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Help Please: Question about Grad School Apps/Admissions


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Hey Everyone! I'm new here (first post). I'm hoping to apply for clinical psychology PhD programs for the Fall 2014. I say hoping because I just took the GRE yesterday and I'm seriously concerned. I know that I don't have my official scores yet but  Ireceived a Verbal score of 155 and a Quant score of 147. Terrible right? I know that I'm not going to get into any programs with that scores like that, especially with the Verbal being so low. There are two things that I was wondering about: I was wondering what my chances are if I apply with that score. Here's some other helpful information:


-Undergrad GPA: 3.50 (Psych GPA: 3.44, GPA for the last 60 credit hours: 3.9. I was on the Dean's list all of Junior and Senior year and received a 4.0 for all of senior year)

-Research experience: I worked in two clinical psych labs for roughly two years so I know that I can get recommendations from those two. There is another psych professor who likes me so he may agree to write one and my mentor/professor/advisor for my minor would probably write one as well)

-Psi Chi International Honor Society member.

-Seemingly good match with POI. I've contacted most of them and they all encouraged me to apply since it seemed like a good fit.


I'm really down about the GRE score but I don't think that I can take it before the deadlines because of the fee. My second question is how much admission commitees account for extenuating life circumstances. My family is on welfare, we receive food stamps, my mother is in and out of rehab (and 98% of the time when she's out she's relapsed) and is largely responsible for a lot of the obstacles facing our family, my father abandoned us when my mom's addiction got really out of control, my grandfather who mostly raised me died before I started college from a rare form of lung cancer, my grandmother took his death hard and suffered a stroke a year after he died and she has recently undergone back-to-back eye surgeries to prevent her losing her vision (I now live with her). My two aunts died within a two year period, one from breast cancer and the other from complications from diabetes and stomach cancer (which happened 3 days before my GRE date which is why I had to cancel). My brother got arrested the second time that I was supposed to pay for my exam so I had to help with bail which meant another cancellation.


I did really well in school with all things considered and I desperately want to go to graduate school and no matter how hard I try, there is always some massive life event that prevents me from getting there. I'm working as an RA now but a lot of the money is going towards supporting the family. I know that there are hundreds of other applicants that go through serious life events and I'm not looking for any sympathy, but do you think that grad programs would even care about factoring any of this into their consideration? How do you think they would interpret all of this? My friends says that it would make me seem really  resilient (and low and behold, that is exactly the topic that I want to study in grad school) but someone else said that it makes me look unreliable because they (the school) wouldn't know if I would stable enough to complete the program. What do you guys think? Should I even disclose any of this or just keep this to myself? I do think that it could be beneficial for some programs to consider the context surrouding an applicant's profile. Thoughts?


(sorry for the long post)

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Psychology is my field (although not clinical).

Your undergraduate GPA is pretty good; your research experience is a bit low competing with overachieving clinical psychology applicants.  Your application package looks a bit average, so if your GRE scores are below average, it just makes your package mediocre.  You have to remember that these days, many (most?) successful clinical psych PhD students have 3-4 years of research experience (either earned while they were undergrads by beginning early, or by working as a lab manager for 1-2 years after graduate shool) AND have above-average GRE scores.

It really depends on the kinds of programs you apply to.  If you are trying to get into top clinical science programs (like Michigan or UCLA) then you should retake and try to get a higher score.  If you are trying to get into mid-level programs, then your score might be fine.  It's impossible to speculate on your 'chances' as that depends on the rest of the applicant pool as well as other intangible factors (strength and quality of your LoRs, for one, and your statement for two).

How much do committees account for life circumstances?  Not much.  It's not really like undergrad, where the goal is to get disadvantaged students the same opportunities and schools try to help you overcome, so they might take someone with lower stats/below-average stats.  Graduate programs are looking for the best students.  They're happy if those students are diverse in various ways but they don't typically subscribe to the same "lift up" kinds of notions.  For example, a student who has great stats for the program may be especially valued because they had extenuating circumstances, indicating that they can achieve under pressure AND that their non-pressured achievement may be even greater than what they've already done.  But a student with unadmissible stats (and I'm not referring to you specifically - just in general) who says that they underperformed because of their life circumstances won't become admissible because of it.

It's really up to you - some people say discuss it, and some don't.  I had a really rough semester which caused me to withdraw from two classes and fail one, but I didn't mention it and still got accepted.  But other people gracefully deal with theirs in their statements and get accepted as well.  It's generally agreed that if you *do* address it, you should do it very briefly (1-3 sentences) and make it clear that the interference was temporary and is resolved.  A death in the family right before your GRE date, for example, can explain lower-than-expected GRE scores.  But you don't want to go into too much detail or discuss too much, because then you do look like you're making excuses for low performance (or that you're the kind of person who either attracts a lot of drama or doesn't deal well with it, which is COMPLETELY unfair for life circumstances that are all related to each other - but still happens).

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