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Rick120020

Do I have a fighting chance at a top 10 PhD Program?

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Hey everyone! So here's my situation and I apologize in advance for the length of this. I'm a senior at the University of Illinois. I'm a psych major but I started off as a biology/pre-med. Right now I'm really interested in clinical psych and would like to apply to a PhD program. Here's the thing though: I screwed up my first 2 years and got 3 C's (general chemistry 1 and 2 as well as pre-calculus), 1 W (calculus), and an F (organic chemistry). To be completely honest I received these grades for mainly 2 reasons. 1) I was pretty depressed throughout my first two years of college and this affected my greatly  2) Biology was not my real interest. I was simply guided to that route by my parents. Thus, I had no motivation to study or do well in the classes. Paired with my depression, this as a recipe for disaster. I kept trying though because like I said, it was somewhat expected of me to become a doctor. It took 2 miserable years and an F on my transcript to realize that I was making a huge mistake. After that I changed my major to a psychology - something I have always loved and sought out help for my depression and I have drastically improved. I definitely believe I am a totally different person and student now. My psychology GPA by graduation should be a 4.0 by graduation, my gen-ed GPA is a 4.0, and my overall should be around a 3.48. My GPA for my first 50 credit hours was a 2.9 but for my last 70 it's a 3.95. The only classes i have received something lower than a B in are the physical science ones that I mentioned. 

 

As for research and such, I have been doing extensive medical research with an emphasis on patient psychology. I have been doing this for over 3 years and have received an NIH supplement grant to do it. I have presented a poster at 3 conferences (one national [awarded honors], one regional, and one local) and have attended serval others. I have experience with iIRB documents (such as submitting protocols) as well as formal research training. I am also submitting a paper for first author publication within the next month or so. I have also had a large hand in the development of a patient education application (Apple store) geared towards individuals with low literacy. I have two mentors, one is a physician the other is a psychologist and both have stated that they would be more than willing to write me a letter of rec. Aside from this research I have also been assisting a graduate student with his study for the past year, I have also participated in 2 summer research programs, and I have been a psychology tutor for the past 3 months. I'm currently trying to gain some clinical experience as well although I'm not sure how that will go.

 

So now my real question: do I have a chance at a top 10 program? My dream school would be Berkley as I love the research they're doing there but my second choice would be U of I. Assuming I do well on my GRE, do I have a chance? or is there no point in applying? Also I'm not sure if this matters at all but I'm male and hispanic...

 

 

Thanks in advance for all you're input. 

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Unfortunately, no. Right now your GPA (cumulative 3.48) will get you rejected without them even reading your application. I know this sucks, and I really feel for you so so much because you obviously had an understandably bad experience your first two years, and then made a very smart and courageous choice to change into a field you love.

 

Here is my advice to you: find a way to change those C's and F's. This differs by every school, but some schools have a policy where you can re-take a course to try for a better grade. I know what you're thinking - "Oh those courses aren't psychology so they don't matter right?" Wrong. The skills in chemistry and calculus (quantitative problem solving, understanding complicated mechanisms) are exactly the skills that top-10 programs are looking for in applicants nowadays. So you need to find a way to fix those grades. You have some GREAT research experience - that NIH grant definitely will set you apart. And I hate to say this, but being Hispanic will definitely help your chances. But even with that and a perfect GRE, you probably won't get looked at by a top-10 with C's and an F on your transcript.

 

P.S. Whatever you do, do not mention your struggle with depression in your application. Many people try to weave their mental health struggles into a personal statement, or to explain bad grades. That's a great way for you to get rejected instantly. (see http://psychology.unl.edu/psichi/Graduate_School_Application_Kisses_of_Death.pdf)

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I totally disagree. Do you stand a chance? Of course. Does that mean you'll get in? No.

 

Lets focus on the positive things first. You say you have NIH funding and the grant was awarded to you...I'm not from the clinical world, but in neuroscience, if you received a grant from the NIH of any kind thats application gold. You've also mentioned your presentations, which I assume are abstracts. Abstracts of any kind show original research work and your personal ability to do research. If you have your name on a paper at all that outweighs a lot of things.

 

Be specific with what your actual goals are. As far as your GPA goes, if this were an social/developmental/bio psych app you would be just fine. I tried to click on the link the other poster provided but no avail. So you had a weak first two years and a strong last two, thats normal. However be prepared to get rejected from schools because there are those with shiny 3.8 GPAs. You also have to ask yourself if thats the program that fits you best. I couldn't imagine myself at a school where the average was a 3.8 personally. 

 

If you decide to mention your first two years, just say your path changed and thats not what it was meant to be. Life happens, and you don't want to bash yourself over the head for "life being life".  Keep it VERY minimal like two sentences max.

 

I wish you the best sir and as far as  being a minority goes, I'll let you know if being Palestinian helps me

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Also note that Berkeley (at least for the programs I'm aware of) weighs the last 90 units of undergrad much more strongly, so that's in your favor!!

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You can do this!!!

1) Expand your horizon. You would be amazed how many schools are doing similar research with little to no publicity.

2) Numerous schools focus on senior or major GPA.

3) Explain the low GPA if you must but I think the fact that you switched majors may play to your advantage. Once you found your passion, you clearly excelled.

4) Focus on your GRE. Scores for clinical psych are among the most competitive out there.

5) Your research experience makes it extremely difficult to ignore your application. High GRE scores will increase the likelihood of getting to that stage where they actually notice it.

6) By all means, if you can get your GPA to a at least a 3.5, do it because some schools may cut off anyone below that mark.

Good luck!

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As mentioned above- don't aim for a "top 10 program", aim for a great program with a great research fit. A POI who really wants to work with you will fight for you, even if your GPA is slightly low. Keep in mind that POI names within your psychology specialty are often times just as, if not more, important than the school you go to.

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Realize, too, that the idea of "top 10" means little in Psychology. This isn't law school, where pedigree trumps all. A Social Psychologist researching stereotype threat will have a very different top 10 list than a Clinical Psychologist researching psychopathy, and so on.

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This is all really great information! Thanks everyone! I'll continue my good progress, research more schools/faculty, and hope for the best 

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Do not listen to ANYONE who says you don't have a chance at getting in to a strong program! You have a lot of great accomplishments under your belt, and have clearly demonstrated that you can acheive in a college setting.I just went through this process with concerns about my GPA and really wish I would have relaxed more about those benchmarks-- feel free to PM me,I'm happy to offer any advice about the clinical process and what you can do to get experience!

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