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What graduate programs in Canada heavily emphasize the GRE?


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Hi everyone,

 

I have some somewhat unusual requirements for my graduate program -- my family is Canadian and I would like to attain Canadian residency, so the easiest way to do that after chatting with a lawyer is for me to complete a master's in Ontario. Of course, I will also value the academic components of my program, but given that what I want to do is fairly interdisciplinary, I am less interested in applying to programs in certain departments than to maximize my chances of being accepted by applying to programs that would be partial to my particular admissions statistics. Also, I am fine with doing a one year master's in something that is not necessarily what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, as after that one year I will have permanent residency and may decide to pursue law school or a phd program, as those would be financially feasible 

 

With that said, my stats are as follows:

GRE: 168V (98 percentile), 5.5 Analytical Writing (97 percentile), 161 Quantitative (81 percentile)

GPA: 4.1/5.0, which would be a 4.5/5.0 without an F and a D that I received as I had a serious medical issue the week of finals one semester, I have a letter from my departmental administrator confirming this. Overall, all As in my major, a few Bs and Cs in required courses not related to my major. Graduated from MIT.

Graduated a year ago, currently employed as a political/economic consultant for an International Development organisation.

Research experience/awards: received prestigious departmental award to do research abroad on water accessibility and civil society. Wrote thesis on similar topic. Received a very selective award doing great in social science.

Major: Political Science, focus in Applied International Relations, was a few classes short of a second major with urban planning, focus in major was political theory.

 

So essentially I am interested in the interactions between human environments and the natural environment, particularly within the water accessibility context. I've enjoyed my time working on the issue on the macro scale in an international organisation, but think I would enjoy something more micro long-term-- say working as part of a consultancy team on individual projects that deal with the built environment and environmental issues.

 

I was originally going to apply to Econ programs, with a Political Economy/International Development focus, and take a few additional classes next semester, as I still needed a math and 2 econ classes in order to be able to apply. I had narrowed the schools to U of T, York, Western, Queens, McMaster, and Ryerson. However, in light of how I did on the GRE, I was thinking it might be a good idea to apply to schools that really do emphasize the GRE, and broaden my search to political theory as well as urban planning programs. Also, I'm starting to think that the development field is not where I would like to be, and would like to have my options open to pursue alternate options. My questions are as follows:

 

1. Do you think I have a good chance at the schools that I listed, given my stats, for the economics programs?

2. Would I have a reasonable chance at political theory programs, and if so, should I apply through the political theory or the philosophy programs? What programs should I be shooting for?

3. Would I have a reasonable chance in urban planning programs, and if so, what programs should I be shooting for? I looked at the Geography program at U of T and really liked it, but am not sure what other programs might be a good fit, or how hard it is to get in.

 

Also, I have great recs, and can get some from profs that have taught me in these various fields.

 

Best,

 

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However, in light of how I did on the GRE, I was thinking it might be a good idea to apply to schools that really do emphasize the GRE, and broaden my search to political theory as well as urban planning programs. 

 

The GRE is an American thing. Canadian programs don't require it. I did apply to one Canadian MA program that allowed you to include your scores if you had them, but the majority of (Canadian) applicants will probably not have taken it, so I doubt that it will impact your applications too much.

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The GRE is an American thing. Canadian programs don't require it. I did apply to one Canadian MA program that allowed you to include your scores if you had them, but the majority of (Canadian) applicants will probably not have taken it, so I doubt that it will impact your applications too much.

 

I agree -- most Canadians have heard of the SATs (through American media) but most do not know what a GRE even is. Even Canadian students (that do not apply to US grad schools) might only know about that the GRE is an exam that their colleagues have to take for US grad schools, but most would not know what the test consists of, or what a good score is etc. 

 

So, I think because you scored very well on the GRE, you should include them and they might impress the profs/committee. It's also helpful to remember/know that standardised testing is not a norm in Canada (there are only about 3 standardised tests from K-12 and my home province recently abolished end-of-high school province-wide exams [which used to be the biggest component in determining university admissions]). Thus, the admissions committee would be used to seeing Canadian applications, which will not have any standardised test scores at all, so while a high percentile GRE rank is still impressive, they have no way of comparing your performance with that of Canadian applicants.

 

Also, in some fields in Canada, admission to graduate programs is decided directly by an individual professor -- applications are forwarded to everyone in the department, and if a prof has funding for a student and likes your application, they will make you an offer to work with them. Sometimes there is still an admissions committee in order to make sure that the applicant is prepared enough to succeed in the program and that they meet some minimum levels for admission. But they are only there to weed out applicants not prepared for graduate school. For many Canadian programs, while most professors would want to invest their grant dollars in the best student, fit is ultimately the most important factor in gaining admissions -- not high GPAs, GREs, etc. In fact, at my undergrad program, the department policies clearly state that PhD students will only be admitted if there is at least one professor who will promise to fund them. But my field could be very different from yours!

 

Finally, I'm no expert in Canadian immigration law, but I find it strange that getting a Masters in Ontario is the best way to claim Canadian residency. As far as I know, from my international friends in grad school, completing a graduate program in Canada doesn't automatically give you Canadian permanent resident status. Usually, you would have to find work in your field after your degree to get the status. It sounds like you have a special case (i.e. maybe due to your Canadian family, you just need to reside in Canada for a year to get the status) and that you've consulted people who are experts in immigration law, but I just want to say this so that others don't have the false impression that Canadian graduate degree = Canadian permanent resident status.

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  • 2 weeks later...

First, thanks a lot to everyone for your replies and suggestions. 

U of toronto will be thrilled if they see an application from MIT.... that alone gives u great chances of getting in anything

Ah, how much do Canadian schools care about the prestige of your undergrad institution, in general?

 

 

 

The GRE is an American thing. Canadian programs don't require it. I did apply to one Canadian MA program that allowed you to include your scores if you had them, but the majority of (Canadian) applicants will probably not have taken it, so I doubt that it will impact your applications too much.

 

 

I agree -- most Canadians have heard of the SATs (through American media) but most do not know what a GRE even is. Even Canadian students (that do not apply to US grad schools) might only know about that the GRE is an exam that their colleagues have to take for US grad schools, but most would not know what the test consists of, or what a good score is etc. 

 

So, I think because you scored very well on the GRE, you should include them and they might impress the profs/committee. It's also helpful to remember/know that standardised testing is not a norm in Canada (there are only about 3 standardised tests from K-12 and my home province recently abolished end-of-high school province-wide exams [which used to be the biggest component in determining university admissions]). Thus, the admissions committee would be used to seeing Canadian applications, which will not have any standardised test scores at all, so while a high percentile GRE rank is still impressive, they have no way of comparing your performance with that of Canadian applicants.

 

Also, in some fields in Canada, admission to graduate programs is decided directly by an individual professor -- applications are forwarded to everyone in the department, and if a prof has funding for a student and likes your application, they will make you an offer to work with them. Sometimes there is still an admissions committee in order to make sure that the applicant is prepared enough to succeed in the program and that they meet some minimum levels for admission. But they are only there to weed out applicants not prepared for graduate school. For many Canadian programs, while most professors would want to invest their grant dollars in the best student, fit is ultimately the most important factor in gaining admissions -- not high GPAs, GREs, etc. In fact, at my undergrad program, the department policies clearly state that PhD students will only be admitted if there is at least one professor who will promise to fund them. But my field could be very different from yours!

 

Finally, I'm no expert in Canadian immigration law, but I find it strange that getting a Masters in Ontario is the best way to claim Canadian residency. As far as I know, from my international friends in grad school, completing a graduate program in Canada doesn't automatically give you Canadian permanent resident status. Usually, you would have to find work in your field after your degree to get the status. It sounds like you have a special case (i.e. maybe due to your Canadian family, you just need to reside in Canada for a year to get the status) and that you've consulted people who are experts in immigration law, but I just want to say this so that others don't have the false impression that Canadian graduate degree = Canadian permanent resident status.

Ah ok, good to know on the whole GRE thing. It seems that around half of the programs that I am applying to do require the GRE, so perhaps it's something that is only common in Canadian Econ programs? Hm...

 

With regards to a lot of the Canadian apps being really professor-centric, would it be advantageous to contact any professors beforehand? I know some friends have done it for PhD programs, but would this be all right/advantageous for a master's?

 

Also, do Canadian schools have affirmative action? I'm considered a URM in the US, but don't know whether that would have any weight on my Canadian apps?

 

Ah yes, don't worry, I've talked about the whole immigration thing with a lawyer, yes, I do have a special case, and it is an Ontario-only situation as well...which is part of what led to my particular school selection. 

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Canadian schools do not have any form of Affirmative Action, they do have programs for Native Americans but its completely different. Even so as an International student you wouldn't be considered, just like when Canadian URM apply to US schools.

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Yes, definitely contact professors ahead of time if you are interested in their research.

 

At my undergraduate institution, you don't need to have contacted a professor ahead of time, but when the admissions committee meets, if you have contacted someone, and they would like to have you as a student, then you have someone who can advocate for you.  They can say, for example "oh yes, I remember so-and-so contacting me, and I would like to have him/her as a student."  It is perfectly fine to contact professors regarding a Masters program.  In Canada, it is extremely rare to go straight from undergrad to a PhD program, so professors are quite used to students contacting them regarding Masters programs.

 

Canadian schools do not have affirmative action.  There are some programs in place to help aboriginal individuals pursue higher education, but you would need to be a member of a Canadian Aboriginal group, with the appropriate documentation to demonstrate you were a status Indian, Inuit, or Metis.

 

I've never heard of anyone getting Canadian permanent resident status by going to graduate school. And I'm in Ontario. Glad to hear you've talked to a lawyer about it. 

 

(As for the GRE and writing sample, I'd never heard of either until visiting these forums.  None of the Masters programs in my field in Canada require them!)

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"Affirmative Action" is a vague term anyways -- what does it really mean? Also, it's an American term. So, while Canadian organizations will not use the term "Affirmative Action", it does not mean that Canadian organizations do not follow the spirit of the intentions of "Affirmative Action". That is, what I am trying to say is that I believe admission committees will consider your background if you choose to provide it and factor that into getting a diverse incoming graduate class. There's no concrete way to quantify how much it will help you get in because there's no concrete way to quantify how any of the grad school admission process works! 

 

One example of "Affirmative Action"-like behaviour at my MSc school was that I ended up entering with a fellowship for new graduate students who are visible minorities. This made absolutely no difference in my stipend because it was an "internal award" but this means a chunk of my stipend was covered by the University instead of my department. Presumably, these awards are intended to help departments recruit students from a wider background by reducing the cost to the department.

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That's interesting TakeruK.  When I asked graduate admissions at my undergrad university about diversity, they told me that they aren't allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, cultural background, sex/gender, religion, age, ability/disability, etc., because to do so would be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  They told me that bursuries and scholarships targeted at various minorities were to encourage such students to apply and to pursue graduate studies, but that they had no bearing on admissions.  Supposedly if the admissions people looked at an individual's race, background, gender, age, etc. then their decisions could be challenged through one of the Human Rights tribunals.

 

I'm no legal or admissions expert, but that's what I was told when I inquired whether it was in my interest to self-declare in certain categories.  Maybe it differs by institution or province, but they seemed pretty clear it was a Charter issue.

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That's interesting TakeruK.  When I asked graduate admissions at my undergrad university about diversity, they told me that they aren't allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, cultural background, sex/gender, religion, age, ability/disability, etc., because to do so would be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  They told me that bursuries and scholarships targeted at various minorities were to encourage such students to apply and to pursue graduate studies, but that they had no bearing on admissions.  Supposedly if the admissions people looked at an individual's race, background, gender, age, etc. then their decisions could be challenged through one of the Human Rights tribunals.

 

I'm no legal or admissions expert, but that's what I was told when I inquired whether it was in my interest to self-declare in certain categories.  Maybe it differs by institution or province, but they seemed pretty clear it was a Charter issue.

 

(I added the emphasis above). You're right -- now that I think about it further, the fellowship/award came after acceptance. But I would feel like a department would have a reasonable guess at whether a candidate would receive a fellowship like this, based on past award history (but no guarantee of course). 

 

I also think that it is a charter issue to use race (or any one of the other statuses protected from employment discrimination by law) as a basis for admission (or not-admission) to a graduate program (which constitutes employment in Canada). However, I don't think graduate programs would say like, "okay we have 10 spots and we want 3 successful candidates to be a visible minority". I think that would definitely be discrimination and against our Charter. I am not sure if this is what "Affirmative Action" means, so if it does, then as far as I know, Canada does not practice "Affirmative Action".

 

However, what I think does go on, (and in my opinion, should go on) is to consider each candidate's background while evaluating their previous achievements and also acknowledging our own potential biases. For one example, let's use gender. There have been studies that show that in a blind survey, both male and female scientists would rate fake CVs/applications from male applicants higher than those from female applicants. These CVs were identical except for the name, which was a gender-specific name. I think it's not discriminatory, under our Charter, to then use this information to help us make better / more equitable hiring decisions. That is, we should recognize that it is harder for minorities to make progress in fields dominated by majorities so perhaps we should keep these facts in mind when evaluating achievements. This is what I mean by the "spirit of Affirmative Action", but I might have completely misunderstood "Affirmative Action"!

 

Here is a paragraph from the Human Rights Act (http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/H-6/FullText.html) that might be relevant (but also, I'm no legal/admission expert!)

 

 

Special programs
  • 16. (1) It is not a discriminatory practice for a person to adopt or carry out a special program, plan or arrangement designed to prevent disadvantages that are likely to be suffered by, or to eliminate or reduce disadvantages that are suffered by, any group of individuals when those disadvantages would be based on or related to the prohibited grounds of discrimination, by improving opportunities respecting goods, services, facilities, accommodation or employment in relation to that group.

 

 

I would interpret this as not being discriminatory if a department realises that its population is very homogeneous and wishes to increase their diversity by creating a Graduate Assistantship that would pay for all expenses of a graduate student but then make that assistantship only available to X, where X is a minority/disadvantaged group.

 

Finally, this is just my opinion based on my experience when our department might have had conversations revolving around the extra difficulties faced by minorities (of any kind) in academia in Canada. I don't really know if the people I talked to are actually representative of all Canadian schools in all fields etc. etc.

Edited by TakeruK
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I have some somewhat unusual requirements for my graduate program -- my family is Canadian and I would like to attain Canadian residency, so the easiest way to do that after chatting with a lawyer is for me to complete a master's in Ontario. Of course, I will also value the academic components of my program, but given that what I want to do is fairly interdisciplinary, I am less interested in applying to programs in certain departments than to maximize my chances of being accepted by applying to programs that would be partial to my particular admissions statistics. Also, I am fine with doing a one year master's in something that is not necessarily what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, as after that one year I will have permanent residency and may decide to pursue law school or a phd program, as those would be financially feasible 

 

Er, you might want to talk to another lawyer because what you describe doesn't sound right.  If one of your parents is a Canadian born in Canada, you are automatically a Canadian citizen.  If not, you have get your visas etc like anyone else.  So I'm not sure what makes your case "special".  Entering on a student visa is not a bad way to go - usually you can work it into something more permanent (I know many people who have) but you must check all the current details on this.  But why not just apply directly to a program you actually want to do?  The student visa works the same no matter what program you are in. 

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