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I'm New, and I have many questions.

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Hello All,

I'm currently a senior at the University of Maryland. My majors are English Literature and Philosophy. At present, I've done okay with my course work. I have an overall G.P.A of 3.4 and 3.8 overall in English. I'm applying to several P.h.D programs in English (i.e., NYU, Maryland, WashU, JHU). However, in my current and final semester of taking English courses, my G.P.A has dropped to possibly a 3.6 or 3.5. Does this hinder my chances of getting into highly ranked schools? I have decent recommendations, and I work as a writing tutor. My emphasis is African-American literature, specifically modernism, and I believe my writing sample reflects that I'm "research competent." I've been reading a lot of posts on the forum about application cut-offs, and with the GPA I have I'm not sure if they will even get around to considering my application with such a low G.P.A. I don't want to invest time and money applying to schools in which I have no chance of being considered pass the first round of cut-offs. What should I do? Am I being unrealistic about which schools I apply to? Or, am I completely confused about the selection process?

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Figure out WHY Hopkins, NYU, et al (and wherever you seek to apply) is the right place for you, as opposed to the top, hot places to be for a PhD. They might not all be right for you for the same reasons, but you should know that going INTO the application process. I had pretty decent success this past app season, I think, because I did a ton of research about who was at which universities, what I (potentially) wanted to study with them, and why I would be the best possible person chosen to do so based on my interests and theirs. I crafted applications--my SOP, my writing samples, who I got LORs from--in that direction for every school. It's a lot of work but, I think, worth it in the long run. It's still a big crapshoot--especially these days--but still worth it.

That said, people also say that one should apply widely. I'm not SUCH big a fan of that (though I get it) as I think it's better to apply where you will probably want to go and where you think you are, absolutely, the best fit. Applying widely might insure that you have a ratio's better chance of getting in somewhere, but applying smartly will make you concentrate on the presentation you make to whichever unis you choose.

So my advice is this: forget about you GPA; ya can't change that now (unless, I guess, you take a coupla extra classes over the summer or somewhere else, THEN apply)...Concentrate on what you can manipulate to your advantage: how you do on the GREs, your writing sample(s), your SOP, your letters of rec.

Good luck to you!

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Every school handles its applicant pool differently, and most don't share their exact methods, so it's very hard to say with certainty what, if any, factor will automatically flag your application as unacceptable for a given school. A school might use any of a range of arbitrary factors to shrink a large applicant pool, including GPA, GRE or other standardized test scores, the reputation of your undergraduate institution, etc. Prospective grad students are understandably desirous of being able to make definite statements about what will or will not get you into a given college, or grad school in general, but the reality is that the specifics of the application consideration process are a black box to us.

If you are concerned about wasting money and effort, then here is my advice: Draw up a list of schools that you know you want to go to. Check their entrance requirements to see that you meet their minimum numerical requirements (GPA, GRE, etc.) Cross off any schools whose stated requirements you can't meet. Then apply to the remaining schools. Unless they say outright they won't consider someone under a specific GPA threshold, then you have a shot, and that's the best assurance you are going to get.

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The GPA is not an isolated measurement. From my understanding, adcoms will put consideration into your transcript as a whole (amount of and performance in higher level courses taken). Another thing I didn't notice mentioned was the type of undergraduate university to which you went, which adcoms will notice. I presume that adcoms are well aware that some undergraduate institutions are well known for rough grading (UChicago), while they might be less willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you have a lower GPA from a larger public university (I find this ironic because at the larger public universities, professors can be just as tough, and at larger schools, no one holds your hand along the way). So, fair or unfair as that may be, if you come from a lesser known school, the GREs are a good way to bump up your competency in the adcoms perspective. The DGS at my undergrad specifically said that, although a deficiency in GPA might not throw you out completely, an unimpressive GPA combined with mediocre GREs very well could. Thus, depending on how competitive the schools to which you apply are, a lower gpa and a so-so GRE could knock you out in the first cut. It's true that the writing sample will ultimately be the dealbreaker, but they'll be more likely to overlook this if you don't make the first round.

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