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Low GPA, are top 30 schools out of my range?


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I am a junior at a top 20 private university. My GPA is not the highest right now, though I plan on increasing it significantly.  I was wondering if some of my choices for a Ph.D in analytical chemistry were out of reach.


Major: Chemistry


Cumulative GPA: probably around a 3.3 by the time I apply

Chemistry GPA: probably around a 3.3 by the time I apply


GRE Verbal: 155 (67%) retaking soon

GRE Quantitative: 164 (88%) retaking soon

GRE Analytical: 4.5 (80%) retaking soon

GRE Chemistry: expecting at least 800 or so


Recommendations: (1) super strong rec from one of the top analytical chemists/professors in the country (Agilent Thought Leader Award, etc.), my PI; (2) strong adviser/head of undergraduate research rec; (3) very strong rec from industry; (4) optional: strong rec from head of graduate TA's, only undergraduate TA


Experience: 1.5 years in industry from taking time off (drug discovery/development); 1.5 years in top analytical chemistry/IM-MS research (possible publications, lead author for MSWIFT advancement); 2.5 years undergraduate general chemistry TA; campus ACS Student Affiliates Chapter officer


Other unrelated EC's: Delta Delta Delta



Top Schools: Purdue, UCLA - dream school, UT Austin, Cornell, UofI Urbana-Champaign, Cal


Other schools I'm considering: UCSD, UCSF, UW-Seattle, Scripps



Do you guys think that my GPA will be that much of an issue applying to these schools for the Fall of 2016? What are my chances?

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That GPA will definitely not rule you out (I've been accepted to 3 top 30's and offered a chance to interview with another with a 2.9 cumulative GPA this cycle). You do have to make sure that everything under your control (LORs, GRE scores - definitely aim for 800+ on the subject, personal statement) are outstanding. It sounds like you have a good shot at it, good luck next year!

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Hi luviviandore.


I can answer your question confidently now as I have just applied to chem grad schools this season for Fall of 2015.


If you have a 3.0 or above, I think you can definitely get admitted.


I have a 3.3 GPA now (and when I applied) and so far I have been admitted to Princeton, Columbia, Caltech, Northwestern and UC Irvine. I only applied to top 15 schools really, with the exception of Irvine, but their organic program is really great!


The only other school I have yet to hear back from that I am interested in is Harvard....and if I could even be admitted there, then I would say that anything is possible for you (as Harvard is probably one of the most conservative schools)!


HOWEVER, I will say that from talking to various people on admissions committees, i DO think that the Chem GRE is very important -- if you could get anything like a 780 or above, that would be great and good enough for any program in the country really! In addition, many professors have told me that the GRE Verbal section is the most important one, so try to score at least 90 percentile if you can. I think arguably, these two factors are more important than your GPA. But of course, the most important factor is if you excelled in your research (which can also be reflected by your rec letters) and have some research fellowships or other awards (in my case, I published three papers in relatively high impact journals (one in Angew Chem), and I also had an international fellowship in Germany).


Best of luck to you in your application process! Just try to get your GPA above 3.0 and you will be in the green.


- SunnygirlDiana


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It can be hard to generalize because every department has their own standards for what they feel is important for admission. That being said, I think you have a good shot at those schools with your GPA. My justification: your research is probably the single most important factor (followed by letters of recommendation and your statement of purpose). Overall, your research is very good in terms of quality and variety, and I think that will help you out. Industry experience can also help you stand out from the majority of applicants that are coming straight from undergrad. Your letters of rec look very promising as well, considering they're coming from top researchers. I wouldn't put too much stock in a letter of rec from a graduate student though, imo. Having good grades is certainly a plus, but as long as you're above a 3.0 GPA, I don't feel like it will hinder your chances at those schools (though Caltech and UIUC would be difficult to get in, even for so-called "elite" candidates). 

Also, this is just my own view, but I disagree with Sunnygirl's view on the GRE. I think the chem GRE (and the regular GRE to some extent) are a joke for American applicants. They're more important for international applicants because it is far more competitive for them. For you, as long as you don't completely bomb it, admissions committees aren't going to even care. I didn't take the chem GRE and I was still able to get into some great grad schools that "required", or at least "strongly recommended", taking it.

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As a fellow analytical chem applicant, let me contribute my two cents. GPA is important, but only to the extent that you are able to maintain a good enough GPA while focusing on everything else, especially your research. If you can keep a 3.3 by the time you apply, I believe you should be fine during applications. Albeit GPA was never a main concern for me, I did have some rather low GRE scores (52% percentile in Verbal for the GRE and 42% percentile for the Chem GRE). I was concerned these would play a large factor in my applications and I took the risk of submitting my Chem GRE score, despite the fact they weren't required for my applications as an American applicant (however, seeing the words "highly recommended" terrified me, which drove me to submit my Chem GRE score). Even though I submitted such a bad Chem GRE score and a GRE score that could have been better, I was able to gain admission to 4 of my 5 schools so far- UMich, UNC-Chapel Hill, Purdue and UC Berkeley, all of which have very strong analytical programs (currently waiting to hear back from Caltech). But I feel I had a number of other factors going for me - my research experience + publications, my LoRs, my SoP, awards and honors, and other misc. items. 


Aside from your GPA and GREs, your LoRs and research experience look pretty good. Just make your SoP is strong (and personal statements, too, if your schools require them) and keep up your GPA until you apply. You should be able to get accepted to most, if not all, of your schools listed. 

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Also, this is just my own view, but I disagree with Sunnygirl's view on the GRE. I think the chem GRE (and the regular GRE to some extent) are a joke for American applicants. They're more important for international applicants because it is far more competitive for them. For you, as long as you don't completely bomb it, admissions committees aren't going to even care. I didn't take the chem GRE and I was still able to get into some great grad schools that "required", or at least "strongly recommended", taking it.


Yes, I do agree with Deltagrey on this actually....I think I didn't articulate my thoughts well before.


What I really meant to say is that if you think you don't have a strong GPA, you can try to compensate for it by doing really well in your Chem GRE and Verbal General GRE as well. Overall, I really don't think any of these are as important as your research credentials and letters of course (as we can also see from Deltagrey's case!) There are some exceptions though like Harvard that might care about all of these things though xP But I think generally, most of the top 30 schools can be quite lenient about GREs and GPA!


For example, I also had a friend who got into UW Madison with a 2.8 overall GPA so you will definitely have a shot!


It looks like your research credentials are pretty good. Just one piece of advice I think could be helpful: definitely try to get some "publishable data" by the time you apply! The process of publishing -- supporting information, submission, revisions, turnaround, etc can be really long and messy and you don't necessarily have to worry about having the paper actually out and accepted by that time. But even having a "first author manuscript in preparation" or "manuscript in preparation" will be very advantageous as admission committees can also tell if you have impressive publishable work just by seeing a very polished, professional research summary (for example, one of my friends applying this year didn't publish, but had a lot of good data, made a nice research summary, and noted "first author manuscript in prep" and was admitted to top programs like Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton and Yale!). I think this could increase your chances for admission too as research is the most important factor for grad schools!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I know the subject GRE is important, but I messed it up. Not in an I-don't-know-my-stuff way, but because I forgot to fill up the answer sheet in time. And I did REALLY badly, I got a 780. General GRE- 168 (v) 164 (q). I was miserable after the GREs, I was entirely sure I wouldn't get in to a single top program. My CGPA when translated into a 4-point system ends up being lower than 3.5. I haven't published yet either. I got into 2 programs that are fantastic for my field (theory), and I'm still waiting on others. Just saying, the obvious stuff on your application that puts you down may not really be as important as it seems. I think LORs are probably the most important, I had 2 very strong LORs, one from my Masters thesis advisor, and another from a summer internship advisor, and 1 good LOR from a course advisor.

P.S. International student

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