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What are my chances for getting accepted to a PhD in BME at an Ivy League school?


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I would like to know from the perspective of others how my chances look. I would like to apply to PhD programs in BME at Yale, Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Cornell, U of PA and possibly other very reputable schools. So far Yale is my top choice.

  • I will have a BS in Biomedical Engineering from RPI, possibly with a minor in Biology, if schedule works out.
  • I have a GPA of 3.97, 4.0 in my major. I am tying for 2nd in my class rank.
  • I am president of my school's BMES chapter.
  • I have been participating in research internships since my senior year of high school. I did an REU at Case Western, and a SURF at RPI these last 2 summers.
  • I do not have a publication but I am working towards one, which may or may not be submitted for review at least before grad school applications are sent out.
  • I have presented posters at the BMES conference the last two years.
  • I am in 3 honors societies (BME honor society, engineering honor society, leadership honor society).
  • I believe my recommendation letters will say very good things, but they are not from top names in BME.
  • My communications skills are not very strong and English is not my first language (although I am a US citizen)
  • I have not taken the GRE yet, I have been taking practice tests on which I am not pleased with my results, especially for the verbal sections. I would say I will probably be getting 85-90% in Math and maybe 80% in Verbal as estimates.
  • I have a very good idea of what I want to study. (Drug delivery/tissue engineering with a focus in neural regeneration)

I know people who are applying to these top schools have resumes with several publications, research under famous PI's, and they comes from Ivy League schools for their undergrad. They will have perfect GRE scores and considering I am not doing so hot in these GRE practice tests, is it worth it to invest in a GRE course from Kaplan or Princeton Review to strengthen my application? If so which would you suggest? Any other advice?

Thank you all.

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  • 2 weeks later...

You're applying to top BME schools and left out Hopkins? :o Maybe you should do a little more research instead of just picking IVY leagues. A quick glance at the infamous ranking site USNews doesn't even list any of the schools you mentioned at the top 5. But I'm not in your field, so who knows?

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I am also curious as to why the programs you have on your list are there. It could possibly be a research fit thing, but the top schools in BME are JHU, Georgia Tech, Duke, UCSD, MIT, Michigan, Rice, University of Washington, Berkeley, Case Western, WashU, and Penn. U.S. News isn't perfect or even great, but it does give a relatively good indication of fields and their programs' positions. (MIT isn't an Ivy League either, btw).

In any case, your application looks very competitive especially with all the research experience. Publications are uncommon for undergrads but if you do have one, that's great. If you already know that your communication skills are not up to par, then I would suggest that you begin working on your personal statement very early and having lots and lots of people look over it for you to ensure that it makes sense and appropriately conveys your interest. Visit your university's writing center for additional help with that.

85-90% quantitative is not high enough for engineering - I don't know about the new GRE, but on the old GRE the math scores were so skewed that most math-heavy programs expected at least a 750+, which was something like 90th percentile on the old exam. You want to be scoring over the 90th percentile. I would not recommend investing in a class, though, because if you are already scoring that high it won't help much. Buy a test prep book and work through the problems, then identify what your issues are and fix those. Your verbal section won't matter much - 80th percentile is high enough for a BME program.

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juilletmercredi is DEAD ON. You might not want to do a PhD in BME if all you care about is ivy league name. Do some searching on these boards and you will find plenty of harsh words towards doing a research-based PhD at a school just for brand name.

You actually have a VERY strong app, which is weird because most people with credentials like that shoot for strong BME schools, not name brand schools. Of the schools you mentioned, the only ones that seem worth applying to for you would be MIT, UPenn, and Columbia. Harvard barely has a bioeng. program and is not well known at all (a lot of people don't even realize they have a bioeng program). Cornell and Yale are respectable, but not top tier by any means.

All the schools juilletmercredi mentioned are absolutely correct. I would also add Stanford to that list. Those are all known to be TOP BME schools among the BME community. I am personally at UMich for my BME PhD, and I can tell you that it is definitely an incredible program. From your list, I got into Columbia as well, but I didn't find their program to be as strong.

Your Verbal GRE score is fine, I wouldn't worry about it. I would, however, work to get your Quant score up. Definitely over 90%. And yeah you don't need to take any courses, just practice on your own some more since you are probably only like 2 questions away from achieving that.

If you are truly serious about getting a solid PhD, forget about brand name right now. Go through the list of top 20 BME schools, find people that are doing work that interests you and focus on research fit. Do that, and I am fairly certain you should have no problem getting into at least 1 top program.

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I just saw these replies. Thank you all.

I have been looking at the top names in BME from USNews, problem is these big names are scaring the crap out of me...I don't know if I can handle being in very stressful environment (which I imagine is what top labs in the country are like) for 6+ years even if I was to get in...and deep down I don't think I would get into Hopkins, GATech, U of PA, MIT etc ... Which is why I was thinking toward a school like Yale - the research there seems very interesting to me, it's a school with a good name in general but yet I don't think it would have that stress level that comes with knowing that you are around the top people in BME and your performance needs to always be excellent and you just can't slip up if you want to succeed. So that was my reasoning.

I am also considering only doing a Master's and not a PhD mostly because I don't see myself staying in academia (becoming a professor). I would like to eventually have a job in industry because recently I am finding academia to be stressful. And I am not sure if this is the case, but from my research it seems like to get a good position in industry having experience is just as, if not more, important than the degree itself. Any thoughts or suggestions? Would you say this is this correct? In what factors should I base my decision on what to do next?

As you can see, I am pretty lost. Thanks for your input.

Edited by violinist21
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Given that you "have a very good idea of what I want to study. (Drug delivery/tissue engineering with a focus in neural regeneration)", will you still apply to schools that you mentioned above if

a. there are no labs doing that kinda work, or b. there are no labs that are doing that kinda work taking students next year? Are you open to other topics, or you are insist that what you wanna study is the only thing that you wanna work on for your thesis? Because your answer to the question above will definitely change your list of schools a bit, if not a lot. And you should definitely talk the PI from those school who are working on such topic, and see if they are taking any students.

Just to be aware that, for some industry, there is such a thing called "overqualified"; therefore/ a master's degree would be suffice. Considering that you have some research experience and your resume looks competitive, I wouldn't worry too much about the employment market at this moment unless you wanted to join the workforce now. Or else, think through what you want for your career; if you are going to grad school, then think again (about employment) by the time you are about to graduate from your MS / PhD study.

Edited by aberrant
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  • 4 weeks later...

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