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What are my chances of going to a top graduate school with reduced course loads?


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Hi Everyone,

I would highly appreciate it if anyone can give me an idea of how graduate schools view consistent reduced course load semesters. I have taken 4 years of reduced course loads anywhere from 4 units to 12 units. Due to a low course load, I have a 3.9+ GPA and have multiple research experiences. I also did an internship at a top investment bank. My school is considered to one of the top undergraduate schools for going onto graduate school. My major is a field within mathematics. This semester, I anticipate withdrawing due to family difficulties. My GRE quant is 800 and english is 770. Assuming I take a full course load during my last semester (5th year), would top schools look down on my lack of classes and withdraws?

Any info would be appreciated. Thanks.

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I'm taking your "any info would be appreciated" at face value here, and don't mean any of the following as a put down.

Yes, this would be a big red flag. Grad school is more of a time commitment than undergrad for most students. You have not shown that you can commit the necessary time to graduate in a timely manner, regardless of mitigating circumstances (each year you spend costs the school money, no matter how much you or a fellowship pays). In fact, it sounds like family issues are ongoing and would continue to affect you in grad school. This is one of the " in grad applications, and there is no way to avoid talking about this in your application given the large impact it has had on your academics.

Personally, I am a family first, always, sort of person, so I don't think you made a bad choice by any means, but this is a problem for grad school admissions straight out of undergrad.

Great letters of recommendation and stellar research experiences and publications would go a long way towards ameliorating this, as would a couple years of work experience. This would evidence that you can do great, publishable work (or in the latter case, put in the hours) even when distracted by circumstances. But I think you are going to have to look hard for an adviser that will tolerate such divided attention and still help you do great things, and this should be your focus in the school search, not whether it is a "top" program or not.

Update: Actually, would you mind posting what field you are applying to? I assumed math, but the story could be very different if you were applying to, say, economics.

Edited by Usmivka
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As much as reposting is discouraged, I think that this might be better answered in the professional school thread. My impression is that programs like that, where many students pay their own tuition, are more flexible with admits and may even value stories of adversity.

Edited by Usmivka
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