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Chances for highly ranked programs/other quick questions

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Currently a senior at a non-flagship UMass (think Umass-Dartmouth/Lowell). 3.7 GPA, 3.85 Major GPA--studying for GRE


Thought I wanted to exclusively look at MPP programs last year, but the more involved I get in academic research, the more academia really appeals to me. 


My application will have a problem however: I went to a small state school right out of high school in 2008, and was unready and immature--not at all able or willing to take on a full-time school workload. So I stayed for two years, and accumulated a 1.3 GPA before leaving in 2010. 


After working 2+ years in various menial jobs, I got back into school in January 2013 at a local community college, thanks to the encouragement and support of my former boss, with whom I still keep in touch, and I feel I've turned the corner academically. Last year (spring 2014) I transferred once again to a large public university, and since I've been back in school, including CC, my semesters have been 3.4, 3.2, 3.4, 3.7, and most recently, 3.9 So, one question I have is, how will this be handled by PhD programs? My cumulative GPA is likely horrible, but I've heard that there is some degree of emphasis placed on the last 60 credit hours--is this true?  


I have also heard that for academic jobs, schools prefer candidates who have been educated in different places--so, should I be looking to go outside of my home area? And is there a rule of thumb regarding the programs which produce the largest number of TT faculty?--that is, should I be looking top 10, top 15 programs? Etc. What GRE score should I be shooting for insofar as admissions are concerned? And ultimately, what can be done, at this point, to make my application more competitive? I know my application is currently nothing special so I would love to bolster it in any way possible.  


My greatest research interest is American Politics--more specifically, elections and voter behavior/public opinion



Poli Sci major, Econ Minor

Quant Coursework: Quantitative Reasoning (A-)Quant research methods in Poli Sci (A), Principles of Macro(A-) and Micro (A), Macro Theory (will take this semester) Econ of Less Developed Countries (will take this semester)


Language: Four semesters Spanish, intermediate speaker


Research Assisting Experience with an assistant professor at my university, with whom I have taken multiple classes, who will provide one letter. Also will get one from tenured prof. with whom I took Electoral Politics and Survey Research.


Submitting a paper for journal publication, but it is not in my desired research area. 


I've asked quite a few questions here, so thanks for any input anyone can provide. Would be happy to talk via PM also.  

Edited by bigcaesarfromheyarnold
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You are definitely not disqualified from getting admitted to the best political science departments.  They are willing to take a chance on good people, and are understanding that people have made mistakes.  Unlike fields like physics, math, econ, etc., there aren't enough perfect applicants to go around, so compromises naturally arise.


If you have very good GRE scores and take tough courses, you should be in good shape.  For the GRE's, the better your quant score is the better.  For most applicants, they're just looking for some minimum level of quant competence (probably about 160 ish), but since you are going to not the best university and your grades are mixed, really concrete signals of competence are important.  Take lots of practice tests, and get study books if necessary.


The good grades in econ courses and quant polisci courses are positive signs.  Have you taken any math?  American political behavior and elections are very quant-heavy areas, so knowing calculus (and even some linear algebra) will be valuable. Do you have any interest in political methodology (i.e. applied statistics for political science problems)? If so, a good grade in real analysis would help your case, AND be valuable for your career.


Lastly, have you thought about taking some time off between college and grad school and working? Having your senior year grades available will probably help your case and a lot of people find it rewarding for other reasons. If you got a very good job in politics, it might also make you a better grad student.

Edited by AmericanQuant
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