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So I just finished my final semester of an MPH program. My cumulative GPA is a 3.5, because of getting a bunch of B's in classes that I took for fun (under the impression that grad school professors were not going to be such hardasses about trying to fail you like the weed out in undergrad). It was a pretty sucky year, but fortunately I had good grades my first year of the program so the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been.

I wanted to apply to PhD programs in public health in the next year...but I really only have a few schools in mind. Do you think I have a chance with a 3.5 GPA? Or is this doomed? My undergrad GPA isn't too great, it's actually a miracle that I got into a master's program considering how horrible my undergrad transcript was.

Any advice would be appreciated!!

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So I just finished my final semester of an MPH program. My cumulative GPA is a 3.5, because of getting a bunch of B's in classes that I took for fun (under the impression that grad school professors were not going to be such hardasses about trying to fail you like the weed out in undergrad). It was a pretty sucky year, but fortunately I had good grades my first year of the program so the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been.

I wanted to apply to PhD programs in public health in the next year...but I really only have a few schools in mind. Do you think I have a chance with a 3.5 GPA? Or is this doomed? My undergrad GPA isn't too great, it's actually a miracle that I got into a master's program considering how horrible my undergrad transcript was.

Any advice would be appreciated!!

It really depends on your others stats, GRE scores, research experience, LOR's ect.

I'm guessing a 3.5 masters GPA won't kill your chances by itself.

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actually, a 3.5 grad GPA might really hurt your chances. it's a totally acceptable GPA in undergrad, but with the high caliber of most grad students and rampant grade inflation in grad school, a 3.5 grad GPA can be borderline academic suspension in many disciplines/programs (most of my experience has been with humanities and social sciences, i'm not sure where public health falls).

you must have had some indication during the semester that things weren't going well. unless you had 100% finals and zero feedback from all of your professors, a B in grad school doesn't come out of no where. that's what i'd assume, and i promise it is what professors on admissions committees will assume as well. especially since your poor grades came in your second year and not your first, they'll see it more as a decline of your interest rather than struggling at the beginning and improving over time.

all that said, your GPA doesn't make a PhD program impossible. it will ultimately come down to your LORs, your previous research, and your future research interests, but a poor grad GPA is a massive red flag for them.

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It is very field dependent, but StrangeLight has some good points.

For my department/school, a B is the lowest passing grade you can get in a class and *not* go on academic suspension... More equivalent to a C in undergrad.

It's not something that will kill your chances, for sure (your research and such will be much more important), but it's something you need to be aware of when you're applying.

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What subfield of the mph did you concentrate in? Also, what did you get those B's in? Were they challenging upper-level classes or part of the mph core? It also depends on how intense your school's program is perceived to be. Honestly, with some decent research experience, the GPA won't be a huge deal. When I was looking at programs, they cared way more about experience and papers published than GPA (although to make it on the review table I assume you need a decent GPA). So my advice is try getting a job as a research associate and get your name out there! Also picking up SAS and R wouldn't hurt you if you haven't fiddled with them yet! :)

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I have a followup question. Does GPA matter once you are in a PhD program?

What subfield of the mph did you concentrate in? Also, what did you get those B's in? Were they challenging upper-level classes or part of the mph core? It also depends on how intense your school's program is perceived to be. Honestly, with some decent research experience, the GPA won't be a huge deal. When I was looking at programs, they cared way more about experience and papers published than GPA (although to make it on the review table I assume you need a decent GPA). So my advice is try getting a job as a research associate and get your name out there! Also picking up SAS and R wouldn't hurt you if you haven't fiddled with them yet! :)

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I have a followup question. Does GPA matter once you are in a PhD program?

Yes, although the emphasis on research becomes greater as you progress in the program.

You need to remain in good academic status or your funding may be revoked.

Some competitive awards and fellowships will consider grades.

Some RAships, internships and summer jobs will consider grades.

Some jobs will care about grades -- I hear that more so in Europe than in the US, but still.

Having an impressive transcript is part of being an attractive candidate in general. Classes are sort of like a baseline minimum that you are required to achieve in grad school, with research being more difficult and also more important. You want to demonstrate that you are able to satisfactorily meet all of the program requirements. That said, one or two lower grades are probably not going to hurt you that much either.

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I was awarded a prestigious external fellowship. I am strongly considering applying for work in a DOE National Lab after completing the PhD program. Would it be a bad idea to aim for a 3.5 GPA and focus on research, or should I aim for a higher GPA?

Yes, although the emphasis on research becomes greater as you progress in the program.

You need to remain in good academic status or your funding may be revoked.

Some competitive awards and fellowships will consider grades.

Some RAships, internships and summer jobs will consider grades.

Some jobs will care about grades -- I hear that more so in Europe than in the US, but still.

Having an impressive transcript is part of being an attractive candidate in general. Classes are sort of like a baseline minimum that you are required to achieve in grad school, with research being more difficult and also more important. You want to demonstrate that you are able to satisfactorily meet all of the program requirements. That said, one or two lower grades are probably not going to hurt you that much either.

Edited by mechengr2000
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I was awarded a prestigious external fellowship. I am strongly considering applying for work in a DOE National Lab after completing the PhD program. Would it be a bad idea to aim for a 3.5 GPA and focus on research, or should I aim for a higher GPA?

Good research will get you the job, good grades will not. These things are field-specific and it's a good idea to consult with your professors about how much they consider grades when there is a job search or they are looking to hire an RA. In general it's a tradeoff but it's not like you can't both succeed in classes and have strong research. I'd say it's more important to develop your work than get than perfect 100s on every pset, but on the other hand you also don't want to come off as the student who never cared about assigned work because that could show up in LORs as well. Some assignments are worth investing in some of the time, but in the overall balance, research wins every time.

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This is something I've thought a lot about lately. It seems like from most of what I hear on here, professors typically "give" their Grad students A's at the end of the semester, unless something is seriously wrong with that particular student. I guess this phenomenon is known as Grade Inflation, where anything other than an A is somewhat a polite way of telling the student "Hey, you can't hack it here." I assume that this is even more common in PhD programs, where classes hardly matter at all. The weird thing is that I get the exact OPPOSITE vibe in my Masters program. It seems like a B here is an equivalent to a B in undergrad, and is considered a job well done. Of course, A's are optimal, but it just seems like A-'s and B's aren't a big deal here. Otherwise, our department just hates the current crop of Grad students, which I strongly doubt.

This whole grade thing is just so confusing. Why can't the system be as simple as it was in Undergrad without all the hidden messages that an A- or a B is supposed to give.

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This is something I've thought a lot about lately. It seems like from most of what I hear on here, professors typically "give" their Grad students A's at the end of the semester, unless something is seriously wrong with that particular student. I guess this phenomenon is known as Grade Inflation, where anything other than an A is somewhat a polite way of telling the student "Hey, you can't hack it here." I assume that this is even more common in PhD programs, where classes hardly matter at all. The weird thing is that I get the exact OPPOSITE vibe in my Masters program. It seems like a B here is an equivalent to a B in undergrad, and is considered a job well done. Of course, A's are optimal, but it just seems like A-'s and B's aren't a big deal here. Otherwise, our department just hates the current crop of Grad students, which I strongly doubt.

This whole grade thing is just so confusing. Why can't the system be as simple as it was in Undergrad without all the hidden messages that an A- or a B is supposed to give.

This also makes me thing of a funny line from Futurama:

"Professor Farnsworth, I'm going to give you the worst grade imaginable... An A-minus...MINUS!!!!"

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This is something I've thought a lot about lately. It seems like from most of what I hear on here, professors typically "give" their Grad students A's at the end of the semester, unless something is seriously wrong with that particular student. I guess this phenomenon is known as Grade Inflation, where anything other than an A is somewhat a polite way of telling the student "Hey, you can't hack it here." I assume that this is even more common in PhD programs, where classes hardly matter at all. The weird thing is that I get the exact OPPOSITE vibe in my Masters program. It seems like a B here is an equivalent to a B in undergrad, and is considered a job well done. Of course, A's are optimal, but it just seems like A-'s and B's aren't a big deal here. Otherwise, our department just hates the current crop of Grad students, which I strongly doubt.

This whole grade thing is just so confusing. Why can't the system be as simple as it was in Undergrad without all the hidden messages that an A- or a B is supposed to give.

Grade inflation tends to vary by field/discipline. It may well be that it's not uncommon to see a lack of grade inflation in your field.

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I wonder if the grade inflation issue is as acute here in Canada, because I had a 3.40 Master's GPA, with an A- as my best grade ( the rest were B+'s), and got in somewhere I'm very happy with. Granted, I got rejections from every US school I applied to, so perhaps it did hurt me there.

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actually, a 3.5 grad GPA might really hurt your chances. it's a totally acceptable GPA in undergrad, but with the high caliber of most grad students and rampant grade inflation in grad school, a 3.5 grad GPA can be borderline academic suspension in many disciplines/programs (most of my experience has been with humanities and social sciences, i'm not sure where public health falls).

you must have had some indication during the semester that things weren't going well. unless you had 100% finals and zero feedback from all of your professors, a B in grad school doesn't come out of no where. that's what i'd assume, and i promise it is what professors on admissions committees will assume as well. especially since your poor grades came in your second year and not your first, they'll see it more as a decline of your interest rather than struggling at the beginning and improving over time.

all that said, your GPA doesn't make a PhD program impossible. it will ultimately come down to your LORs, your previous research, and your future research interests, but a poor grad GPA is a massive red flag for them.

"The next time someone asks you for an honest critique...don't rip out their gizzards and hold them in front of their face. What you did was very spiteful, but it was also very brave and very honest and I respect you for doing that. But the content of what you said has made me hate you. So there's a layer of respect, admittedly, for your truthfulness, but it's peppered with hate. Hateful respect." -Aldous Snow

(I was going to post a video of this but couldn't find one, LOL.)

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