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Lets say I get a 3.2-3.3 undergraduate GPA. I then go to a mid-level master's program(30th-60th) and get a 3.6-3.8. With a high GRE score (Q: 760+), can you get into a top 20 PhD program? Essentially, can a good GRE and masters work almost erase your undergraduate work?

I am currently a Stats/Econ major, but I am looking at many different options and so I was just looking for generalities.

Thanks!

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So I have some thoughts on this. Here is my background: I was a neuroscience pre-med major at a pretty good school but only got a 2.6 GPA for various reasons that I can explain in personal statements. I did a lot of research, published, and then decided I wanted to be an engineer. I found a special program (top 10 biomedical engineering) that lets non-engineering majors fast track through taking all the undergrad engineering courses and then complete a Masters degree. I spent about 3 years doing this program and ended up with a 3.74 graduate GPA. I also have a 770 Quant. GRE score so my stats are not too far off from where you are at.

This year I have ONLY applied to top 20 PhD programs in biomedical engineering and out of the 18 schools I have applied to, I have been formally rejected by 8, accepted with funding by 1, interview invite by 1, and still not heard from 8 (however, I am nearly 100% positive at least 5 of those are rejections). Soooo, the point is, I am definitely going to be going to a top 20 school for my PhD, BUT it took me applying to 18 schools, lots of experience and publications, strong letters of recs, and a senior adviser that had to fight for me to get in. Basically, it is no easy feat and all through this process I have broken down and believed I wouldn't make it in anywhere.

I have even heard from a few POIs at schools that I applied for that I was heavily being considered, but that my undergrad GPA was the biggest concern. Some of these schools were even skeptical if I would be able to hack it in advanced technical courses because I did so poorly in undergrad. This is upsetting because I specifically took about 2 years worth of undergrad upper division engineering courses and then 1 full year of advanced graduate engineering courses. Yet somehow my undergrad GPA (which was about 10 years ago for me) was still a "concern".

So I can say that I am a little bitter and disappointed with how things have turned out, BUT I had been accepted to my current school for a PhD, which is a great school, and I have an interview at another prestigious school. So it isn't all bad, but out of applying for 18 schools, I really thought I could have gotten better results.

Now, your undergrad GPA isn't nearly as bad as mine was, so that will definitely help. And while your Masters GPA sounds good, it could be considered a little low for top 20 schools (but this is also dependent on your program). For biomedical engineering programs, top 20 schools have average GPAs closer to 4.0. Also, admission reviewers always assume that grades are inflated in grad school so they don't quite let your Masters GPA erase your undergrad GPA. I hope you have some good research experience, some publications, and some strong LORs. If you have these pieces, along with your reported stats I think you can definitely get into at least 1 top 20 school, but at the same time you might be surprised at the rejections you will receive. Hope that gives you some insight.

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I had a quite low undergrad GPA and took the route of completing a MS program before applying to PhD programs. After a 3.9 MS GPA, very high GREs, and 2 publications, in addition to my MS Thesis, I have been able to get accepted to 3 of the PhD programs I've applied to, with funding. I really only applied to two elite programs, UW and NCSU, and as you can from my signature those did not go as well as I may have liked, but I am quite happy with the program I plan to attend.

I agree with ghanada that if you have great research experience and LORs its going to make all the difference. As long as you combine all that with a solid of statement of purpose that sincerely addresses your future goals as an academic, I think you have a great shot! Good luck!

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