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Should I get a Master's before applying?


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Hello there! I'm an undergrad from abroad wishing to apply to grad school in the US. Of course I would like to get into a top 10 school or a top 50 school, but my GPA is not competitive at all (around 3.2-3.3). I'm into developmental biology, specifically evo-devo. My dream schools are Stanford, Harvard and the University of Washington. Some of the other schools I would love to get into are Columbia, NYU, Berkeley, Rockefeller, UCSD.

I have the possibility of getting a Master's, and forfeiting my grad school application for one year. I'm pretty sure I can finish it in one year and could get a 3.8-4.0 GPA and maybe a publication as a first author and maybe a couple as a co-author. Do you guys think that is a good idea? Would a Master's high GPA make them forgive me for my mediocre undergrad GPA? And staying for two years in the same lab make up for the fact that I haven't produced anything as an undergrad and have been jumping from one lab to another and from area to area? Or do you guys think I should just apply this year anyway?

These are my stats:

Undergrad Institution: An unknown university. I also did one year abroad at an Ivy League.
Major(s): Biomedical Science
GPA in Major: I will finish between 3.2 and 3.3 in my university, and my GPA for my year at the US was only 3.12
Overall GPA: There is no such thing at my school
Position in Class: I'm in the top 5, but my class is very small (35 people)
Type of Student: International, female
GRE Scores (revised/old version): I haven't taken the GRE yet, but I am preparing to take them in September so I think I will do well. I think I will take the biochem, cell and molecular biology subject as well. Depends on my finances 3 months from now

TOEFL Total: 115

Research Experience:

- 1 year and 3 months at the National Cancer Institute (molecular cancer biology and epigenetics, part-time during school, full-time during breaks)

- 6 months at the Ivy League I studied (molecular neurobiology, part-time)

- 3 months at another Ivy League (cancer biology, full-time) 

- Will spend 3 months this Summer in Europe (developmental neurobiology, full-time)

- Been working on my Bachelor's thesis since January (protein modeling and SNP prediction on genes related to developmental neurobiology, part-time).

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Had a research trainee stipend from the government for one year while working at the National Cancer Institute, had a full government scholarship to study abroad for a year, have a teaching assistant stipend, got into a competitive paid European summer undergraduate research program

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: TA for Biochemistry for one semester, TA for Organic Chemistry for 2 semesters



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Your GPA is decent, not great, but high enough to get you past most cutoffs (don't listen to Fun_Cookie). You have good research experience, which will help a lot especially if you get strong LORs. I don't think anybody cares that you didn't stick with a single lab in undergrad, it's the best time to explore different fields to see what it is you want to do. You are looking at prestigious schools, which does mean you're going to face a bit of an uphill battle. If I was in your shoes, I'd hedge my bets and try for a few of the schools on your dream list as well as funded MS programs at lower tier universities because a good record during a MS does help. I would definitely talk to professors you did research under at the Ivy universities, assuming you are interested in the program and what they do.

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3.3? Please you would not survive the first week of grad school.


One's GPA is not always a true indicator of one's full potential to do well in grad school.


Any combination of bio, psycho or social factors could have impacted the OP's GPA in undergrad and the OP may currently be in a better position to perform better academically. Issues like money problems, low interest or motivation, health or emotional difficulties, even maturity levels can dramatically impact academic performance, in spite of one's true academic potential.


If the OP wants to go after this goal, she should do it and see what happens. Best of luck to you, oleaozinho.

Edited by jenste
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3.3? Please you would not survive the first week of grad school.

Why would you say this when you haven't spent a week in grad school yourself?


OP: Especially if you have good letters of recommendation, I'd apply right away. You can consider getting a Master's (hopefully funded) as an alternative, or if funding is tight, working as a lab tech for a year or two.  Doing well on the subject GRE would help if you can get a good score.


My experience so far is that grad school classes have been straightforward, and although I had a low undergrad GPA and didn't take that much biology, I've done very well this first year.

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If I were to, I would get a Master's here in my country, where it is fully funded, not in the US. I am still deciding what to do. Thank you for the input!


Also, don't worry everyone, I don't care about the troll. I would rather have a 3.3 GPA than a 4.0 and be a low self-esteem loser who needs to try to offend people in order to feel better.

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I had a 2.9 in undergrad and instead of getting a Masters before applying, I took additional undergrad courses (microbio, organic chem, calculus, etc) and pulled all A's. This was far cheaper than a MS in the states and was enough to prove that I was no longer the student I was before. If you feel like you have changed the things you need to and can get strong grades, then personally I would choose that path.  The bio sciences PhDs I've heard of all have a masters en route, so having the first wouldn't really count for much beyond applications. Just be careful of going from a low GPA to expecting a high GPA + first author + other authorships. It can be done, but that's a lot to take on at once. Just my 2 cents. Best of luck to you

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