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PhD admission chances with low GPA

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School: UT Austin

Major: Government (Political Science)

GRE: Just started prep but first diagnostic test put me at 165 V, 160 Q 

GPA: 3.4 (cumulative) 3.7 (Government) (This is my main concern)

Letters of rec: All 3from tenure track professors, one from a 'star' professor who I've been working in close approximation with since 2016 and who recommended doing a PhD to me. 

Research experience: I have plenty of research experience including a research assistant internship with an organization affiliated with the school on which I worked on several projects, both quantitative and qualitative. This included tracking banking fraud, geopolitical consequences of mines and natural resources (used STATA extensively on this) and corruption in Honduras. I have also conducted quantitative research with two professors and two of my quant own research projects. I have also presented this research at three conferences and one those was the MPSA. This is all quantitative research over a course of 2 years.  

Teaching experience: None, undergrads can't TA at my school

Foreign language: Hindi and Urdu along with basic Spanish and French. 

I also have internships with various gender violence NGOs (I want to concentrate on conflict in gender for my PhD research and my current Thesis focuses on that)

Do you guys think I have realistic chances of getting into a good PhD programs?

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You could say in your SOP that your performance in class has improved over time. But with the GRE scores and the research experience, nobody will care about the GPA because being good at taking exams is not an important skill. So I'd focus on the other skills you developed. I'd say to apply high.

About the letters, tenure-track professors are fine, but make sure they are advanced tenure-track. The best letters are those comparing candidates to former students and other PhD applicants, and it will be difficult for them to do that if they have graduated 3 years ago. If you are going to go with someone very junior (as I said, <  3 years from graduation), it has to be because they are going to put a lot of time in writing your letter and they have much to write about you. If they write you a very short letter and they also cannot compare you to former students, that is kind of a through away. So I'd suggest that you think about this strategically and see if there is a more senior person that knows you who could write you a letter. 

I would apply to top schools and some safer schools. And because the topic you are interested in is very specific (and not many people work on it) I would look at schools that are good at conflict and have gender scholars (not necessarily working on conflict) to have more places to apply to. You also need to think if  you are more interested in CP or IR. Some conflict scholars are in IR and some are in CP, and I've known people who wanted to do CP and ended having to take IR classes because the key advisor was in IR. This issue can vary depending on how departments are organized and I bring it up because your topics are more CP than IR. 

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