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Some words of Encouragement


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I have spent the last two weeks waiting to hear back from my number 1 choice university for graduate school. This was very stressful and completely consumed my thoughts. I spent a great deal of time on this forum checking the posts of others, and looking for some encouraging words from students who had gotten into their top choice with a less than perfect academic record. I did not find many of those posts, so now that I am accepted, I would like to offer some encouragement to people who might be in the same position that I was in, or for people who are considering applying, but are not sure that their GPA's are good enough.

Having a sub-optimal GPA (or GRE scores) makes waiting so much worse, because there is the huge worry that you are waiting on a rejection letter. But, know that it is possible to get accepted to your top choice university, with your top professor, with less than perfect grades!! This happened to me this week.

Firstly, my undergrad GPA was pretty much terrible (between 3.0 - 3.4). I did not care too much about grades during my undergrad -and honestly, I still do not think that they are all-important; they are not great predictors for your ability to think independently or to do independent research. I have had many peers with stellar GPA's, but who would have been completely lost if they had to work or think too much on their own. They were simply obedient academics; good at following rules and regurgitating answers on exams. In any case, most people reading this will know that their GPA is not a good reflection of their academic ability, but think that they matter for getting into grad school. While I won't say that they are completely irrelevant, they are not as important as you may think.

What IS important? (you probably know that these are important, but I think they are more important than your GPA) - at least they apparently were in my case.

- your fit with the department, and with the professor's research (i.e your research interests are in line with the research interests of the department and the professor)

- your knowledge in the subject in which you want to study (as demonstrated in your statement of purpose)

- your academic reference letters

From what I have been able to gather from this forum (and from other forums), most people who are applying to grad school take the "shotgun" approach. That is, they apply to several schools that they would love to go to, several safe schools that they could deal with, and several not-so-good schools that they don't care too much about. I do not know how this strategy has worked out for people, but it is not the one that I chose, and is therefore not what I would recommend (although, I have sample size n=1, so maybe take this with a large grain (granule?) of salt). This will probably vary by program as well.

I would recommend the "sniper" approach as opposed to the "shotgun" approach. That is, pick one or two schools that you want to go to, and find professors there that you want to work with (and presumably therefore, who you would fit well with). Most schools will not admit you unless a professor has agreed to supervise you, so your priority should therefore be finding a suitable professor to whom you can demonstrate your passion and likelihood of success in doing research.

I applied to one school. It helped a lot that the research interests of the department (and especially the professor) was very well aligned with my own interests, and so I did not have to 'tailer' my statement of purpose at all; and I made it very specific. If possible, finding this kind of situation, I think, is better than applying to schools willy-nilly, hoping that one will accept you.

Good luck everyone!!!! This acceptance has brought me infinite joy, and I hope that everyone who is waiting or thinking of applying gets the same feeling afterwards!!! If not, keep trying!! Don't give up!!!

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Thanks for the words of encouragement! I hate how I've lost my ability to think about anything other than getting an application response in the last week. I can't wait for things to go back to normal, even if the result is that I'm rejected.

I am also a fan of the "sniper" approach.;) I've only applied to one school.

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For my undergrad I ended up with a 3.12, and that's after getting mostly A's and some B's for a year and half. I was at 2.55 before. I took eighteen hours of graduate education work at a 4.0. I'm looking to go into Special Education. So I know how it feels.

Edited by JackieH
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Thanks for this - I'm still waiting on a decision from the place I did my 2 masters degrees at that is either joint top choice for me. It takes up so so much of my time, and I'm not getting anywhere with my other work!

I too am a fan of the sniper approach - I found 3 great people to supervise me (I had heard of them/studies under them/come across their work frequently etc) at 3 great schools. Then I wavered after seeing how many people applied to loads of schools here and decided to try my luck at 2 other places based on prestige, where I had to search through department members to find suitable supervisors, rather than knowing names off the top of my head. The approach of the 2 prestige universities was also very academic - my other 3 choices (also very good well known schools and departments) emphasised field work, practical skills etc which suits me much better. Needless to say I got rejected from the 2 prestige schools, and have 2 offers out of the 3 great-fit schools. I didn't even care much about the rejections - now I wish I had just stuck to my original sniper approach instead of wasting time on schools I wasn't super interested in attending, where there wasn't a great supervisor for me.

The wait for the final application decision is killing me though. The department requires minimum grades in a masters degrees - for my masters degree grades, one of them surpasses the threshold, the other falls below it. And the department is more competitive than the 2 "prestige" schools. I'm really losing hope at this point!

Edited by MJ0911
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I applied to one school, I know I fit with the professor´s research and my LOR´s were very good. I was told I am a finalist but no final decision yet. I am still waiting which is so stressful, I checked my e mail every ten minutes, and even when I know it does not help at all I can´t stop doing it.

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The word "consumed" is all too familiar, I'm consumed by it too. With the exception of the last 2 days the past few weeks I think have been the hardest emotionally, just really depressed and of course "consumed." I was very much the same way when applying for the Peace Corps...which is, if any of you have done it, a far more painful process, at least it was for me. It took a year from the time I submitted my application to the time I got accepted for an assignment. Anyway, I always find it comforting to see that others are as emotional about this as I am, grad school means everything to me for a variety of reasons. Back on the 11th I was waitlisted for my dream school and was crushed. Then I got over it a little realizing that it's better than a rejection and that I'm still waiting to hear from a school in the same great city of DC with practically the same reputation and standing. But I saw post after post about acceptances to that school and I come home every day to find nothing in the mail and I just started to lose it. I started to feel it physically too, just felt down, really down. I should hear from this school no later than the end of the first week of April...it's 2 weeks away at most. Thank God. However, the last 2 days have been amazing. I got an email from my safety school that said I should get a "very exciting" letter in the mail next week. Yes, it's my safety school, but wow, that was like a thousand pound weight vanishing from my shoulders in an instant and I'm still overcome by it. I know I have somewhere to go in order to move on with my life and it has made waiting for the other school much more tolerable. If the waiting is really getting to you, contact them, ask about your status, there's just no need to suffer over this. It usually made me feel better just to email someone at the school, knowing that I'd get a little information out of them was always comforting. I didn't do it often though.

And yes, my GPA was a concern, it's 3.35, and by the way, I wouldn't call that terrible, I know it's below my top choices' averages, but by just a bit. But I have the Peace Corps experience and I figured I had a shot at my top choice school for International Development...being waitlisted sucks, but the one thing it has done for me is give me the confidence to think I still have a shot at my 2nd choice. I won't hear from my top choice until the middle of May...I'm so grateful that I don't have to wait until then to know if I can go to grad school. I don't know if I could take it. For most of us the waiting has to come to an end within the next few weeks, the process from the beginning has been much tougher than I could have imagined, but we're almost there...just a little longer.

Edited by Mal83
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