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Advice needed please.


Unsure_of_myself
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I'm not sure if this is the correct forum or not, so apologies. However, I am in need in advice from people that will be objective and straight-forward. Currently I am attending UCSD as a Psychology undergrad after I transferred from a community college. Here is my dilemma - After my first year at UCSD my GPA will be a 2.5, both in overall and major. Obviously this is no where near acceptable for grad school and this is why I am worried. My plan was always to take a year off after graduating in order to gain valuable experience in the field, however with much better grades. I've done calculations as what the best-case scenario would be and with a 4.0 after the three quarters in my Senior year I would have a 3.1 Psych GPA and a 3.0 overall GPA. There's also the option of taking an extra quarter to boost my grades, which would raise it to a 3.2-3.3 (is this worth it?). Also, in regards to research experience and letters of recommendations...I have none. I really have no idea what in the world I have been doing and feel incredibly discouraged with the prospect of going to a university with nothing to show for it.

Summer is coming up and it's a great opportunity to get some experience down. But how do I go about doing this? Is e-mailing professors in the surrounding universities of where I live the best way to do it (I'd work for free)? And even if I do accumulate good research experience, decent GRE scores, and the LORs, which universities would accept me? I assume I'm already out of the running for the top schools. I just feel completely lost and need some opinions and advice about the situation I've dug myself into.

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You don't need a perfect GPA to get into a good grad program. Schools look at more than just your GPA. Is there a reason you struggled with grades earlier in your studies? Not so much an excuse but if you or a family member got sick, or you had some responsibility that took you away from your studies, it could help your case. Mention it in your SOP. Is there a reason you need to look outside your university for research opportunities? If you took a class from a professor and really liked the class, email him or her. Ask if they will be need student research assistants in the summer or next fall. Most likely their grad students will need people to help out. You will get a little class credit for doing it. In my experience, it was a super easy A. It will also get you a good recommender.

My GPA wasn't great, but I had research experience and a great recommendation from undergrad by doing research (I too was a psych major). I was a teacher after I graduated and am going back for an education program, with that relevant work experience and my research experience I was accepted by a few great programs. No one part of your application will make or break you unless its really really bad. My best advice is to really look at each program and find a few that are great fits with what you want to study. Be specific about that in your SOP. That will get you further than you might think.

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Don't worry; you're in the right place! :)

Your GPA won't exclude you from graduate school, but it will probably be a concern for graduate programs. FingersCrossedX's advice to offer a narrative explanation is a good idea. I'll emphasize not focusing on psychological or academic disability in this explanation. If you can afford it (in terms of tuition and delaying work), the extra quarter might look good. Even a couple of points above 3.0 move you that much further from the danger zone. Another option is to take additional courses after graduating while working.

You definitely have enough time left to make contacts and gain research experience. Start browsing the faculty webpages at UCSD. Many of them will list opportunities for undergraduate research involvement on their websites, or you can contact them asking if they are accepting undergrad research assistants for the next term. Obviously, try to find work that interests you, but also keep in mind that, given your GPA, you may need to cast a wide net for opportunities. Many of the labs in my department, for example, will not take undergrads with less than a 3.0. This past semester, my lab took one with a 2.5 GPA on the personal recommendation of another graduate student who had been this undergrad's TA. So far, he has been a great member of the lab, but I know that he was rejected by other labs before being recommended to us.

If you struggle finding research opportunities in the psych department, you can look in related fields that use similar methods (e.g., education, business, etc.)

Some professors will be open to cold-emailing from students at other unis and taking on volunteer research assistants. However, in my experience, this is pretty rare. Most professors I have worked with prefer RAs who will be held to some kind of agreement (i.e., credit or employment) and who will stick around for at least a couple of semesters. It probably won't hurt to try, though.

Edited by repatriate
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In addition to what has already been mentioned, I think what program you're going to apply to will make a big difference as well. For example if you're going clinical vs. a more standard phd like cognitive/developmental/social etc. Clinical, while very cutthroat for top programs in terms of GPA, do look at a lot more than just your GPA. Actual job experience and recommendations would be a huge boon for that. Also, whether you are pursuing a master's or a phd is fairly important too. While a 3.0 might is definitely borderline for most phd programs (but not all), a 3.0 is rather acceptable for most master's programs as long as you have good letters/experience to follow along with it. Taking an additional year to raise your grades would definitely be beneficial, a 3.0 and a 3.2 is a pretty big difference. Also were all your classes this year upper division? I know there are some schools that do not look too closely at lower division classes.

The most important thing is to stay positive and figure out what your goal is. Whether it be clinical, regular phd or master's, there are still paths open to you even now. But I would definitely try hard not to fall below a 3.0, I know most programs preclude you from even applying at sub 3.0 GPA. Having a high GRE score and strong letters would definitely help. At least you're rather lucky as a UCSD student, we have so many labs doing research all the time so I doubt you'd need to resort to other universities in the area. Just look around the UCSD psych website and look for openings, simply e-mailing the recruiter and/or showing up for interviews. Just make sure you don't slack off, because a bad/generic letter of rec is most assuredly the kiss of death for most any applicant. And if you screw around in one lab, it's most likely that all the other labs will hear about it and kinda blacklist you.

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Great advice from the above posters.

I'd also recommend some hard self-examination. What led to a 2.5 average this year? Is it a factor that you can change? While it may be mathematically possible to end up with a 3.0 or 3.2, it requires getting all 4.0's from now on and that's easier said than done.

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Just a note: I take volunteer RAs in the summer and many of the other grad students in my dept also do. However, there is also the possibility of signing up for research assistant credits in the summer (yay for killing two birds: GPA booster and research exp). Also, summer RAs are harder to find for us, so those that do summer get priority for the year...

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