degree? He would really like to get his Ph.D from (three he has named) University of California - Berkeley, Cal. Tech., or Cornell (Low par of the Ivy Leagues)? Even if he works his butt off from now till his Masters (when he will want to transfer to a better school for Ph.D)? </p>

<p>Thanks in Advance.</p>

<p>Nope. It is not even required he attend a top undergraduate school. He will have to maintain a high academic performance level, show independent initiative, gain undergraduate research experience, and obtain some very good recommendations. But, all this is true no matter where he attends undergrad school.</p>

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So my question is: Is his spotty first two years of high school going to ruin his chances of going to an amazing school for a graduate degree?

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<p>Graduate schools don't care about the high school transcript. Applicants only submit grades from their college/university, recommendations from those who know their work at that level, and GRE scores.</p>

<p>First of all, for his graduate studies, they will look primarily at his UNDERGRADUATE studies, not at his freshman and sophomore years of high school. He needs to cross these bridges one at a time. As far as undergrad physics, the course are basically all the same. The textbooks are from the same authors - Halliday, Goldstein, Griffiths, etc. There are only so many texts, and everyone expects that you have suffered through one or another of them (say "jackson" to any physics grad student). Your son appears to be doing fine. He should focus on what type of school and classroom setting best suits him. The most important thing for grad school is not the undergrad SCHOOL, but the undergrad GRADES.</p>

<p>Thank you all very much. This is fantastic.</p>

<p>dakota: I taught part time at a small private catholic college with a very small physics program. One of their physics students, obviously super-duper with a 4.0 gpa after 4 years of PHYSICS, graduated and went to Columbia for medical physics. He got a graduate research assistanceship for $60K+ (that's huge, in case you are wondering). As xaniamom said, it's grades, grades, grades.</p>

<p>I have a couple more bits of info. to add. First, theoretical physics is one of those fields in which people go directly into Ph.D. programs, generally picking up a master's as part of those programs. There's no advantage to obtaining a terminal master's degree before applying. Second, the best graduate school programs are determined by the strength of the faculty in a particular area and by how well-matched an individual's research interests are to those of the faculty at a particular school. The overall "prestige" of a school has little to do with how well a particular program or department may be regarded by others in the field. With this in mind, Cornell is one of the top Ivy League schools for physics. Last, most strong candidates for top programs in theoretical physics have great grades; the determining factor for admission is more likely to be recommendations that indicate the individual stands out among his/her peers, so encourage your son to get to know his professors throughout his undergraduate years.</p>

<p>Firstly, I am sorry to hear about the death of your son's friend. Junior year one of the guys in my class committed suicide. It devastated the class and the school (less than 300 total). For a lot of us it was hard to focus on studying for mid-terms which were supposed to start the day after out friend's death. The school moved them to the next week as we grieved that death of someone we have known our whole life. Teachers still gave mid-terms but they would only be counted if they helped your grade. Some people focused on studying to somehow get away from the grief but others couldn't get to that state. It was okay and our teachers understood that. </p>

<p>Your son seems to be doing fine. Losing a friend and dealing with that grief is hard. Has he talked to anyone about it? He may just need to let out some feeling to get back into his regular swing of things.</p>

<p>He is certainly doing fine now. During one of our discussions, he said that it simply made him rethink life. Now he said, he wants to do something that can benefit humanity. He wants to do research in physics, but apparently somewhere good. He is very picky all of the sudden. I must say, I like his new-found ambition.</p>

<p>First, I agree with what others have said above. Grad schools don't care about high school records. So no worries from that perspective.</p>

<p>Second, regarding what you said: "...and I think he knows that his lack of academic displays in the past may have cost him his chances at better university's." Don't be so quick to rule out "better universities". If his HS record shows an upping of his performance over time, universities love that, including the better ones (and, at the risk of sounding morbid, it sounds like he may have something worthwhile to say about why it happened to him in an application essay). Also, if he already has passion and intentions for science that are clearly expressed in his HS record, then schools with good math/sci programs will take notice of it and weight that accordingly.</p>

<p>I'm not saying his less than straight-A start in high school definitely will not be a factor in admissions decisions, and by all means make sure the safeties are in place when he applies, but make sure he applies to the tippy-top schools on his wish list as well. If they're going to not admit him, then let <em>them</em> be the ones to make that decision; don't make it for them. You and he may be very pleasantly surprised.</p>

<p>In any case, if he stays on the trajectory you describe, I have no doubt he can get into a great school from which he can then launch into a great graduate program.</p>

<p>I,too, am sorry about your son's loss. It's wonderful that he is able to channel his grief and thoughts fruitfully. A wonderful legacy and tribute to his friend.</p>

<p>Graduate schools do not care about high school performance. It is all college grades and the GRE scores and focus on the major that counts. Having profs known in the field can help too. The only time high school could possibly come into the picture is if the student is at a tiny unknown college where SATs and high school grades and courses would give a fuller picture of what the student is capable of doing.</p>

<p>I agree with Grad1979 about the importance of the upward trend. He could end up being a strong applicant at many colleges.</p>

<p>Another thought - some colleges leave out the grades from freshman year of high school when they're recalculating the GPA's of their applicants. I think Johns Hopkins and Stanford are two examples.</p>

<p>Your son will do fine if he attends FSU, does excellent work there, and then applies directly to a PhD program in physics. It's not important, as many have said, what his high school record is--graduate schools don't even receive hs transcripts. It is important, wherever your son goes, that he try to get research experience with faculty as an undergraduate. This kind of experience is much more predictive of success in graduate school than high undergraduate grades. The professor with which your son does research will generally also be able to advise him on appropriate grad programs and will probably contribute a crucial letter of recommendation.</p>

<p>Great.
Thanks for all of your feedback.</p>