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Some words of advice


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I haven't checked this site or ones like it for a long time but I wanted to share my experience with those who are applying to top IR programs. Despite my GPA (2.6) I have been accepted at the SAIS M.A program to start in September. I have also received significant funding to complete my studies. If you are like me and have a less than spectacular (make that horrendous) grade point average DO NOT GO TO BOARDS LIKE THESE FOR ADVICE. I cannot stress this enough. There are plenty of paths to the top and you have to remember that not all of them include having a spectacular GPA. If you look at applicant advice websites such as this one, you will become convinced that the Adcomms will laughingly shred your application and use it for toilet paper.

I stopped looking at these sites a while ago as it was too disheartening to listen to the preening windbags and their fatuous obsessions with the smaller things in life. Instead, I decided to hunker down and follow my own path, not the received wisdom that is so often espoused on the internet.

So stay focused, keep the faith and steer clear of the herd. You might just end up getting into the program you desire.

A little bit more about me:

Languages: Some french and spanish (nothing spectacular, certainly not fluent)

Work experience: (3 years, some international development in Latin America)

GRE: 710V 720Q

GPA: 2.7

Volunteer: don't believe in it, so none

Balls: made of steel

Extra courses in basic economics and stats

Now sign off this site and go and live your life. You will thank me later

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Hi there,

First, congratulations! SAIS is a great school :) If you don't mind me asking, how long ago did you finish your undergrad studies? I ask because I don't think anyone who posts here regularly would say that an adcomm would dismiss an application out of hand based solely on undergrad GPA. There are other factors involved as well. There's no doubt that your 2.7 doesn't really reflect your intellectual aptitude or chances of success; if it did, then you wouldn't be sitting pretty with a 710V and 720Q GRE score (which is damn impressive!).

On a side note, if you're talking about other online grad school fora, like -- say, I don't know -- autoadmit.com, then I think a slight distinction needs to be made. There aren't many people here at thegradcafe who would EVER post on that highly inflammatory, exceedingly misleading forum.


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Thanks for the advice. I think I speak for a lot of folks out there when I say that it's very comforting to know that us sub 4.0-Rhodes Scholar-8 languages type of folks have a shot at getting into some of the elite programs out there. I think that due to the extremely competitive nature of our chosen field of study we all assume that we have to have the perfect resume/background.

I too would like to know when/where you finished undergrad and what your degree was in?

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Congratulations on getting into SAIS! Their grads absolutely OWN Beijing, it's incredible how dominating the program is here. Maybe my little sis will see you in DC - she's doing the JHU-Nanjing program next year which she intends to use as a stepping stone into SAIS (same GPA as you, WAY worse GREs, but nearly fluent in Mandarin).

However, I have to respectfully disagree with you regarding the value of this forum. These boards have provided me every bit as much invaluable information as they have BS info, and frankly it's been a real help. To say that because not all of the advice is crystal-ball correct the whole modus operandi of these boards is invalidated is just inaccurate IMO.

If you posted your situation here I'm sure there would've been plenty of people telling you not to bother, but their would've been plenty of others saying "hey, you've got the test scores and experience seems to matter the most at the top schools anyway - go for it." I don't see how that's a bad mix of advice: you have to admit that your acceptance was far from certain with a GPA like that, and nearly all of your classmates will have higher undergrad GPAs than you. Just a matter of statistics there - don't be upset at some of the more pessimistic board members for pointing it out.

What your situation proves is that it is unwise not to try just because you're not a shoo-in. So just don't listen to statements that contradict that kind of advice and glean all the other pearls of wisdom you can from the site.

Also, I think it's worth noting that most of the "preening windbags" on this site with "their fatuous obsessions with the smaller things in life" got into some pretty good schools from what I saw, and as such some will be your colleagues starting this fall.

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I agree with stiles. Some of us certainly may be preening windbags (that is a great phrase, I'm going to have to use it from time to time :)), but you can't avoid that. The world is full of 'em. And there are a lot of people on this forum who are extremely real, just like you. I remember another person who was active here during admissions season earlier this year, and whose story was similar to yours: low GPA, no notable fellowships / scholarships / humanity-saving accomplishments, but a lot of hard work, dogged persistence and unflappable determination. Because of that, this person was accepted to start in a couple of months at a top public policy program, and that message encouraged many of us who were doubting ourselves to never give up hope, and more importantly to never stop trying.

Your message is not lost on us, and as a community we're proud of you and your very significant accomplishment. Best of luck this year!

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I couldn't agree more. Like the OP, I was accepted to SAIS for this fall with definitely unrepresentative (read: relatively low) GRE and GPA scores. You just need to find the narrative which connects your undergrad work, work experience, and extracurriculars in a coherent way. Send a brief, exploratory note to a professor or two explaining how you read X online about his work and how you're interested in X as well. You might have to prod to get an answer, but you're building a relationship with someone "on the inside", so to speak, and you can begin to get a sense of the personalities you will deal with. My scores nearly did me in - I know from talking with a professor afterwards - so don't assume this means you'll waltz in because your personal statement shines.

However, unlike the OP, I've decided to not go to SAIS. I don't know how much the "significant funding" he received was, but like him I received a fair amount of fellowship money. Keep in mind 70 to 75% of incoming students receive NO funding at all, and second year funding if you didn't get it the first (from what I've heard) is unlikely, barring academic superstardom. 1 year at SAIS is estimated around $58,000, living costs included. I would be in debt to the tune of $60 - 70,000, which is absolute madness for someone committed to work in the nonprofit sector.

So here are two unsolicited points of advice which, like all of the advice on this board, you should take with a huge grain of salt.

-Whether you are a strong or relatively weak candidate, PLEASE LOOK BEYOND the 8 or 10 schools that are mentioned the most on these boards. If you have a strong sense of your interests (which I hope you do, considering you're looking at graduate school?), there are definitely at least some schools outside the usual suspects that you would be equally (or more) happy. Most likely, they would offer better funding and leave you equally prepared for your career.

-Funding matters, more than you'd like to think. I was quite naive about this, but I suspect I'm not alone. I graduated debt free from undergrad, thanks to my dad. Getting into SAIS, especially considering my less than stellar academics, seemed like a dream come true. However, I started crunching the numbers on debt more realistically.Which, I know, I should have done in the beginning.

Many of you work, or want to work, in the nonprofit field. Look at your expected salary upon graduation, think realistically about what you can earn over the course of your career, and then look at your debt load again. Use the loan calculators on FinAid, look at the new public service loan forgiveness program from the gov, and go into it with your eyes open. Does the debt still allow you to take low-paying, but highly satisfying work? If you imagine getting married or having kids down the line, will you have to delay this until you're more financially secure? I know, you worked so hard to get into a school, and it sucks when you have to take into account such mundane realities. But I realized that debt would constrain my options in ways I do not consider pleasant at all.

Some people will casually toss off their expected debt load numbers and expect nothing but glory from their degree. I slowly realized that I didn't want to live with a sling of debt around my neck for the next 10 to 30 years, and am taking another year to work and really look for something more reasonably priced.

Ok, so this turned into a tangential rant, but hey.

The boards should only be a starting point and an occasional reference. Talk to people with similar career interests, with people who are 10 years down the line. One of my favorite people went to SAIS - I only learned recently that his parents paid for the whole thing.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I agree with orang_orang......when i first found this forum I was pretty discouraged after reading most of the posts here....It seems the only people who post on this site only talk about the top top tier policy schools like HKS, WWS, etc etc....over and over again....Not only that but it seems like everyone here has tons of volunteer/internship experience at big name places and have 3.7+ GPAs.......After about two or three weeks of being insecure about my own accomplishments and my chances at getting into grad schools I started to put this site and the people on it into perspective and found that the advice on this site needs to be taken with a grain of salt.....there is some useful and interesting info on here, but i find that ignoring the discussions about top tier schools is best most of the time.

I wish there were more people on this site who talked about great public policy schools that aren't quite the top tier schools...for instance, reading this site you'd have no idea that Arizona State, Florida State, and Ohio State's public policy schools are all highly ranked....Even schools one might dismiss like CUNY-Barach is a fairly high ranked program.....So i'd encourage anyone reading this thread with a not-so-great-GPA to research schools that fit your interests, budget, location, goals, and personality...

and if you're an unregistered person browsing this site worried about jumping in because you're intimidated by all the talk of big name schools, I say start a thread of your own explaining your interest in public policy and schools that you're interested in, and don't be afraid to post your GPA either....i'd love to talk about schools others than the top tier ones with other future applicants with modest academic backgrounds.

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