What are some “bridge programs” for a graduate physics program if I don’t have a robust application?

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A prerequisite for any master’s program is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. The vetting process into a graduate program is more stringent than applying for an undergraduate degree. Schools need your GPA, a transcript that shows all your grades and courses, letters of recommendation, English language proficiency, and a personal statement (also called a Statement of Purpose). The latter typically provides a brief bio, why you want a master’s degree in physics, and why you have selected their institution.

Any undergraduate deficiencies in physics and mathematics typically have to be completed in preparation for a graduate program. Stanford’s M.S. in Applied Physics, as one example, makes this stipulation. The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University states that applicants to their M.S. in Physics, whose undergraduate major was not physics, must take bachelor’s level courses in the first year.

The lack of an impressive application may not bode well for your chances of acceptance into a master’s physics program. Each student’s evaluation is based on the merits of your grades and other elements mentioned above. There are «bridge programs” (BP) that have nothing to do with your application’s strength. Instead, there are specific criteria before consideration for a BP.

The American Physical Society (APS) in 2008 initiated the APS Bridge Program in conjunction with the Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN). Along with over 30 institutions, organizations, corporations, and national laboratories, they focused on increasing the underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities (UREM). This group included African-Americans, Hispanics, and Indigenous students who make up only 11% of physics undergrads and 6% of its doctoral degrees.

The bridge program’s goal was to narrow the gap between those earning bachelor’s degrees and those awarded a doctorate in physics. APS set an objective of adding 30 Ph.D.s a year, which would be sufficient to close the disparity. In 2013, graduate schools accepted the first bridge students; by 2017, 210 had applied, and 106 students were accepted into doctorate programs.

IGEN, mentioned above, also partners with the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Chemical Society (ACS) to support UREMs who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to enter the physical sciences. These are astronomy, chemical engineering, chemistry, geosciences, and physics. Some of the bridge programs, which vary from school to school, provide research experience, mentoring, and advanced coursework to prepare students for graduate programs.

Eligibility for IGEN requires a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, physics, applied physics, astrophysics,   geosciences, biophysics, or a closely related field. Students do not need an M.S. but must have applied to one or more graduate programs in physics, chemistry or geoscience, but were denied or did not apply to one of these programs. For example, in chemistry, 23 science departments at 22 learning institutions participate in the ACS Bridge Program.

According to IGEN statistics, the top schools with Physics Bridge Students are the University of Florida (36), Florida State University (26), The Ohio State University (24), and the University of Houston-Clear Lake (21).

The need for bridge programs for minorities is evident in high school. The U.S. Department of Education research shows a deficiency in math for Blacks, American Indians, Hispanics, Asians, and Alaska Natives. Studies from 2015 demonstrated that 53% of Asian students and 92.9% of African American 12th graders were at the basic or below achievement levels in mathematics. 31.7% of White students attained this mark at the proficient or advanced level, but only 6.8% of African Americans were at the advanced benchmark.

Like IGEN, the APS Bridge Program requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physics or related disciplines like biophysics, applied physics, astrophysics, engineering physics, and related fields. Eligibility for non-physics majors is problematic, as they must have advanced undergraduate core physics courses in quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, classical mechanics, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics.

Students enrolled in a physics program can receive a free one-year membership to APS. After that, undergraduate students pay $25 per year and graduate students $39 a year for membership. Membership qualifies you to join two units or groups from an extensive list and receive the Physical Review Journals.

Notably, the UREM bridge programs do not include females as being under-represented.

The Ohio State University (OSU) Department of Physics has an M.S. to Ph.D. Bridge Program, which is two years of study for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in physics or related field and a doctorate as their objective. This program provides additional mentoring and study sessions by a faculty research member to ensure your transition into a Ph. D. in physics.

Students currently enrolled in or accepted into a master’s program are not eligible for the OSU Bridge Program. The school encourages candidates to apply directly to OSU admissions and the APS. If accepted into the two-year program, you report to the campus three weeks before classes commence for orientation, assessment on core physics subjects, meet Academic and Faculty Research Mentors. During the summer of your first year, you conduct research. By the fall of the second year, you continue to research, do coursework, and gain teaching experience. Additionally, the faculty considers you for admission into the Ph.D. program.

As outlined, bridge programs are devoted to minorities who are historically underrepresented in STEM programs, particularly the sciences, like physics and related fields. Unless you fall into one of the ethnic and racial minorities designated by the APS, you will be ineligible.

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