(Original post by kelefi)
so I'm currently studying physics and have been offered the opportunity to take a year abroad in america/canada for my 3rd year.
I was the top student in my year, and had an overall mark of 85%. Because of this the course director suggested that I put in an application to do my year abroad at Caltech.
Now, I am actually super insecure about my ability to perform well. Getting that 85 was not a walk in the park for me, I put in over 12 hours a day of solid work the month before my finals, and throughout the year I was also putting in a lot of effort to get the grade.
From what everyone says, and what people in older years who went to Caltech say, it's unbelievably difficult.
Going to Caltech and getting a first while im there would be a dream come true for me, but I just dont know if I should even apply there. What if I fail? What if it proves just beyond my level and I just end up stuck there for the year failing day after day while im surrounded by geniuses?
So I just want some honest advice, no sugar coating and no softening the blow. Is there any point in me applying to Caltech, or should I just use that application elsewhere?
(to put it into context, I did an average of 15hrs work a week throughout my first year, and spent 12hrs a day in the library for the month before my exams to get the grade I did)
I'm going to echo what @Schadenfreude65 says because I think you should go for it!
I am guessing that like my University, study abroad years are pass/fail? If so, I think it would be even more of an amazing opportunity than you think.
Let me present my case...so far you've been really pulling out all the stops for your grades--which is amaizng! But like the other commenter said, I worry about your mental health in all this. Grades aren't the end all, be all--is there something you're equally passionate about in life that you've been squelching for the sake of physics?
With a pass/fail I think you could learn to ease up a bit, make your studying more efficient, and at all the same time explore that secondary passion of yours. In the short run, this means you can still get to be on top of your academics, get in that invaluable networking with those amazing Caltech professors, and explore California and life in America! In the long run, it means you could give yourself mental space so you don't burn out from the impressive amount of work you've done the past two years. You could potentially also improve your work/life balance, finding some kind of agreement between maximizing the efficiency of your study such that you're still making a high first, and getting enough "off" time to truly enjoy your university experience!
Even if it isn't pass/fail, and you really are determined to get a first on paper, Caltech is a fantastic opportunity; and if your hard work has given you the chance to seize that, I don't think you should turn it down for what-ifs that are likely borne of imposter syndrome. If you struggle there, that's what the professors and TAs are for. Seeing them in person would be what brings you better letters of recommendation anyway, and I promise that those "genuises" have not only the same reservations as you, but probably all study and support each other. People who still believe that physics should be done in isolation are dinosaurs in the field--the best scientists are the best collaborators.
I think a better bet than asking fellow students who've gone to Caltech the difficulty level, is asking students what the support level is like. People are prone to exaggerate anyway regarding difficulty levels.