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GPA/GRE Scores - Can I still apply?


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Hey all!

I know there are probably a lot of these posts already, but I still want to ask. I'm planning on applying to PhD programs next year that are strong for qualitative methods/ethnography. I graduated last spring from a small liberal arts college that's pretty rigorous, and I just didn't get it together in time to apply this past year.

I've been really nervous about applying because of how I read on paper. I'm pretty confident that my letters of recommendation will be strong, as well as my writing sample(s), and hopefully after several drafts my statement of purpose will be as well, at least in terms of the writing (I'm between two different research ideas that I'll present in the statement). The downsides are that I don't have much research experience because my school was so small, my GRE scores aren't great (163 verbal, 148 quant - actually kind of proud of the quant since it's higher than I ever got in practice), and sadly I only have a 3.63 GPA. I'm worried about the GPA right now because I was looking at UCLA's website and they ask you to report your GPA for the last two years of your work. I mostly got As during that time in my main courses, but I was also taking French and Spanish for those years and I got a lot of Bs in those classes because I had read that grad school didn't really care about your grades in those classes. I demonstrated my proficiency in the languages during the final oral exam and thought that was fine. I was also going through a lot in my final quarter of college (i.e. was depressed, financially strained, and exhausted from doing college).  So I calculated the GPA for the last two years and it was like a 3.3 or something! Now I'm really stressed because I don't think that reflects on the overall quality of what I did in college.

Anyway, I know this is long winded, but will schools take time and actually look at my transcript so they can see I did well in the classes that were within the social sciences? And more largely, do I have a chance if the other parts of my application are strong? I think I have what it takes, and I also think that grad schools should consider that at my college didn't have summer breaks (we had work quarters where you still had to do classes online) so it required a bit of stamina to get through it all.

Any feedback would really be appreciated. I'm super nervous and don't want to be rejected from everywhere :(

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First of all: Congratulations on taking the GRE and performing better than in practices. That is a win and every win along this journey should be celebrated.

So here goes: Of course you can still apply, but you might want to adjust the types of schools you're looking at should you apply this round. I don't know to what extent AdComms will go into the nitty gritty of your transcript (probably only if you're a fringe candidate). Bad GREs or GPAs can typically be made up for by other qualities, but these are usually either the other of the two scores or research experience. You are telling us that you have a well written SOP, but it is probably the content explaining your interest in, and experience with, research that matters much more than the sophistication of your writing. The same goes for your LORs: These are supposed to speak about your research abilities. From what you've written on here, I can't tell why you want to go to grad school or why you would be good at it (I obviously haven't read your SOP either). To be perfectly honest: With mediocre grades and scores and little research experience, you are probably facing an uphill battle. Of course that does not mean that it is impossible to get into a (good) school (as a lot of anecdotal evidence on this board proves), but your odds might not be great. 

Although this does not sound great, I don't think it should be reason to despair. From what it sounds like to me you might want to consider getting some more research experience before you apply (even if that means waiting another year). That should increase your chances and further help you figure out why (and if) you want to go into academic research. You need something to pop out of your application, and having figured out that you want to do research during on of your undergrad classes does not cut it for most of the AdComms.

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To be completely honest, I would re-take the GRE if you can. At some schools, the GRE is the first thing admission committees see, and since most people do very well on the verbal section, a low quantitative score can often separate you from other applicants who have better quantitative scores.

Applying to graduate school can be really expensive, so if you can invest some time into re-taking the GRE and perform better, your money will go a long(er) way, and I sincerely think that you will have a better shot at getting accepted.

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Thanks you guys for responding! I wasn't sure about retaking the GRE because I felt like the quant wasn't improving, but maybe if it improved this much it could get even better. I also really appreciate your honesty. Getting research opportunities where I am has been pretty difficult (most research being done in my area is medical). I've transcribed interviews for PhD students and done small qualitative projects, but nothing substantial. I'll keep working on GRE and trying to gain more experience! Thanks again.

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