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Applying from Ireland for US PhD


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Hi folks,

Yes, another "what are my chances?" type thread! I am just wondering whether people know how highly/lowly rated applications would be in the US from Irish universities. My UG GPA in the US system is around a 3.0. I am currently undertaking a masters in political science and my GPA I estimate to end around 3.7 or thereabouts. As of yet I have no publications/work experience or anything like that, just the usual non-academia related part-time work to keep a roof over my head.

Although my UG GPA is low, I'm hoping my masters GPA of 3.7 will mean I'm somewhat competitive for good US schools. Columbia would be the dream destination for a PhD, as well as the likes of UCLA, Chicago, Berkeley etc

Would a 3.7 give me a shot, coming from an Irish uni?

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So, I don't know anything about Irish Universities. But I do know a lot about American ones. [Also, my guess is that most American Profs won't have any special knowledge of Irish universities either. This can be more or less helpful to you, but I would just assume ignorance on their part and try to sell yourself as best you can...]

The first thing you should know is that the GPA is only one of several factors that admissions committees care about, and how much they do or don't care will vary a lot from school to school, committee to committee, person to person, and will vary depending on what else you have to offer as an applicant. I've been given the impression that a Master's degree will do a lot to supplant your undergrad record. While your undergrad GPA wouldn't disqualify you, you would have to be exceptionally strong in other areas to make up for it if you want to get into a top program. But your Master's GPA is much more in the universe of what top programs look for, so I wouldn't stress too much about it.

What you should worry about is everything else. Having a solid GPA will help you stay in the running, but it will never get you into a top program on it's own. There are plenty of people applying to top schools with fantastic GPAs, many of whom won't be admitted. GRE scores, letters of recommendation, research experience, statement of purpose, writing sample-- they will all be taken into account, and ideally you should be strong on as many of these metrics as possible. A lot of people seem to have their own little private understandings of what committees care more or less about, but the reality is (as it's been explained to me by prof's and grad students who have served on adcomms at top schools) that it will just vary a lot from person to person, year to year. It's all important.

In my own experience seeing who got into top programs the year I was applying, the one constant seemed to be research experience. You don't have to have a paid job doing research-- few people do-- but you do need to have engaged in some sort of independent research in order to be competitive. I think schools look for it on your record, but even more than that, the experience allows you to be more sophisticated when talking about your ideas, usually means you have a better writing sample to offer, often means you'll get stronger letters of rec from professors who may have worked with or mentored you, etc.

I would also recommend contacting schools directly with any questions, and even specific professors if you want some clarification on what's expected from you, etc. You should always do your best to be diplomatic in these exchanges, and a lot of the time not much will come of them. But if you're considerate and sincere, this is just the most direct way to get information, and potentially could bring you up on someone's radar when they go to sort through the masses of faceless applications in the winter.

Good luck!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Typically the admissions committee is made up of faculty from the department, and maybe one or two graduate students from the department as well. It's sort of luck of the draw which specific professors end up on a committee any given year, though.

I'm not 100% sure how much this varies from discipline to discipline, but I know in Sociology (and I presume in other social sciences) programs tend to accept people, NOT projects. If they think your project looks interesting, then they will probably think you are interesting and that can only help you. But often they admit students assuming their project ideas and perhaps even their broader interests will change.

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