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splitends

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Everything posted by splitends

  1. splitends

    Berkeley

    I would guess that one arm of the bureaucracy inadvertently moved faster than the other. It's probably a good idea to email the grad advisor to confirm, but, I mean it doesn't look like a bad sign... I'm sure info from the department will be soon to follow.
  2. Wait, just for clarification: you have been accepted into the program and are going to visit? Or you've been invited to visit and interview as the last stage of the application process? If it's the former, don't sweat it. Like, at all. If it's the latter, then still don't sweat it all that much. My guess is the last thing they're checking you for is fit-- just know why you want to be at that department and be able to articulate it. Also, refrain from being a complete jerk and/or spazz while visiting. Also, you shouldn't be concerned that being straight out of undergrad is in any way a liability. Most programs are set up to accept people straight out of undergrad. The majority of the people making the visit circuit at top programs last year were either straight out of undergrad or pretty close to it. They know your background, and they are going to judge you within that context. Lastly, congratulations!
  3. Yeah, it's funny. I had kind of given up on having the social life I had really wanted inside my department at the beginning of the semester, but over the first few months of my program things got a lot better than I thought they would. At first I was really confused about how I should interact with people in my department-- how much should my social life be different from what it had been as an undergrad, how much can I expect to be friends with people who are also my colleagues, how professional any of it would be. And I think being a first generation college student in a world where half the people I meet seem to be professor's kids has kind of exacerbated that anxiety/fear that I'm doing it all wrong. But things have worked out really well. At some point I relaxed and realized that there's no reason most of us can't be friends outside of class, and with a little effort we found that people from older cohorts (who we thought at first were snubbing us) were happy to hang out if we just invited them to. I can't say that I'm besties with everyone (there seems to be some real social bifurcation along age and relationship status lines, though there are exceptions), but I was happy to find that a certain amount of openness and effort has left me with a pretty awesome social network inside my program. I appreciate that different people want different things from this experience, and that there's a certain amount of luck of the draw when it come to who ends up in your cohort/department. But I definitely think that having real friends in the department makes the whole experience much better.
  4. My experience last year was that there was surprisingly little overlap between school visit events. Of the seven places I was looking at, two schools on the opposite side of the country had visiting weekends at the same time and I had to choose (though one had been my last choice, so not a difficult decision), and two schools in the same area had visit events on the same weekend, so I just split my time between the two. I have to imagine there was some level of coordination, but I don't have any actual info on that. I did run into many people who visited schools outside the official visiting time slots, so that can definitely be arranged, though I don't know how much departments reimburse/subsidize those trips. Everyone seemed to make it work, though.
  5. Also, as to the difficulty of classes: in my limited experience, it's going to vary a ton based on who's teaching what, how much flexibility you're going to have in your schedule your first year, and what you do with that flexibility. If you set things up right, you could absolutely have been broken down by your schedule in my program this year. But you could also have made your life fairly easy. Just depends on which classes you choose to take. If you ever feel like your classes are too easy, though, don't worry: there is ALWAYS more you can be doing. You won't necessarily have someone forcing you to do it, but you can and arguably should be doing work outside class. And please don't be so quick to dismiss theory as verbiage. I think you'll be surprised how much you might learn your first year.
  6. "...so I'm actually already struggling with the sort of "third year woes," like how to stay productive and manage myself independently, how to battle my own insecurity about formalizing my ideas without someone right there to cheer me on, etc." Oh, honey...those are not third year woes...those are from day 1 woes...
  7. Yeah, I'm going to second that schools can do things differently from year to year. I remember reading on here that Harvard had done interviews the year before I applied, but there were no interviews during my application cycle. I also think it seems unlikely that only marginal candidates are interviewed-- anecdotally, I know people who were let into my program off the waitlist/were waitlisted elsewhere that were never interviewed. I got the feeling that Harvard does not typically interview, though...
  8. splitends

    Late LOR

    Yeah, don't sweat it. I made a few logistical mistakes while applying-- accidentally turned one application in a few days late (misread the deadline...) and didn't send GRE scores to one school (accidentally sent it to a similarly named one twice...)-- and each time the department administration told me about the mistake in January, let me fix it, and then accepted me. I don't know how common that is, but I get the impression that if they want you in their program they're going to be reasonable about logistical snafus. And don't assume that forgetting a deadline means your LOR writer doesn't think highly of you or didn't write you a good letter. You know the person's busy, and sometimes these things just happen. Your prof is almost certainly submitting the same letter to each program, so if s/he already got a round in December 15, it's already written and s/he probably just missed the January 1 deadline by mistake (who has a deadline on a national holiday anyway?). You should probably get on your LOR writer to turn it in, but I wouldn't assume you've wasted your money just yet!
  9. So, I'm probably the only person on the forum that feels this way, but I just started graduate school and I feel like I'm rolling in money. Admittedly I'm getting on the high end of the stipend spectrum (I have an outside fellowship to supplement what my department gives me), but I'm also living in one of the most expensive parts of the country, so not sure how much that should cancel it out? Regardless-- I think I'm making slightly more now than my mother made raising two kids when I was growing up. It wasn't fun at the time, but I think the habits of poverty are really making things easy for me now. I felt really financially solid when I went to college and between grants, scholarship, and summer jobs, I was making ~$15K annually (after tuition, etc) which I guess is about equivalent to stingier grad school stipends. I usually ended the year with a few hundred to a few thousand dollars left over. Now that I'm making roughly twice that, I'm saving around half my stipend just because I'm in the habit of spending roughly half what I'm making now. But I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. I don't feel like I'm being frugal. I don't make large pots of beans and rice to live off for the week. I eat out regularly (rarely any place expensive, but I spend ~$5 on lunch a few times a week, ~$10 for dinner at least once a week). I go out to bars etc maybe once or twice a month. I'm guessing that a lot of my savings are due to my rather unusual living situation. I live in a large housing cooperative, that's part of an even larger housing cooperative network, and through the magic of buying in bulk, I spend around $750/month for rent, food (fully stocked kitchen and communal dinners 5 nights/week), utilities, internet, household items (cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc), and free social activities regularly arranged by housemates. But I honestly don't know how much this is a savings compared to just living some place cheaper-- if I were living in the midwest and paying $300/month on renting a room (which is essentially what I have here), wouldn't $450/month be more than enough for food and laundry detergent? I think I just have a different idea of what is good living. I'm still excited I get to buy name brand shampoo. I prefer my flip phone to a smart phone (I had to work hard to avoid getting a smart phone on my plan the last time I had to replace my phone-- I don't like the idea of having the internet in my pocket, and flip phones are a lot sturdier). I don't drive-- I walk/bike/use my university provided free bus pass to get around. I get access to yoga, pilates, swimming, tai chi, kickboxing, weight room, etc etc through my $10/semester university gym membership. It all feels pretty luxurious to me. Again, it seems like my stipend is on the generous side, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what single, childless people must do to have a hard time living off of $25-30K a year. $30K puts you around the median U.S. income. It just doesn't sound that bad to me. I think the point made earlier on this forum about things being kind of relative (the guy feeding his family on $200K/year) was pretty dead on.
  10. splitends

    Stipend

    Actually, the NYU weirdness I was referring to was the fact that they let you keep your stipend on top of NSF or other large outside grant funding. So you could conceivably be getting ~25K a year from the school, then another ~30K from NSF annually, plus the teaching money (which I also heard has to do with union busting). But the NSF thing is a little crazy-- I've never heard of another school doing that.
  11. splitends

    Roll Call

    Look...I should have stopped engaging in this conversation a while back, because it doesn't seem to be going anywhere productive. Unfortunately, I'm stuck in bed sick at the moment and somehow a downward spiral of an internet argument seems like as good a way to pass the time as any. This is what I mean when I say you sound like a bully, reminiscent of our pony-tailed friend: "Pony Tail plagiarized some Marxist historian (which most of them are, or at least Polanyian hence economic history had to become its own subdiscipline of economics under auspice of the economics department)." Throwing in your mini-lecture on economic history did nothing to further your point. Like most of this post, it doesn't seem to serve any purpose but to display to the world how smart you are. It doesn't respond to a question posed; it doesn't add to your argument; it doesn't advance any larger point-- it just seems to be thrown in there to show off. While I recognize that the content of ponytail's attempt to puff himself up while belittling others and yours are different, the tactic is the same. Anyway, you've taken this discussion way off point, but while we're out here on this ledge, I think a lot of things you're throwing out there as fact are at best debatable. I think it's probably a gross overgeneralization to say that "The major split between economics and sociology would be the degree to which one presupposes the agency of the individual." The disciplines take entirely different subjects as their units of analysis. I would say that the "major split" is a lot more fundamental than that. And I really do think the people you're listing here, especially Zelizer (note spelling there) can be read as part of an alternative sociological understanding of markets rather than as compliments to price theory. I highly suggest you look into Fligstein's Architecture of Markets to get the bigger picture there. Also, I've only taken a few courses that touch on the subject, but from what I understand [prior to the public health revolution] ploughing with your own hands, starving in spring, freezing in winter, and dying at 30 was a hell of a lot better than what would happen to you in industrial centers... Alright, I'm officially signing off of this conversation. I hope at some point some of this got through to you. It feels like I've been talking right past (writing right past?) you for a while now. I'm not saying at all that you're not smart or don't know what you're talking about (though now that I've read this last bit I do think you still have to read more about what Sociologists have to say about the economy to really get what a big chunk of economic sociology is about) but I am saying that you do sound like you have a giant chip on your shoulder, which makes it hard to communicate. It looks like the programs you're interested in are largely ones I got into last year, so if you are interested in talking or concerned about how your SOC apps should differ from econ ones and not just going back and forth like this, feel free to PM me. Good luck.
  12. splitends

    Roll Call

    OK...I probably shouldn't reply at this point, but whatevs. I get the feeling that you're conflating one on one interactions between individuals studying sociology and individuals studying economics in this one tiny arena with larger antagonisms or debates between the disciplines, and you seem to be bringing all the ire you have in the one arena into the other. As a result, I think you're reading a bit too much into people insinuating "all this garbage about my intentions and focus." Case in point: in my initial post, I never said (and didn't think) that you were ever personally suggesting this as a forum where you could personally brag. I got the feeling it was well intentioned on your part, but that other as yet to be determined anonymous citizens of the internet might be attracted to it as an opportunity for a pissing contest, which I don't think would be helpful to anyone. But you seemed to take it as a personal attack. Then someone made a totally innocuous, kind of lame, but completely sideline comment about preferring qualitative methods (which I don't think was ever the brunt of anyone's argument against doing the survey-- the notes of caution were really more about this being a stressful process that is super hard to predict, because it does really draw on a holistic review of applications and ultimately on arbitrary decisions between otherwise similarly qualified applicants) and you reacted with angry polemics about methodological issues within the discipline and with personal attacks on others. As far as reactions go, it was a bit of of an overkill. Especially a whole series of them...two months after people had stopped commenting on this forum. Seemed a little, well, needlessly angry... And you're whole "Oh, I don't think you're ready for this debate" orgy of name dropping? That was bullying. I'm not saying you haven't read those works or that underneath it you don't know what you're talking about--you certainly sound like you do-- but I am saying it was a complete bullying cliche: communicating your ideas in a way that attempts to make others look foolish while you look smart, a way of disempowering your reader by invoking obscure references that people probably don't know (don't really need to know at this stage) rather than relying on the thrust of your argument alone to make a point. It's entirely possible that you were serious in all that, but it makes you look like the douchey guy with the ponytail from the bar scene in Good Will Hunting. As for the bit about economic sociologists...admittedly, I'm pretty new to this, but I am studying economic sociology at one of the top programs in the country, and I can assure you that no one in the department sits around thinking "If only I had been good at math, then I could have been an economist!" Economic sociology really does attempt to construct alternative models and analytic tools for making sense of the economic world (and I'm definitely not talking about just Marxists here...), not just supplement what economists have to say. Who have you been reading that you think it's otherwise? Just to be clear, that's not a rhetorical question-- I'm legitimately curious. Look: I think you overreated a bit to people's comments, and I think you were meaner than you needed to be (I have zero patience for bullying), but you do seem like a smart and passionate person and I don't think there's any reason that (if you tone down the anger a bit...) you can't get useful things out of this forum. So (assuming you're interested in more than just a flame war here) who are you interested in, in the world of economic soc? Which programs are you looking at?
  13. splitends

    Roll Call

    Well, Sociology PhD programs are notoriously open to non-soc undergraduate majors. I wouldn't worry for a second that your economics background puts you at a disadvantage per se. As long as you demonstrate an ability to think sociologically, then programs don't generally reward or penalize people for coming from one academic background or another. Speaking directly to your first concern: economic sociologists don't think of their field as some place people end up if they don't know how to do math-- they think they have legitimate alternative (and they would probably argue superior) models for understanding the economic world, so I wouldn't worry about looking like a spillover candidate either. As for your third concern, based on anecdotal observation of who I met visiting top schools, plenty of people get into top SOC PhD programs without Master's degrees, and I think publications are still icing on the cake rather than strictly necessary to be competitive. What they're looking for in all of it is that you have the potential to be a great sociologist, which means that you've shown you can think creatively about interesting problems, and that the problems you want to address can and should be addressed with the support of the faculty in that particular department. You don't have to come in knowing everything about the subfield you're interested in or the methods you want to use-- that's why you spend all that time doing coursework and etc. Anyway, good luck with apps. And maybe this is forcing too much into one post, but seriously-- if you want to make a point on here in the future, you can do so without being so venomous. I like the idea of this being a place where people can go for advice and support in what is almost inevitably going to be a very difficult process. I know you feel slighted by some of the comments people made about economists, but your reactions don't really sound like sincere attempts at dialogue or even just honest retorts-- it makes you sound like a bully, which nobody needs right now. There's really never a need for that.
  14. splitends

    Roll Call

    OK, with three extensive back-to-back snarky responses two months after the conversation died, it's hard to tell if you're just trolling or if you legitimately have a giant chip on your shoulder about this. Dude, chill. It's nothing personal. It was sincere advice from people who have just gone through this experience and want to help next year's anxiety ridden applicants-to-be avoid some obvious pitfalls. I legitimately think this is a questionable way to go about passing time before applying to schools, and I have no doubt that it's a terrible way to assess your competitiveness for any given program or for graduate school in general. I'm not sure why you think it has anything to do with methodological antagonisms between different braches of the discipline-- the problem was never that you weren't using "qualitative" methods to collect data. This was never an appropriate way to collect data about where you should apply for so many reasons, but most basically because the sample would be ridiculous. At best this was an invitation for people to connect and geek out about grad school with other people who are in the same crazy head space as they are (which I personally think is the real motivation behind a lot of activity on this site anyway), and perhaps to get a little reassurance, but in a way that I strongly suspect will (unintentionally) create more anxiety than anything else. At worst this was an invitation to a pissing contest. If you're legitimately confused about whether or not you should apply to a particular program, I would strongly suggest talking to a trusted professor about it. If you want a second opinion, are coming in from a different discipline and don't have close profs in SOC, etc, then yes it makes sense to ask about it here. But don't pretend this particular survey is a good general use tool for people seeking to reduce the noise and confusion of grad schools admissions. And please, please, please don't invoke names like Bentham or Bacon, or use words like "exegesis" or "obfuscatory" to try and make yourself look smart in place of having an actual argument. It just makes you look like a jackass.
  15. A PhD is such a big commitment, I would hope that most people are pretty determined about it. The advice I was given at one point is that if you can see yourself doing anything other than being an academic, do it. There's just too much you need to invest on so many levels with such slim chances of getting a job, or at least the job you want. It's easy to get in the habit of just continuing to apply to and go to school because that's what you've been trained to do for so many years, but I've been told that people that find their way into PhD programs for that reason tend to be the least successful or at least the most likely to drop out. That being said...I wasn't 100% sure when I applied. I had doubts about whether this was the right time to start grad school, or whether I wasn't thinking enough about different routes I could be taking, etc. But I was at least 90% sure. It was really the only thing I could see myself doing, and I didn't think it made a ton of sense to wait till later to apply when I didn't really have anything productive to do after graduating from undergrad. Now that I'll be starting in the fall, I feel much closer to 100% sure it was the right decision. I never felt like I was just floating into grad school or going where the wind blew me, at least.
  16. Typically the admissions committee is made up of faculty from the department, and maybe one or two graduate students from the department as well. It's sort of luck of the draw which specific professors end up on a committee any given year, though. I'm not 100% sure how much this varies from discipline to discipline, but I know in Sociology (and I presume in other social sciences) programs tend to accept people, NOT projects. If they think your project looks interesting, then they will probably think you are interesting and that can only help you. But often they admit students assuming their project ideas and perhaps even their broader interests will change.
  17. They're just very different places to live, so if your surroundings matter to you then you should take that into consideration. Though honestly, Palo Alto is hardly representative of life in the Bay Area, and Davis is pretty different than most of the Central Valley too. Normally most people would agree that the Bay Area is a much more interesting and enjoyable place to live than the Central Valley (where I was born and raised), but I don't think it matters a ton in this particular comparison: Palo Alto is probably one of the least interesting places to live in the Bay, and Davis is probably one of the nicest places to live in the Valley. (Those are of course completely subjective judgements, but I feel comfortable assuming that most people would more or less agree.) If it's at all possible, you should visit before making a final decision. I don't really know anything about your discipline, so I don't know what the prestige difference is between the two programs in your specific field. But there's definitely a substantial gap in reputation between the two schools overall. I think most people would say that you should almost definitely choose Stanford, unless you have a compelling reason for going to Davis. If the only thing driving you away from Stanford is fear of competition, I don't think that's a great reason. Again, it's hard to offer good advice without knowing much about your specific field, but in many fields (I'm thinking specifically about law here) it can be the case that competition is MORE intense at LESS prestigious programs because people know they have to be the best one coming out of a so-so program in order to be noticed in the job market (or in PhD admissions in your case). Meanwhile, competition can be LESS intense at the MORE prestigious program because everyone feels more secure that as long as they make it through the program they'll be successful in whatever comes next. Plus, if it is generally regarded as a better program, not only will that name on your Master's degree will carry some weight in admissions, you'll also potentially have access to more influential people in your field, better training, more resources etc. Anyway, good luck!
  18. From what I understand, demographers have excellent job prospects. If what you want to do is teach at the community college level, then well, yeah, don't look into it. But there are a ton of jobs for demographers outside of academia, so I don't think anyone should rule out pursuing an interest in demography for fear of unemployment per se....
  19. From what I understand, the writing sample is mostly a chance to show that 1) you can write well, and 2) you can think well (and like a sociologist). If the sample is well-written, shows creativity/originality of thought, and an ability to put together an argument, then it's doing everything it needs to do and I'm sure it's OK if it's not an actual Sociology paper. SOC PhD programs take people from so many different academic and professional backgrounds that I'm sure there are plenty of people in your boat every year. Also, as far as the whole excerpt thing is concerned...I probably shouldn't advise anyone else to do this, but I did occasionally blatantly disregard the length requirements and still got accepted to programs. My thesis was ~50 pages, so where there were page restrictions I cut one small section and then just changed it from double to 1.5 or single spaced. Nobody seemed to care. Good luck!
  20. splitends

    "New" GRE

    From what I understand, beyond a certain point the analytical writing score is mostly a way for them to check English proficiency in non-native speakers. I imagine that most people applying to top schools will have between 5.0 and 6.0. I don't know how much of a difference a step in the score will make-- they have so many other better metrics by which to measure your ability to write. Also, I posted this some place else a while ago, but I'll put it up again: http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/how-i-pick-grad-students/ It's a discussion on a blog run by sociologists about how people evaluate grad school applicants. I think it's just lovely for people in this position to be able to see the way the people on the other side of the table talk and frequently disagree about what to look for in grad admissions, including how much and why GRE scores matter. My personal advice: The GRE is a giant pain and in my opinion a total scam. Pour as much as yourself as you can into preparing for it, take it once, then never think about it again as long as you live. Good luck!
  21. I visited about half the schools I was looking at the summer before I applied, and actually only talked to graduate students at all but one school (it happened to be the bit of summer where almost everyone was out of town on vacation) but still found it really helpful. So first off, I would highly recommend getting in contact with graduate students in the program. I just looked at the school website for people who had attended the same undergrad university as me and emailed them, or if there was no one from my school then someone from the same part of the country. It was really helpful to talk to people with similar frames of reference-- who had a similar idea of what it meant to be at a large school v small school, public v. private, west coast v. east coast, etc. Also, many of the grad students I got in touch with had served on admissions committees before, so they often had helpful and insightful things to say about the admissions process at their schools on top of info about the department itself. And frankly, students sometimes have a better idea of what's going on in a department than faculty. If you care about things like collegiality or mentorship, you might get a more accurate picture of inter-student cattiness or neglectful advisors from grad students than from professors. Insofar as what to ask...I'm not sure that I would ask about some of the things listed above. Personally, I try to stay away from things like student to faculty ratio and number of graduating students just because I don't think most faculty have really accurate information about that, and if the info is available it's usually listed on the website. I would stick first and foremost to things you are legitimately concerned or curious about. In the world of sociology, it was important for me to know how qualitative v. quantitative methods were thought about in the department-- what sort of training in which methods was available? What training was required? Did people take mixed methods seriously? I would recommend asking things that would give you information about whether or not you would really apply to that school (I crossed two schools off my list after visiting) and also information that could help you with applying. Of course you have to do this delicately, but I don't think it's out of line to ask things like what sort of students do well in that department/what students do poorly, is there any particular types of experiences that prepare students well for this program, etc. Anyway-- It should be a fruitful experience no matter what. Good luck!
  22. Based on what I've heard from European professors, Europe in general and Scandinavia in particular are much more likely to take Sociology more seriously as a discipline, to hire sociologists in government and other non-academic sectors, to be informed by sociological research when crafting public policy, etc. But I don't think it makes a lot of sense to assume there should be regional variation on this within the U.S. In general, Sociology as a discipline isn't taken as seriously in the U.S. and doesn't have as much sway over public opinion, government policy, etc, compared to other social science disciplines (economics, maybe political science?). Funding and support vary from institution to institution, that institution usually being a college or university, not a city or state government. So, yeah...places like Eugene, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Seattle, and Madison are all home to large public universities, so you're going to have jobs for sociologists there, though funding and support is going to vary between those schools (and frankly, since they're home mostly to public schools, financial support is likely to be extremely limited at some and likely most of them.) Of course, those are all also left-leaning communities, and all but one are college towns (though of course the two are often one and the same). So...are you just asking which areas we think are friendly to left wing politics? I think it's hard for anyone to deny that Sociology, and in many ways academia, is more left leaning than the general population, but should we conflate the two? Anyway, this is just a long winded way of saying that I don't think the question really makes a lot of sense. The U.S. in general doesn't hold the discipline in very high regard, but there are jobs for sociologists wherever there are universities or perhaps wherever there are high concentrations of policy think tanks and etc (D.C.?) You could say that any city with a large university or several universities is "friendly" to sociology, just like it would be friendly to anyone in an academic career. Within those cities, there will be some variation in how much different universities support the department, how well the departments fund faculty and students, etc. So...I think it fundamentally makes more sense to look at different schools than different regions...
  23. How far are you into the PhD program, just out of curiosity? And I do get the point that you should stand by your work, but realistically the work I was proud of (and should have been proud of) at 18, 19, 20 years old isn't really work that I think I should have to be associated with by the time I've written a dissertation. It's not that I'm especially ashamed of it, but's it's still total beginner stuff and I don't think it makes sense to have it on my CV by the time I've got a PhD, or even a Master's really. When I look at CVs from people in my department, it's very rare that anyone mentions undergraduate work, beyond maybe mentioning an undergrad thesis title. It's possible that this is the only undergrad experience they have, but I highly doubt it considering it's a pretty competitive program to get into. I assume there's some sort of weeding process that goes on, but I'm totally clueless about the timing of it. I could be totally wrong of course.
  24. So, I don't know anything about Irish Universities. But I do know a lot about American ones. [Also, my guess is that most American Profs won't have any special knowledge of Irish universities either. This can be more or less helpful to you, but I would just assume ignorance on their part and try to sell yourself as best you can...] The first thing you should know is that the GPA is only one of several factors that admissions committees care about, and how much they do or don't care will vary a lot from school to school, committee to committee, person to person, and will vary depending on what else you have to offer as an applicant. I've been given the impression that a Master's degree will do a lot to supplant your undergrad record. While your undergrad GPA wouldn't disqualify you, you would have to be exceptionally strong in other areas to make up for it if you want to get into a top program. But your Master's GPA is much more in the universe of what top programs look for, so I wouldn't stress too much about it. What you should worry about is everything else. Having a solid GPA will help you stay in the running, but it will never get you into a top program on it's own. There are plenty of people applying to top schools with fantastic GPAs, many of whom won't be admitted. GRE scores, letters of recommendation, research experience, statement of purpose, writing sample-- they will all be taken into account, and ideally you should be strong on as many of these metrics as possible. A lot of people seem to have their own little private understandings of what committees care more or less about, but the reality is (as it's been explained to me by prof's and grad students who have served on adcomms at top schools) that it will just vary a lot from person to person, year to year. It's all important. In my own experience seeing who got into top programs the year I was applying, the one constant seemed to be research experience. You don't have to have a paid job doing research-- few people do-- but you do need to have engaged in some sort of independent research in order to be competitive. I think schools look for it on your record, but even more than that, the experience allows you to be more sophisticated when talking about your ideas, usually means you have a better writing sample to offer, often means you'll get stronger letters of rec from professors who may have worked with or mentored you, etc. I would also recommend contacting schools directly with any questions, and even specific professors if you want some clarification on what's expected from you, etc. You should always do your best to be diplomatic in these exchanges, and a lot of the time not much will come of them. But if you're considerate and sincere, this is just the most direct way to get information, and potentially could bring you up on someone's radar when they go to sort through the masses of faceless applications in the winter. Good luck!
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