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How bad is my situation? Applying for bioengineering/BME PhD programs


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So to give some background-

I'm a rising senior at a large R1 state school (decently ranked in engineering) majoring in bioengineering

I had an absolutely horrible past semester, and my GPA dropped from 3.74/3.81 (cumulative/major) all the way down to 3.59/3.63 (cumulative/major). The rest of my semesters (including first semester junior year) were consistently higher- this one semester was considerably bad in comparison.

I have a decent amount of research experience, with 2 first author publications in an on-campus lab and 1 summer at another school, as well as an internship in a well known pharmaceutical company (one of the COVID vaccine makers). Not really any awards except for Dean's list and a merit scholarship to my undergraduate institution. 

Considering my recent dip in GPA, would I still be able to apply to top programs in my field of interest? 

Also, I have a strong reason to believe that I would perform much better in my fall semester of senior year (compared to the previous semester). Would it be possible for me to update schools with these grades after they come out (generally a couple weeks after applications are due)?

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On 5/25/2021 at 12:42 PM, last_sem_bomb said:

So to give some background-

I'm a rising senior at a large R1 state school (decently ranked in engineering) majoring in bioengineering

I had an absolutely horrible past semester, and my GPA dropped from 3.74/3.81 (cumulative/major) all the way down to 3.59/3.63 (cumulative/major). The rest of my semesters (including first semester junior year) were consistently higher- this one semester was considerably bad in comparison.

I have a decent amount of research experience, with 2 first author publications in an on-campus lab and 1 summer at another school, as well as an internship in a well known pharmaceutical company (one of the COVID vaccine makers). Not really any awards except for Dean's list and a merit scholarship to my undergraduate institution. 

Considering my recent dip in GPA, would I still be able to apply to top programs in my field of interest? 

Also, I have a strong reason to believe that I would perform much better in my fall semester of senior year (compared to the previous semester). Would it be possible for me to update schools with these grades after they come out (generally a couple weeks after applications are due)?

Dipping in GPA anytime in the past year would probably be looked at with a lot more leniency than at any time, to an extent, so you have that going for you at least.

Talking to people from top 5-10 BioE programs, a 3.59 is roughly around the "minimum" GPA that they'd still consider acceptable for a traditional student. The fact that you have first authored paper, extensive research experience, and even a biotech internship makes you extremely competitive, so I would definitely not not consider applying to the top programs. That being said, it's still worth noting that some of the tippy top programs e.g. MIT/Caltech/Berkeley are still very GPA centric even with their claims of holistic admissions and not caring as much about GPA. All that really translates to is they're not necessarily looking for someone with a 4.0, but all else being equal (to the extent you can have something like this) a highly qualified applicant with a 4.0 is more likely to edge out someone with barely a 3.8. Fortunately, head-to-head matchups rarely if ever happens and not having a very high GPA is far from a disqualifier, but it still does put you at a disadvantage since there are a lot of people with both high GPAs and extensive research experience (if not necessarily first-authored papers). What this means application-wise, is that I would apply to an equal number of programs between the top 10 and top 20, and still apply to at least 3 programs at top 30 or below as programs you'd have a much better shot of getting into. I know all too many people even with high GPAs and lots of research experience apply to programs ranked 1-10 and getting 0 admits since luck is still a factor in the end.

You can definitely update applications with fall grades, especially for BioE programs that don't issue interview invites/acceptances until mid January at the least, but from my general understanding this would still have little to no effect.

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