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asking grad schools why you weren't admitted ?


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Has anyone ever emailed grad schools to ask them about their admissions decision (as in the exact reasons why you weren't admitted)? Will they even reply ? I strongly suspect that it's because my LORs aren't strong enough (only 1 strong LOR from advisor and 2 weak ones from profs I got A's with) but I really want to know the real reasons so that I can (hopefully) get in next year !

My stats:

international student

cumulative GPA: 3.68


GRE chem: 810 (79 %ile)

~2 years research experience

1 pub submitted (1st author)

1 strong LOR, 2 weak ones (I think)

5 graduate courses (7 by the time I graduate)

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I would recommend emailing them after the busy season is over, whenever that is for your schools. In some cases it's as late as May. You could always try now and then try again in May (or try now and ask if they would prefer if you asked them again later).


However, be prepared for very very generic feedback. They reject far more than they accept so it's very unlikely that they recorded reasons for rejection. They will also be unlikely to go back and perform a re-review of your application to determine exactly what you can improve. Sometimes you might get lucky with some more meaningful feedback, especially if you were a close call. 


And also be prepared to get useless feedback. That is, they might just take a quick glance at your profile again and find the first thing that is below average and mention something like "GRE is lower than average" even though they might have admitted people with a lower GRE because other parts made up for it. And perhaps you do have other factors that more than make up for a low GRE, but they didn't fully re-evaluate your profile and then you end up thinking the GRE is the main reason you got rejected but the real reason is something else (e.g. LORs) but they never got there. 

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Thanks for the detailed reply TakeruK ! Like you said,the reason why I thought my LORs were the problem was because I saw a bunch of people getting into the schools I applied to-but then again, they're probably not international. Do you think it would help if I retake? Or would some industry experience + internship (ie, potential sources of strong LORs) be even more helpful in getting me into top 5-15 schools?

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I agree with the above advice. However, I will add that you should also apply to some safety schools if you're determined to get into a program. All the programs you have in your signature are top programs that are difficult to get into even with excellent letters.

I think a GRE retake would have a minimal effect on your applications. Your scores are pretty good. You can reevaluate your SOP and letter writers. Additional experience, academic or industry, will help. Keep in mind there is still a month or so before most schools give out the bulk of their acceptances.

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To clarify, when I used the GRE score as an example in the third paragraph, it was just a randomly chosen example! I don't know the standards for Chemistry GRE scores so I have no idea if your score is competitive or not at the top schools (although if you had that score in the Physics GRE, you definitely would have a good score).


I agree with pepsico that if this year does not work out, your best bet on improving your chances of grad school next year is to apply to many more schools! However, it's still early and you have not heard from the other 3 yet, so don't lose hope :)


If you do apply to more schools next year, I would strongly recommend going for at least 8 schools in total. Many international students that aim for top programs usually apply to at least 6-8 schools and they often only apply to top programs (personally, I did this because it's not worth uprooting my whole life if I was not going to get into one of the best programs for my field). I would say that even the best students are rarely a shoe-in for top programs and your odds at any given program might be something like 10% to 20%. The best way to beat these odds is to increase your numbers! 


And if you do apply to more schools, apply to more private schools!! International students cost a ton more at public schools and the UC schools (e.g. UCLA, UC Berkeley on your list) are well known to have a very low international student rate and also known to be very popular amongst international students. When I was applying to schools, my Canadian profs (who had some experience working in the US) predicted that I would get into private schools but not the public ones. They were right--I applied to a lot of California schools and I got rejected at all of the public ones!


But for now, I'd focus on the current application year and just wait to see what the other three schools say. If you do need/want to reapply next year, it might be worth it to ask for feedback in May (it can't hurt as long as you keep in mind you might get useless advice), but I really think the best things you can do to improve your application is 1) apply to more schools and 2) get that submitted 1st author paper into an accepted 1st author paper!


And finally, when considering which additional schools to apply to next year (if necessary), you should decide if you want to only attend top programs or if you would prefer any program instead of no graduate school. If you were in my field, I would say that your profile is excellent and while there will still be people with higher GPAs or GREs, you definitely have a good enough profile to seriously consider top programs. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable for you to only consider top programs and apply to a lot of them (in fact, one might go through the entire top 20 list and apply to every program that matches your interests--although if you already did this and only came up with four, I would say you might be looking too narrowly). At the same time, it's also a good idea to apply to safety schools if your goals require that you attend any PhD program! If you have the time and money for applications, you could even do both. 

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As far as I know, UCLA is probably reviewing applications these days. You could try contacting research groups that you're interested in and it might help.


I my opinion, GPA and GRE scores are not important for most graduate programs. What they care about the most is your research since you're supposed to work for a research group after being admitted. So you should try to demonstrate your research ability and convince them that your research ability is better than other applicants in your application.


Good luck!

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