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Bad Grades Outside of PS

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I'm sure a lot of applicants have this same question bothering them as well, especially when it comes to applying to top 20 PhD programs in PS.

In my case in particular, as an undergrad (at a top 40 ranked national LAC) I double majored in PS and Film. I didn't manage to do so great in the latter.

I wound up with two Cs for a year long course in film senior year (quite unfairly!) and another B for a film course before that. My major gpa in PS is above 3.9 with an overall cumulative of a little over 3.7. I haven't taken the GREs yet. I would really like to get into Berk. Any thoughts on how the bad grades in my other major will affect my shots at a good PhD program? What will adcomms think (red flags)?

Any advice for my case would be helpful. I'm sure a lot of lurkers would appreciate feedback on this topic.

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Specific courses aside, a 3.7 isn't bad enough to preclude you at top places in and of itself. You're right around UCSD's avg. GPA.


Note that your question is more or less unanswerable. For instance, if your writing sample is great, your LOR are strong, and your GRE is 1500+, I'd imagine it wouldn't make too much of a difference. On the other hand, given the choice between two identical applications, save performance in film courses, obviously the choice goes to the applicant with the higher grades. But all is never equal in applications.

Additionally, we're all in the same boat as you, wondering if there is some flag in our app that we under-appreciated. This is the blind leading the blind.

My advice: Take the GRE, do well, make sure your sample is solid, and apply widely.

In my mind, your app (like all the others) is a black box. They are film courses. On one hand, film is relevant to maybe 1% of the discipline (tops) and thus one would imagine that your performance wouldn't be too relevant. On the other, they are film courses. How hard can film courses be? That's not intended to be a personal affront, only to propose a conceivable reaction on the part of those judging your app.

I didn't really answer your question... The short answer... It's not a good thing but I don't think it is bad enough to preclude you from great schools.

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Your GPA is not bad-- it's impossible to say whether your readers will only care about your excellent cumulative or not, or whether they would see the low film grades as a read flag (my gut say no, but it's impossible to say). In any case, you still have a chance, and you will of course want to do as well as you can on the GRE's and other parts of your app (just as even people with higher cumulative GPA's would).

So be comforted knowing you have not been precluded, and study like hell for the GRE.

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Major GPA isn't insurmountable. You should actually hope that your letters and GRE are enough to get someone to look closely at your application. If film or some other major that has almost totally different disciplinary standards/intellectual tastes from poli sci is what is dragging it down, that will be to your benefit. Bad (or at least less-stellar) grades in related but tougher-curved disciplines (stats, econ) also shouldn't hurt. Of course, if you know you want to do poli sci, you probably want to reserve film studies for your spare time.

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