Bad GPA = No future?
April 18, 2007 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm a sophomore physics major at a fairly prestigious university (USN&WR Top 25) known for its technical and scientific offerings. My parents currently pay for tuition and dorm housing, with no financial aid. However, my grades have been lower than they expected, and they are now refusing to pay for me to return next year. What are my options?

My parents say that they're not getting their money's worth for the grades I'm producing, so they are now only willing to pay if I transfer to the cheaper state school or local community college. My total GPA without this semester is about a 2.5, but it was this semester's mid-term grades that pushed my parents over the edge, a 1.75 (with not much hope for improvement before the end in a few weeks). They also say that I'm wasting my time at my current school, since a bachelor's in physics is useless except as a step to graduate school - and that I can't get into graduate school with my GPA.

My main question is about options. What can I do? If I try to remain at my current school, is it worth it to get a loan and live with the debt after I graduate? There's no way a job I could get would even put a dent in tuition payments. Is a bachelor's in physics in fact useless with my GPA? One of my advisors mentioned that physics majors often went to law school, which is something I've always wanted to do - is that impossible as well? Any general advice would also be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Education (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well can you get financial aid? And what about student loans?

You may also be able to re-take some of your worst classes in order to boost your GPA over the next few semesters. It might be worth-while to reduce your course load and maybe spread your time out by a year in order to take fewer credits and study harder in the classes you do take.

If you really want a degree from this place you should do it, I mean this is going to affect the rest of your life, and other then your first job out of college it's not going to matter too much where you got your degree.

If you can boost your grades for junior and senior year a lot of places will take that into account in interviews, and so forth (I would think)
posted by delmoi at 5:23 PM on April 18, 2007

You can easily take out loans in your own name. And almost EVERYONE is eligible for financial aid. Go see the financial aid department adn they'll walk you through it.
posted by k8t at 5:25 PM on April 18, 2007

To second k8t, go talk to your academic advisor, and then go talk to the people in the financial aid office.
posted by box at 5:27 PM on April 18, 2007

Law school generally requires a pretty high GPA as well, though if you improve significantly in the last two years and do well on the LSAT you could still get in someplace good. Other people have done it.

The choice whether or not to transfer is a hard one, but I would seriously think twice about taking out $x0,000 in personal loans for two years at undergrad, especially if you are serious about further schooling. (The majority of law students, I think, have to take out loans to cover that schooling as well.) The return just isn't there. If your parents are still willing to pay for you to go to the state school, it makes sense to take them up on it.

Is there a reason why your grades are so low? If it's related to your physical or mental health, you might consider a medical withdraw, which would at least preserve your 2.5. Is there an advisor or an undergraduate dean you would feel comfortable talking to about this?

One last question: Have you considered switching majors? Maybe physics isn't your thing. A major switch would allow you to present employers (and/or grad schools) with a Major GPA that was high, even if your General GPA was on the low side -- something you could also try to spin in your favor in interviews or personal statements as well.
posted by BackwardsCity at 5:27 PM on April 18, 2007

I don't know a single company that checks your GPA when you get your undergraduate if you go straight from college to a job.
posted by mckenney at 5:28 PM on April 18, 2007

Let me throw in here that you do NOT want to get angry at your parents about this. This is not an unreasonable response to the situation.

I would suggest that you communicate to them that you understand how they feel, that you are taking steps to correct the situation and, in the meantime, will assume responsibility for the school expenses.

My guess is, once you've got things back on track, they will resume supporting you.

Good luck, all will work out!
posted by HuronBob at 5:30 PM on April 18, 2007

You're not getting great grades, but are you learning anything? If you really think it's worth your time, go for it and put yourself in debt, but you might want to think really hard about whether it's worth it. A lot of state schools have great reputations and programs as well.

Anectotal: I chose a state school after getting straight A's without trying at a much more expensive school, and I'm a lot more challenged and happier with the program.

And, as someone who's mostly put herself through the rest of school (at the state school, while working, and taking a few extra years to finish), the luxury of your parents supporting you is nothing to scoff at, either. I really wonder about how much better my work would have been if I didn't have to work 30 hours a week while taking classes.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 5:38 PM on April 18, 2007

I don't know a single company that checks your GPA when you get your undergraduate if you go straight from college to a job.

I know for a fact Google. I would stay at the school and transfer to an easier degree if physics is not cutting it. Taking out loans is not hard and your parents may pay you back if you manage to get things up (but graduating with a physics degree at a top university should net you enough income that repaying loans is not much of a problem).
posted by geoff. at 5:39 PM on April 18, 2007

A physics degree is useful for things other than grad school. I know plenty of programmers with physics degrees, for instance, and there are plenty of positions that aren't too picky about GPA. As to whether it's worth the tuition to get a degree from your current institution with a low GPA, that's a pretty involved debate, and I'm not going to voice an opinion on it.

You're going to need a higher GPA if you want to go the grad school route in science or engineering. If you can manage a high GPA and some research experience, however, grad schools won't care too much about the ranking of your institution.

As for law school, here's a search resource that lets you find the lowest accepted LSAT and GPA scores for US law schools. I couldn't find a school that accepted any GPAs below a 2.6.

What you should do depends a lot on your goals. If you still want to go to grad school in science or engineering, and you feel that you can do much better than you have done for various reasons (slacking off, health problems, drinking problems, whatever), here's the strategy I'd recommend: Call the past two years a learning experience. Get into a community college, and spend two or three years acing everything. Choose your classes according to transfer requirements for a four-year institution of your choice (I'd recommend a big, reputable state school somewhere). After two or three years in CC (depending on the four-year school's transfer policy), transfer to the four-year school and get your B.S., maxing out your GPA as well as you can and getting research experience. This is the most economical route to a degree and it will give you a good shot at a quality grad school. But it's only worth considering if you really think you're capable of getting those grades up.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:44 PM on April 18, 2007

It's weird that you left out why you have low grades when you posed your question.

If they are low because you are slacking off, and paying your own way will make you take school more seriously - then do that, and your GPA will improve over the course of your junior and senior years. Retake the courses you did especially poorly in this semester (if they allow that sort of a thing), and you could maybe get everything up towards a 3.0, which will help get you in to grad school.

If it's low because you are just struggling with the material, your GPA will get even lower as you take ever harder courses your next two years. In this case, switch majors and/or schools.
posted by voidcontext at 5:45 PM on April 18, 2007

they are now only willing to pay if I transfer to the cheaper state school or local community college

Ask if they would be willing to contribute the same amount towards your education at the expensive school with you picking up the rest.

a bachelor's in physics is useless except as a step to graduate school

Put that way, it's ridiculous. But if their point is that there is no way you can recoup the investment of expensive school at this point in terms of future earnings, they may be right.
posted by grouse at 5:45 PM on April 18, 2007

I don't agree with your parents that a physics degree is only useful as a step to getting into grad school. Analytical skills are valuable in a variety of areas.

It sounds to me like you really don't know why you are in college. That might be fine if you were making a B- average. I think it's a complete waste of time and money if you aren't even making a C average.

Don't take out loans. Don't transfer (at least not yet). Make the most out of the rest of the semester, then take a one or two year leave of absence. Support yourself and/or do something challenging. Do not hang around and party with your old friends. If you are going to spend the time with partying as your main focus, at least go somewhere new and do it while supporting yourself.
posted by Good Brain at 5:46 PM on April 18, 2007

Go to the state school and have fun. You don't sound like you can keep up a GPA in a very rigorous cirriculum while taking loans and working to support yourself (I know myself well enough not to try something so ambitious, so don't feel insulted or depressed if you realize this yourself). You'll be under less pressure at the state school and won't have a debt hanging over you getting out. Grad school or striking out on your own after that will be much easier in that case.

Not too late to change your major, either. Be honest with yourself and your parents about what you want.
posted by cowbellemoo at 5:54 PM on April 18, 2007

I have a physics degree from a fairly prestigious university (USN&WR Top 25) known for its technical and scientific offerings. Paid my own way, every last penny, and I showed up to registration with a couple hundred dollars to my name and an acceptance letter (oh, how naive I was).

The folks above are right that you can get financial aid on your own. Maybe you'll qualify for grants, but if not loans are very easy and very inexpensive (as far as loans in general go).

I worked throughout school, at least half-time. I also loaded up on hours (anything over 18 a semester were free, so I regularly took 20-22). I got involved in student government and got elected to student body VP for two years, and that was a paying position (pay was equal to twice tuition).

After 2 1/2 years, I moved off campus (but only a couple blocks away) and shared an apartment. That helped costs considerably. I got lab jobs in the physics department (and at a government laboratory right off campus). Not only did that pay a little bit, the practical work actually helped out my grades quite a bit by giving me practical understanding beyond the classroom.

What I'm getting at is if you think your school is the right place for you, stay. If, worst case, you need to take a year off to establish residency, you can go to school part-time in the meanwhile and work the rest building a nest egg. I didn't have to do that, but several of my friends did. Be creative looking for work (The student newspaper paid by the word, and were desperate for reporters. I took the campus politics beat and that in turn led to the VP job).

Oh... I have an undergraduate degree in Astrophysics (and another B.S. besides -- those hours added up in a hurry). I never went to graduate school. I'm not directly using my knowledge of stellar and galactic processes in any way, but it was absolutely the best thing for me. My degree has been anything but useless.
posted by ewagoner at 5:57 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you were to get a 4.0 over your remaining two years (which seems unlikely to happen), that would only give you around a 3.2, and you'd still be facing an uphill fight to get into a good law school.

It doesn't look like it's in the cards, unfortunately.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:14 PM on April 18, 2007

Take a year off and do something else for a year. At my school the dean made people do this if they were in academic trouble. Wait tables. People I know who came back to school after working a few years were much more focused and new why they were going to school, even if it was still about getting a better job, etc. It was still about outcomes.

I always say that if someone sucks at their job, you are doing everyone a favor if you eventually fire them. [You give them chances, you try to find out whats going on, but some people were not intended to do some things. ] You free them up to find the thing that they are supposed to be doing. You suck at your job right now [school]. Examine why. Perhaps being fired from this job will free you to do other things and find your path. Maybe you'd rather do something else with your time right now. That's OK. People with college degrees tend to be better off financially than those without. But you don't have to get it now, and it still isn't the right thing for everyone. And it isn't cheap.

A liberal arts education is not a professional school or trade school. You don't have to "do" anything specific with your degree. You are focusing on an area that interests you, not joining the physics union. A lot of jobs won't care what your degree is in or what your GPA is. But some will. If you care about those roads that will be closed off for you if you continue to suck at school, then a radical change is required.
posted by Mozzie at 6:25 PM on April 18, 2007

Do you like being a physics major? Why did you choose physics over math or chemistry or engineering? I think exploring the decisions for your academic path might be in order. Physics isn't useless, but studying something you're not really into is.

Incidentally, state school does not always equal fun and coasting through classes. The state school I attended had very rigorous engineering, nursing, and pharmacy programs, with graduates getting into well-known companies. So if you're considering the state school, you should still consider a major you're more likely to enjoy and do well in. I have state-school friends who are now attending Top Ten law schools, and I'm currently a grad student at a top something-er-other school. I think it's more about what you do with your time, not where you are.

I agree with the people above--you can always find ways to pay for school if you really want to stay there (although if you're going to law school also, your cumulative loans will be massive). Do you think it's worth it?
posted by landedjentry at 6:26 PM on April 18, 2007

dude, i'm going to med school with loans for $75k a year; you'll be able to pay back what you'll owe
posted by uncballzer at 6:34 PM on April 18, 2007

In fairness, medical school graduates are more employable than law school graduates, considered as a class.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:36 PM on April 18, 2007

If you are anything like I was, and your parents are anything like mine were, a trip to rehab and a short period of demonstrated sobriety should do the trick.
posted by The Straightener at 6:37 PM on April 18, 2007

Everybody has that one bad semester. I went from a 3.9 freshman year, to a 2.0 sophomore, back to a 3.6 by the end of it. I got into a good graduate school, in science. Of course, my 99% GRE scores helped take the edge off the lower GPA, and I had to have an answer ready in interviews because everybody asked about it, but no GPA != no future.

Crappy school != no future either, but perhaps you can work out a deal in which they give you a semester to bring it up?

Failing that, I'd take out a loan.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:53 PM on April 18, 2007

I'm going to rock the boat a little.

Some people aren't mature enough to rock it at a traditional four-year right out of highschool. They just aren't. Someone very close to me wasn't, and spent a couple-three years at a Jr College in order to get straight and fly right, and then he got into the school he wanted to get into in order to finish. He spent two years at the School of the Degree That He Wanted.

I don't know you and I don't know that this is your situation, but I think you need to evaluate whether or not you are cut out for the school you are at (right now or ever) and whether or not you could benefit from going to a Jr College/State School/whatever for a while until you get your head on straight. There is no shame in re-evaluating and making a better decision. There has got to be a reason your grades aren't what they expected -- unless your parents have unreasonable expectations, of course. I can't tell whether that's the case from what you wrote.

That said, I have a history degree, and I've worked in finance and now I work in consumer electronics. My degree is from a very good school, well known regionally at the time and well known nationally now. A liberal arts degree is a degree in being able to learn. That's its value.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:10 PM on April 18, 2007

There are plenty of jobs in the technology sector available for people with undergraduate physics degrees. Not so many looking for physicists explicitly, but a physics degree implies skills relevant to a lot of jobs and, furthermore, has a reputation for requiring hard work.

Not only that, but with your GPA it's not certain that you couldn't get into a physics grad school somewhere. This is especially true if you can somehow get some research experience in spite of your GPA. This may not be as unlikely as you might think and you ought to look into coop positions, maybe even or especially those that would require you take a year or two from school. In all events, all other things being equal, a degree from a better school helps you.

That said, if your parents are intractable about supporting your continuing education at this school your present options may be limited. The availability of financial aid is determined by whether or not your parents are supporting you and have resources. It sounds like the answers to those questions are "yes" and all that may be available to you are relatively high-interest loans that require repayment beginning immediately or just after you leave school. This being the case, and if you want to stay in school right now, then you may have to accede to your parents' demands and go to a less expensive school.

An alternative is to quit school and work and support yourself for the two or three years it takes to establish financial independence from your parents such that you will be eligible for financial aid on the basis of your own (presumably low) income. It sounds like your GPA is probably high enough for you to be re-admitted to your school if you leave for a couple of years.

This last option, though I'm sure not attractive to you, has a great many benefits. It puts you in control of your life and not be beholden to your parents and their (IMO) distorted view of things. It means you can continue at the (good) school of your choice in the subject of your choice. It also may mean that when you return you will find more motivation and interest and that you'll do better. In the end, it might mean that you go to a decent grad school. Your parents lack faith in you, and that's sad, but if you have faith in yourself, there's things you can do, and will do, if you decide to.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:16 PM on April 18, 2007

A lot of good advice already. Here's another option. Many schools will let you re-take a course, replacing the original grade with the new grade. If you feel the GPA is important enough, it can be a good fix as well as a good chance to get on firmer footing with the lower-division material before starting into the advanced classes.

Would your parents be willing to pay for you to re-take 1 or 2 courses with the lowest grades? A half-time semester would cost them less and give you more time on focus on doing well in those courses. And then doing showing your commitment to the courses, followed by a rehabilitated GPA, would hopefully persuade them that the remainder of your education is still a worthy investment.

If not, see if you can take a leave of absence from your current school instead of withdrawing. You should be able to get 1-2 semesters just by signing a piece of paper. Thank your parents for generously offering to fund the alternatives, and ask if they'd be willing to fund your return to the original school if you do well for a semester or two at state/community college. As long as you use that LOA time to attend transferrable classes, you've really lost no progress toward a degree and still have a chance at the diploma you really want.

By the way, community colleges usually can offer lower-division (freshman/sophomore level) coursework only. You can attend classes there for as many years as you like, and gain the knowledge benefits, but you'll always remain 2 years away from a 4 year degree. Make sure your parents understand that. With the units you already have, funding your attendance at a community college may be a lot easier on the pocketbook. But if it's not getting you any closer to a bachelor's, it's not necessarily a prudent investment of education dollars (whether yours or theirs).

Before you take any more classes, ESPECIALLY if you have to take out loans for them, make yourself do an unflinching evaluation of why things are going wrong. The bad (and worsening) grades are a huge warning that something is wrong. Are you under-challenged by the intro-level coursework? In over your head because you don't understand prereq material well enough? Taking too many classes at once? Goofing off? Distracted by personal issues? Misunderstanding the assignments? Not budgeting enough time to get stuff done? Figure out WHY you're failing, and fix that first. Otherwise you're just transferring into a downward spiral.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:41 PM on April 18, 2007

As a parent, I totally agree with your parents' decision to pull the plug on your tuition. It's a gasp-worthy sum to be throwing down the toilet. You're pretty seriously under-performing (I can also say that if your grades went up again, I'd resume paying for tuition).

As someone who also went to one of thost top 25 schools, I can say there's no guarantee of big bucks at graduation. Many of the people I went to school with ARE VP's or high-level managers. However, some of them are working for $11,000 a year. And some are chronically unemployed.

But...some of the VPs I know went to state schools. Never got graduate degrees and have still done fine - making $200K+. Don't write off state schools.

WHY do you want to stay at this school when it doesn't seem like a good fit for you? What will you do differently if you stay? Is law school your goal, or just something you might pursue?

If you don't have a plan in place for improving your grades and a purpose for being at this school, why not try a state school? Or, thirding what others have said - take some time off. Get a job. Join the Peace Corp. Do something totally different.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:43 PM on April 18, 2007

Why are you getting such poor grades? If you got into a top 25 school, obviously you are capable of performing in an academic setting. Are you partying too much? Lazy, skipping class and blowing off tests? Not really into school/burn out? No longer into physics and frustrated with having to work so hard to get a degree in a subject that no longer interests you?

None of us can answer those questions and you didn't give us much info in your question. I think that the answer to what next is strongly related to the answer to why you are getting such poor grades. See, if you are not ready for school, need a break or if you are partying too much, it is stupid to take out loans to pay for a pricey education. By doing the minimum to get by you aren't really taking advantage of that expensive education so why bother? You'd be better off going to a state school where your minimum effort might go a longer way and your stress level would decrease considerably. Yes, I know I should be telling you to pull yourself together and make the grades you are capable of, but if the answer were that easy you'd be doing it, right?

If your problem is a motivation issue related to a disinterest in physics, that is another story. It would be helpful to know why you are studying physics. Is it something you want to study or are your parents pointing you in that direction? Maybe the idea of getting your own loans and paying for your education appeals to you because then you'd be in control of your education, you wouldn't have to discuss grades or majors with your parents. If that is what is going on, if you want freedom to decide your own future without the stress of the strings attached to parental financial support, whether you stay at this school or transfer to a state school, you should investigate paying for your own education.

So, you ask for options. None of us know what is going on, so it is hard to advise either way (if you want to answer these questions, drop me a line via email and I'll post any additional info you want to share. Alternatively, you can also send an email to the mods and they'll post the info for you). I will tell you that you haven't screwed up your future. In the worst case scenario, you've set yourself back a bit because you'll probably want to retake the classes in which you've done poorly when you are ready to rededicate yourself to school. That is no big deal. If you take out loans to pay for school tuition and rack up debt, you won't be the first student to do this. It is pretty common. You'll start out your career in debt, and then you'll pay it off. Will your parents help you with the loan process? I am not an expert on the topic of financial aid but I think if they are claiming you as a dependent, you will have no option other than PLUS loans and other financial aid options based on your parents income. Your financial aid advisement office will be able to steer you in the right direction, but keep in mind that you will have to jump through a lot of extra hoops if your parents don't participate. My parents refused to participate and I decided to work full time and go to school full time rather than jumping through those hoops. So keep in mind, working through school is also possible (probably only possible if you go to a state school), though it is not much fun.

Finally, things aren't as gloomy as you might think. If you read through all the threads here dealing with education, grades, direction, etc., you will find more I-screwed-up-and-got-back-on-track stories like Mr.Gunn's than I-screwed-up-and-never-got-past-rock-bottom stories.

Good luck!
posted by necessitas at 8:00 PM on April 18, 2007

A bit off topic, but very important: if you and your parents do not come to an agreement as to them paying your tuition, make sure they do not claim you on their tax return for 2007. I got "cut off" during college but my mom still claimed me; I did not realize at the time how much that would screw me with financial aid until the next year. If the worst-case scenario happens, make sure you are filing as independent on your tax return and let them know. I really wish I knew this at the time. I especially mention this as you say that your parents are paying "with no financial aid" (which means you don't qualify for aid as long as you are your parents' dependent).

As to "getting their money's worth", hmmm... I personally think that money discussions within the family have very little to do with money. It was rather interesting that when my mom dramatically announced she was cutting me off and I said, "OK, that's fine," she switched gears dramatically and was practically begging me to take it (I didn't). It can be a control thing... Good luck in whatever you decide to do!
posted by sfkiddo at 9:08 PM on April 18, 2007

dude, i'm going to play devil's advocate.

Go join your school's Air Force ROTC program. They'll take care of your tuition. The first year is won't have to commit to anything.

You can use that time and see if you like it. It'll teach you a little discipline and they'll stay on top of you about your grades. If your grades improve, you can drop out after 1 year with no military commitment and maybe your parents will pick up tuition.
posted by unexpected at 9:32 PM on April 18, 2007

My parents say that they're not getting their money's worth for the grades I'm producing, so they are now only willing to pay if I transfer to the cheaper state school or local community college.

I disagree with everyone here who thinks your parents are doing the right thing.

I think that, at the school you're attending, the effort that has earned you a 2.5 GPA would probably translate into a much higher GPA at another school. You are at least showing enough initiative to take a difficult major --- unmotivated people typically choose a "softer" major.

In the "real" world, people pay more attention to where you went to school, than they do your GPA.

I think you should work out a deal with your parents, where you agree to go to community college for a semester or year, prove you're serious about school, and your parents promise that if you make a pre-agreed GPA, you can go back to your current school.

I hate that "consumer" attitude toward education, "with your GPA, we're not getting our money's worth!" How shallow. (Not to rag on your parents particularly --- I saw it from mine as well!)
posted by jayder at 9:35 PM on April 18, 2007

Having to take out loans is not the end of the world. If you like your school, and you like your program, and you're willing to pull up you socks (and you grades), then take out loans. Is your school a need-blind institution? That is, will they figure out a way to let you stay if the only barrier is financial? I went to an Ivy, and halfway through my junior year, my dad (parents were divorced) sent me a letter saying he couldn't pay any more money. I turned up at my financial aid officer's office in tears - he had a box of kleenex handy - and showed him the letter. He said no problem; I graduated with a little more debt, but I graduated. My degree is in history; I ain't rich, but the debts are paid and I don't have to live in my car.

If you are burned out, or you hate your program, and that's why your grades suck, then by all means take a year off. Get some work experience, gain some focus, and go back, either to the school you're at now, or a different one. You're way not the only person to have this happen; talk to your financial aid office, and your dean. It'll be okay.
posted by rtha at 9:39 PM on April 18, 2007

Talk to your acadmic advisor if you haven't already. Talk to every single one of your professors this week (well, at this point there may be little they can do, but for future reference, it's a good idea). Even if you have, if the situation has changed in any significant way, update them. You will not be the worst case they've seen, and probably not even the worst they'll see that day.

When you're screwing up like this (as I am now) you need to eliminate any sense of pride you may be harboring. You are not above any of the services that your school offers, and if you think otherwise you deserve to wash out. On the other hand, there are almost certainly people less competent than you who have completed your degree through sheer force of will.

I can see where your parents are coming from, though I still think it's a questionable act unless money is tight for them (they've invested how much in you up to this point? They're pulling out now?). Regardless, many people at your university right now are up to their eyes in debt because they didn't have parents paying the parts your parents already have. It's unlikely they will die poor and lonely.

Stay focused on the present moment, and the actions that make the most sense right now. Don't worry about the future or past to the detriment of your present function.
posted by phrontist at 9:52 PM on April 18, 2007

Try to get whatever student loans/financial aid/work study you can get. Financial aid offices can sometimes change your aid package, even mid-year, if conditions change (usually something really serious like death of a parent), but ask them what they can do for you in your situation.

If everything fails, take a leave of absence. Work at Cracker Barrel for a year. My son did exactly that after blowing his scholarship with sub-par grades, and now we're ecstatic that he's returning to school. You've obviously done a poor job of raising your parents. ;- )

(And working out in the real world is also an education in itself.)
posted by Doohickie at 9:53 PM on April 18, 2007

I think the most important thing is to decide what your long term plans are (or at least to have some idea where you are headed). You need to decide if you love physics enough to put in the hard work that is required for reasonable grades in that subject. Physics is well known for being a lot of work. Is physics grad school your dream? Then figure out a way to make it happen.

Maybe law school is your goal (or something similar). In that case, you might be better off to switch to something a little bit less strenuous. If you can pull down some better grades you'll be in a much better position when it comes time for law school applications. Maybe there is an arts subject that you are interested in? Posters above have mentioned getting a liberal arts education: that might be a good idea (and physics is certainly not a liberal arts education). Having done some of both, I can tell you that there is a world of difference between the two.

Maybe you need a year off to try to figure out where you are headed. There is no shame in that.
posted by ssg at 10:36 PM on April 18, 2007

There aren't many jobs out there that are labeled "physicist," but most physics majors don't have too much trouble landing a job after they graduate. Statistics are available here.

Your tuition will be easier to handle, but I hope you are not assuming that your GPA will get much of a boost by transferring to a state school without some changes in how you're approaching things. Junior-level E&M, statistical mechanics, or quantum mechanics courses don't become a cakewalk just because you're not at a top-tier school. And no one is going to dole out passing grades to you if you don't demonstrate some understanding of the material.

Stick it out if you love physics -- you'll be fine, even with a degree from a state school and a GPA that is less than stellar. Otherwise, pay attention to the advice above to take some time off and figure out what you really want to do. This isn't a dress rehearsal.
posted by Killick at 5:22 AM on April 19, 2007

1. A physics degree is useful for many careers, not just graduate school. My boyfriend has one and he works doing tech support - good pay and a good environment. It is not physics related but they picked him because they knew he could solve technical problems.

2. A degree from a prestigious university opens many more doors, in my limited experience, than one from a cheaper so-so university. Taking out loans sucks, but it may be worth it financially because of your later earning power. Of course there are many Harvard grads who flip burgers and many grads from less prestigious universities who do very well.

3. Money aside, do you want to stay where you are? Will it make you happier than transfering would?

4. Law schools consider the LSAT very seriously - I think in many cases it is the more important factor. Do well on that and your grades are less of any issue.
posted by mai at 6:37 AM on April 19, 2007

5. I guess the conclusion based on my 4 points above is that I think you should take out some loans.
posted by mai at 6:38 AM on April 19, 2007

Work hard and get better grades?
posted by chunking express at 8:05 AM on April 19, 2007

Bet your parents a year's tuition fees that you will get appropriate grades at your current place (whatever their grade expectations are). Thus, they pay for another year, and if you get or surpass those agreed-upon grades, everyone is square. If you fail to get those grades, you owe them the year's tuition fees back, (which you'd pay off much like a student loan). Either way, they win.

Then "all" you have to do is work your ass to the bone for a year. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:32 AM on April 19, 2007

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