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Please rate my chances and school choice


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I don't know what are my chances into biological sciences program and I'm low key freaking out. If anybody can give me advice? Or help on my SOP that'll be great. 

Type of student: International, female, Vietnamese 

Academic: 

GPA: 3.7 Major: 3.6 Biochemistry from UCLA 

Research: 

3 and 1/2 years at a virology lab in UCLA- my PI is a well known professor in the field I'm pretty close to him so finger cross this rec should be good

- I presented at 2 conferences local ones 

- No publications yet

- Part of 3 research projects one is NIH funded for COVID-19 research  

3 months at Massachusetts general Hospital part of the Harvard stem cell institute internship program - Young PI but I'm also pretty close to him hoping this rec should be good too. I'm hoping I can come back to work for him in Ph.D but I need to get into Harvard BBS first. 

1 letter of rec from a professor in my grad class (I'm an undergrad but I took a grad class for fun and I got really close to her) 

GRE: Honestly biology program have made it all optional. I'm in a shitty living situation right now so I don't have the "at home" conditions to take it. I don't think I will 

Awards: 

- Harvard Stem cell institute fellowship

- UCLA chem and biochem award for outstanding achievement in research 

-Dean's Honors list? Idk if this count 

- Graduating with honors 

Other things:

- Leadership in UCLA ACS chapter for like 3 1/2 years 

- Undergrad TA 

-I’ve emailed a few prof I’m interested in. Mostly kinda thank you for emailing replies. One was really nice and offered to zoom with me and talked about his research (idk if that’ll do anything). Another one knew my current PI and she also offered to talk with me over zoom next week. 

 I'm looking into applying to:

Stanford 

NYU

UC Irvine

UCLA

UCSB  

Harvard BBS 

Columbia 

University of Washington 

Scripps 

Boston University 

UCSD

Caltech 

UCSF 

UMass amherst 

MIT 

USC 

Tufts 

Am I aiming too high? Any suggestions for maybe less competitive schools

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I think your chance of NOT getting in anywhere is pretty low. If you'd be truly happy to go to any of the schools you have listed, I think you're fine. If you're looking for more "international-friendly" schools, I recommend UTSW and Sloan Kettering. Also what areas within Biology are you thinking of?

BTW please check each program's funding info carefully. Even schools that normally would be able to take on international students may not be able to this cycle due to Covid. If anything is not clear I'd email program directors. (Back then I decided not to apply to Washington Immunology because their website said funding not guaranteed for international students, and their director replied to my email with not-the-greatest optimism.)

In terms of your GPA, I'd try to reach out to either upperclassmen who applied last cycle, or professors at UCLA who are on adcoms themselves. Most people who are happy to give advice will be honest and constructive.

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From my experience applying to the top programs on your list, I can tell you that of all the academic factors going into biosciences PhD admissions, GPA and GRE are the least important ones. I have heard from a top 5 program director that “GPA is not predictive of graduate school success.” I was told by my own undergrad mentor that “everything above 3.5 is the same.” Most programs use GPA and GRE as an initial filter—people with GPA below a certain threshold won’t have their letters and statement read. After that, the only thing academic that matters is your research. With a 3.6/3.7, you would not be filtered out by any program and if you eventually don’t get into a program, GPA and GRE would not be the reason. There are probably a few programs that really care, but that should’t be the majority, especially not the top programs.

At the end of the day, if your two main rec letters are strong, this is a good list and you might even want to get rid of some less competitive programs.

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