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I'm sure you're all a little sick of this but I need some help with applications

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So here's who I am, I'll start with the stats:


GPA: overall 3.5 (was a slacker first two years, last two years I refocused got a 3.79 upper-division GPA)


GRE: 170V/168Q (not sure about the writing section yet)


Soft stuff:


My woman got pregnant basically as I graduated so I've spent the last two years teaching the LSAT part-time and taking care of my son full-time while the wife did her medical residency. I'm interested in international development and conflict studies. I've got some interesting research ideas as well as extensive international experience and I think I'll be able to put together a decent SOP. I worked as a TA and an RA through my last two year of school so my recommendations will be from professors who know me well and will be able to give solid recs. I'm really only interested in the top programs (MIT, Princeton, Columbia etc...).


So my questions:


Does my gap hurt my chances? Should I talk about why I haven't been working full-time in my SOP?


Does the fact that my GPA got much better for the more difficult and relevant classes make a difference? Should I talk about that in my SOP?


Do I have a realistic shot?


Anything else?


Thank you for taking the time to read all that.




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No one will care about your 2 years out of school.  I could imagine things you could do with those 2 years that might be a benefit, but just about anything else is value-neutral.  I don't think you have to explain away what you were doing, just say you were a LSAT tutor on your resume and leave it at that.  No need to explain your family situation or identify it as part-time. While it might explain a few things, I could also imagine it being viewed as a negative, as adcoms might see having a child as a drag on your productivity.


People seem to think that one's GPA trend matters. My instinct would be that it's more compositional–they care about some grades than others. If your bad grades were in math and econ classes and your good grades were in english, that matters a lot more than when they happened.  Of course, I don't have data to back up my theory, but I don't think anyone else on here does either.


What is your quant and language background like? I think strengths in those areas can really help make up for an average GPA.  


As for whether you can get into the very top programs, it seems plausible, but it really does seem like the SoP is the most important piece. Being able to articulate an interesting idea and make an argument for how your research interests fit a few identified faculty at a particular program seems to be a big part of the game. If you can do that well, you will probably get in somewhere good.


Also, the best piece of advice I was given was to only apply to the places I would be excited to go to.  A lot of folks wait a year and re-apply after striking out the first round, so you can always apply to the top-tier places and then, if you get bounced, mix in some less competitive programs the next time around. 

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Agreed with the person above. They're not very likely to care much about your gap or exactly why you had it. If you feel like mentioning it I'd limit it to one sentence that you drop in passing.

As long as you spend time carefully crafting your SOP I believe that you will be a competitive applicant. Remember that the application committees want to see that you've thought about a problem/issue enough to be able to propose future research within that area. Also keep in mind that what you put in your SOP doesn't necessarily have to be your dissertation down the road.

Good luck!

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