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Didn't get into PhD program last year-what to do differently or just apply for masters?


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I graduated from university with my Bachelor's Degree in Biomolecular Science andChemistry. My GPA was a 3.377, and my gre's were both over 70 percent (my quantitative was 88%). I have been published, have great recommendations, and have completed a lot of research. Here is the thing, I applied to a 4 phd programs last year, only interviewed at one, and was not given a spot at any of them. Which leads me to the next question, what did I do wrong? I am currently reapplying working on stronger recommendations, some graduate classes I am taking in the mean time, and a stronger personal statement. Is this enough or should I just stop applying and apply for my masters first? I don't want to disappoint anyone again with another round of rejections.

Thank you so much for all your help!

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You can apply to both PhD and MS programs at the same time, and I'd recommend applying to more schools. As you discovered, it's really competitive right now...

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How spread out were those 4 schools in competitiveness? If they were Top 5 or 10 programs, your GPA and GRE might have just been too low to make the first cut. However, both are respectable (just not fantastic) and if you spread out the applications to a range of programs you should be able to get interviews and acceptances. If you're published in the standard sense, I'd be surprised if you couldn't get into Top 20 range programs.

Keep in mind, though, there is a world of difference between published in your school's undergrad journal and a standard academic journal, and middling author of 15 can mean almost nothing (and adcoms know this). How do you know your recommendations are great; what are you doing to make them stronger?

And if you're in Genetics/Biomed as your profile says, obviously apply to programs with PIs doing what you're interested in, but you do not need to (and most likely should not) contact potential advisors. Most biomed programs are umbrellas and you are applying to a program not a lab (as you will do rotations before choosing an advisor).

Edited by liddy
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Thank you all for your questions and help! The schools were Duke, Wake Forest, Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), and Penn State. Now Penn state interviewed me, and then had to downsize their positions due to a issue last year, but the admin told me to reapply since he really like me. Are these too top? I was thinking of changing too:

Penn State

George Washington University


University of Maryland

UC San Fran


and maybe adding Uconn and WVU?

How does those look?

I was published in a American Chemical Society book with only 5 authors, I am second (and wrote a large part of it). My recommenders were also a last minute choice-I asked a Harvard phd grad who is now teaching at my university to write one, she has a lot of friends in the genetics area and knows what to write, as well as a few other profs who are much better at describing me, and work on my universities admissions committee so know what to write.

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The really helpful published is a research article in a journal, showing that your research went well enough to be worth publishing. ACS book sounds more like a review- still a plus but not quite the same. And most people do not have journal articles anyways. It's totally fine to just have the PIs you did your research under write really glowing letters about your performance in their lab. Make sure your new letter writers can do this - a detailed personal letter is far more important than a famous PI.

For your schools, they look nicely spread out. UCSF, WashU, and Duke are probably reaches (but great programs you should totally apply to if you think you're a good fit). UCSF, especially, is not as well known as there is no undergrad school, but is extremely competitive for admissions. To help with selecting schools to apply to, you could talk to whoever you choose as your letter writers and ask where they have collaborators, former advisors, or other strong connections. Most people will trust letters from people they know more than they don't.

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