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International student with a question


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I am an international student from an Eastern European country and I will be applying for a master's program in Media Studies at MIT. I used to think I had a chance at geting in but by now I am almost completely sure that I don't really stand a chance. I was shocked at how high the GPAs of American students are. In my school, our scholarships are calculated based on your GPA per semester and I've done 8 semesters at my uni and received the maximum amount of scholarship available for my department 6 semesters out of the 8, yet my GPA (when converted into the American scale) is only 2.8. I thought I could offset my low GPA with high GRE scores, considering the fact that I am also an undergraduate student in Mathematics, I score around 750-800 for the quant part but only around 550 for the verbal part on the practice exams. I have a 6-week intense research experience,working with a research group in Amsterdam, great letters of recommendation (only one of them is a pretty well-known American scholar, who is the head of the New Media Department at a very highly ranked European university,he is also the head of the research group, the other two are from my university, aren't known at all, but one of them is my thesis advisor and the other one is the head of the faculty), but I believe the competition will be very harsh, considering the fact that the 2-year Master's program is fully funded.

My question is: are American undergraduate diplomas graded in any way? At my university, your diploma is graded based on the average of the grade the student gets for his/her thesis and an oral exam (state exam) that encompasses all the compulsory classes for your major. Based on these results my diploma was graded the highest mark possible (I did not take this into account when I calculated my overall GPA), I also had maximum points available for my entrance exam to the Master's degree I am currently enrolled in.

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International GPAs are not computed by simply setting them to a 4.0 scale. Big research unis such as MIT will have experts who can tell what your grades actually mean. They might even have people from your country in the department, who understand how your grading system works. Take a look at WES guidelines, btw. I don't expect them to be very accurate, but it'll give you a good idea what to expect.

I would advise you, however, to work on your GRE Verbal... You want to shoot for over 600. You have more leeway than an American applicant there, because English is not your first language, but it's still good to have it high enough to convince the adcomm you'll adapt to American academia quite well.

In any case, as has been repeated in this forum over and over, research experience, LoRs, the SoP and writing sample (if one is required) are by far the most important elements of your application.

ETA: Be sure to mention the scholarships somewhere in your app (awards section, CV, whatever), noting the amount and the fact it was the maximum amount available.

You're sending transcripts, right? Does your diploma grade appear on your transcript? Does your MA entrance exam appear on that program's transcript?

Edited by Alyanumbers
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Thank you for your reply! Unofortunately, I don't have too much time to work on my Verbal, I am taking the GRE tomorrow :)

My diploma grade does apear on my diploma, which I will have to get translated (I was able to ask for the registrar's office to print out an excel table of all the courses taken, put a stamp on it and sign it, so this transcript will be in English, because all of the courses I have taken have official English course names, as well, however I don't think they can do the same for my diploma, I will have to get that translated professionally). The grade of the state exam and my thesis work also appears on my transcript.

My MA scores don't appear anywhere, except for the central university examination board, which I don't want to deal with right now, but the oral part of the entrance examination was conducted in front of a board that included the head of the faculty, who is writing one of my LoRs, so I can ask him to mention it.

I won't be devastated if I don't get in right ow, because I am already pretty sure that I don't stand much chance, I was just extremely sad about the fact, that even if I spent the next 2 years finishing my MA here, at my current university, and got amazing grades, I still wouldn't be able to get into the Phd schools I wanted to get into in the US, because for some reason my GPA is extremely low...

Thanks again for replying and good luck with your applications!!

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I honestly don't think your GPA is cause for worry. It will not be computed as a 2.8.

I'll give you the same insight I received the first time I posted on this forum: if you're worried about your GPA, having a strong GRE score will be good as a nice standardized number they can easily understand. But again, as a non-native English speaker, you're not really held at the same standards as American students. Yale's Comp Lit FAQ, for example, states: "We understand that the GREs offer particulate challenges for test-takers with a first language other than English."

I will also give you the same advice I was given then: instead of worrying about your GPA and GRE, which are now pretty much beyond your control, focus on the parts of your application you actually control, like the SoP and writing sample, which are already the most important elements. If these two, in addition to the LoRs are strong enough to make the department want you as a student, your numbers won't matter.

Btw, there are several persons on these fora who got into top-10 humanities programs with low GREs and GPAs.

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