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ThePeon

2017 applicant here: I've been worrying about my chances with a low cumulative GPA

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Hi all, I've been lurking around here for the past year or so, and have definitely learned a lot about the application process from this site and links found here. I hope you don't mind a bit of a wall of text here. I'm sure you see posts like this from time-to-time, so I apologize in advance for that.

I know that the 2016 application season is just now winding down, and is still ongoing for those of you on the waitlists, but as I already am starting to think about working on aspects of my application right now, especially in a few weeks once the semester is over, I feel the need to have some outsiders evaluate my chances. 

I'm already worrying a bit about my odds of getting into graduate school. I am well aware of how competitive the process is, and how people with stellar applications can sometimes fall through the cracks.

Anyway, my biggest worry is about my cumulative GPA. I anticipate that by the time I'm submitting my application, my cumulative GPA will be roughly 3.3 or 3.4. The main reason is that I'm a double major, with philosophy obviously being one, and math being the other. My math GPA will probably be a mere 3.0 by the time I apply. My philosophy GPA is and will be much better, and I think it will probably be a 3.7 come application time, but that still doesn't seem to compare favorably when it seems like countless applicants have philosophy GPAs of 3.8, 3.9, or 4.0.

I should also note that I spent my first two years of college at community college, where I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, and thus mostly took core curriculum classes without putting in my full effort, and as a result my GPA from there was only 3.2. The GPAs in the previous paragraph are from the university I'm at now only. I'm not sure to what degree grad committees will notice or care about my community college GPA.

I've talked to one professor of mine (who is younger, having just got his PhD a year ago, and more familiar with how the process works now) about this, and he told me not to worry about it, and that he got into a good masters program with similar GPA numbers. Of course, that was almost 10 years ago, and I fear that things have gotten much more competitive even in that time frame. 

I definitely have some advantages. My current university is a PGR ranked school (in the 30-40 range), I've always received very positive feedback on my papers, including one that was in a graduate level course which I intend to refine into my writing sample, I anticipate I will do very well on the GRE (I am good at standardized tests, and I feel like a philosophy and math double major makes me uniquely prepared for all sections of the test, though of course I will be studying for it anyway), and my letters should be good (though I am a bit worried about finding a good candidate to be my third letter writer). I worry, perhaps irrationally, my low GPA will make admissions committees ignore the rest of my application.

Anyway, will this GPA hurt my chances? Is it in an acceptable range or not? Should I worry about it? Do I even have a chance of getting into a PhD program out of undergrad?

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57 minutes ago, ThePeon said:

Hi all, I've been lurking around here for the past year or so, and have definitely learned a lot about the application process from this site and links found here. I hope you don't mind a bit of a wall of text here. I'm sure you see posts like this from time-to-time, so I apologize in advance for that.

I know that the 2016 application season is just now winding down, and is still ongoing for those of you on the waitlists, but as I already am starting to think about working on aspects of my application right now, especially in a few weeks once the semester is over, I feel the need to have some outsiders evaluate my chances. 

I'm already worrying a bit about my odds of getting into graduate school. I am well aware of how competitive the process is, and how people with stellar applications can sometimes fall through the cracks.

Anyway, my biggest worry is about my cumulative GPA. I anticipate that by the time I'm submitting my application, my cumulative GPA will be roughly 3.3 or 3.4. The main reason is that I'm a double major, with philosophy obviously being one, and math being the other. My math GPA will probably be a mere 3.0 by the time I apply. My philosophy GPA is and will be much better, and I think it will probably be a 3.7 come application time, but that still doesn't seem to compare favorably when it seems like countless applicants have philosophy GPAs of 3.8, 3.9, or 4.0.

I should also note that I spent my first two years of college at community college, where I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, and thus mostly took core curriculum classes without putting in my full effort, and as a result my GPA from there was only 3.2. The GPAs in the previous paragraph are from the university I'm at now only. I'm not sure to what degree grad committees will notice or care about my community college GPA.

I've talked to one professor of mine (who is younger, having just got his PhD a year ago, and more familiar with how the process works now) about this, and he told me not to worry about it, and that he got into a good masters program with similar GPA numbers. Of course, that was almost 10 years ago, and I fear that things have gotten much more competitive even in that time frame. 

I definitely have some advantages. My current university is a PGR ranked school (in the 30-40 range), I've always received very positive feedback on my papers, including one that was in a graduate level course which I intend to refine into my writing sample, I anticipate I will do very well on the GRE (I am good at standardized tests, and I feel like a philosophy and math double major makes me uniquely prepared for all sections of the test, though of course I will be studying for it anyway), and my letters should be good (though I am a bit worried about finding a good candidate to be my third letter writer). I worry, perhaps irrationally, my low GPA will make admissions committees ignore the rest of my application.

Anyway, will this GPA hurt my chances? Is it in an acceptable range or not? Should I worry about it? Do I even have a chance of getting into a PhD program out of undergrad?

I wouldn't worry about it too much. Seems like your performance in philosophy courses has been pretty solid, and committees will be sensitive to the fact that math major courses are likely to depress your overall GPA. As long as your GRE is fairly strong, there's no reason your GPA would necessarily take you out of consideration at the first cut, which means your writing sample and LORs will likely get a look. So, focus on strong letters and a tight writing sample. 

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I'm confident that GPA will never get you discarded out of hand from the admissions process. You will not be looked at any less simply because of your GPA. I also agree with dgswaim above that a committee will be forgiving with your math courses.

The best evidence I can give you is of someone this season (not me, and I don't remember their username) who averaged ~3.5 and got into NYU et al. Not exactly the same situation as you, but you've also got a background you can (and should) explain - tell them how you started in community college and how your sense of direction toward philosophy has developed since then.

You're definitely right that the game has gotten more competitive since ten years ago. But I'd say the competition has grown in the samples and depth of background expected, not in GPA (or GRE, for that matter).

Edited by gughok

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Your GPA isn't *that* low. Below average, sure, but nothing egregious like below a 3.0. The fact that you're coming from a PGR program, with hopefully good references, and have graduate course experience, all should indicate that you're a serious applicant.

Is your GPA ideal? No. Do you stand a chance at PhD admissions? Absolutely.

EDIT: Honestly, if you knock the GRE out of the park, I'd say you could completely balance out the GPA issue. *Supposedly* there are individuals still out there who give credence to GPA and GRE scores, and you might be able to lift some worries if you do really well on the GRE. This might be one way to psychologically lift some of your worries about your GPA.

Edited by Establishment

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My stats are in my signature, and aren't/weren't dissimilar to yours. My cumulative is a bit higher, but my philosophy GPA was lower than yours will be. I (with some patience and luck) did fine. You have the additional advantages of name recognition and attentive advising, both of which I lacked at the undergrad level. I think you have as good or nearly as good a chance as many other applicants.

I'm still going to tell you to apply to well-regarded, fully funded MA programs, because you should do that whether or not you think you should have to and whether or not you want to.

Edited by MentalEngineer

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4 hours ago, ThePeon said:

Hi all, I've been lurking around here for the past year or so, and have definitely learned a lot about the application process from this site and links found here. I hope you don't mind a bit of a wall of text here. I'm sure you see posts like this from time-to-time, so I apologize in advance for that.

I know that the 2016 application season is just now winding down, and is still ongoing for those of you on the waitlists, but as I already am starting to think about working on aspects of my application right now, especially in a few weeks once the semester is over, I feel the need to have some outsiders evaluate my chances. 

I'm already worrying a bit about my odds of getting into graduate school. I am well aware of how competitive the process is, and how people with stellar applications can sometimes fall through the cracks.

Anyway, my biggest worry is about my cumulative GPA. I anticipate that by the time I'm submitting my application, my cumulative GPA will be roughly 3.3 or 3.4. The main reason is that I'm a double major, with philosophy obviously being one, and math being the other. My math GPA will probably be a mere 3.0 by the time I apply. My philosophy GPA is and will be much better, and I think it will probably be a 3.7 come application time, but that still doesn't seem to compare favorably when it seems like countless applicants have philosophy GPAs of 3.8, 3.9, or 4.0.

I should also note that I spent my first two years of college at community college, where I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, and thus mostly took core curriculum classes without putting in my full effort, and as a result my GPA from there was only 3.2. The GPAs in the previous paragraph are from the university I'm at now only. I'm not sure to what degree grad committees will notice or care about my community college GPA.

I've talked to one professor of mine (who is younger, having just got his PhD a year ago, and more familiar with how the process works now) about this, and he told me not to worry about it, and that he got into a good masters program with similar GPA numbers. Of course, that was almost 10 years ago, and I fear that things have gotten much more competitive even in that time frame. 

I definitely have some advantages. My current university is a PGR ranked school (in the 30-40 range), I've always received very positive feedback on my papers, including one that was in a graduate level course which I intend to refine into my writing sample, I anticipate I will do very well on the GRE (I am good at standardized tests, and I feel like a philosophy and math double major makes me uniquely prepared for all sections of the test, though of course I will be studying for it anyway), and my letters should be good (though I am a bit worried about finding a good candidate to be my third letter writer). I worry, perhaps irrationally, my low GPA will make admissions committees ignore the rest of my application.

Anyway, will this GPA hurt my chances? Is it in an acceptable range or not? Should I worry about it? Do I even have a chance of getting into a PhD program out of undergrad?

If you're trying to follow the footsteps of your professor (entering into a Masters program), I can attest that you are perfectly fine. I come from a no-name school with a bad cumulative GPA (albeit technically a 3.9 Phil GPA) and crap GRE scores and I got into a top 10 masters program, with 7 other funded offers from great schools.

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I got into Pitt and Yale with a 3.65. Don't worry, and just focus on your writing sample. I'm inclined to say that 70% of your chances depend on your sample, 25% on your statement of purpose and letters of rec, then the final 5% spread out between GPA, GRE scores, and pure fucking luck.

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If your application is great minus your GPA (and yours isn't bad, just not great) and GREs, I think you still have a great app. The only question is whether there are people with apps better than yours, or equal to yours with better GPA/GRE. That's likely when it will matter most. So, polish the writing sample and try to do things that you can use to buff up your CV, SoP, and then, if you get it as good as you can, your GPA just won't matter (so long as it actually isn't terrible--people on this forum don't know what a terrible GPA actually looks like). And if it does, you just got unlucky. I don't know how often adcoms actually have two apps that they think are equal in quality and have to go to the GPA/GRE to make a decision, but I don't think it's too often. Prioritize Writing sample, Statement of purpose (prove you're a match to the program), CV. 

My experience with GPA/GRE, beyond what I said above, was just a check that both crossed a certain threshold, then after is the real review process. Additionally, cumulative GPA might not even matter for many programs.

Edited by bluwe

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1 hour ago, Abendstern said:

I'd actually throw an additional 10% from the SoP to the writing sample.

That's not quite the right way to look at it. Think of it like this:

  They're going to spend many tens of thousands of dollars on you. They are expecting you accomplish something incredibly difficult and challenging. Otherwise it is a waste of money for them. So, you as an applicant need to either A. Show them that you've already accomplished something incredibly difficult and challenging (GPA, LoR's, writing sample, publications, conferences, etc), or B. Show them that you have quantifiable potential to accomplish something incredibly difficult and challenging (GPA, GRE, LoR's).* Clearly, A is a better gauge than B. But in cases where A isn't clear, B must clearly be able to convince them. There is no consistent formula (notwithstanding basic cutoffs, etc)--the formula is different for each applicant because their backgrounds are all completely different. The SoP is important in all cases because there must be a specific reason that you want to go to some place. If not--they'll think you're just casting a wide, vague, net. 

 

*Notice that LoR's are in both categories: Letters may lean either towards, "X is an excellent candidate because A, B, C..." or "X is an excellent candidate because of his/her potential to A, B, C..." 

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I honestly think that my SoP was a big reason that I got into schools. My writing sample was a total DISASTER! (*side note: I had major health problems in the summer and fall so I just wasn't capable of revising a paper). There's no way anyone would have read that and thought "well, she's a capable philosopher." On the other hand, I think my SoP was great (not trying to talk myself up). Obviously I have no evidence for my claims but it's just want I think based off the strengths in my application. Also, I probably had good letters from good people and that probably influenced some decisions.

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Since people are throwing numbers around, I'll just quote what one of my professors here told me about the process:

Good letters will get you into the shortlist of about 40 applicants.

A good sample will get you to the last 20.

Then things start breaking down into the details.

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On 4/24/2016 at 0:03 PM, Establishment said:

Details like who wins the coin toss.

I like those odds.

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Ugh, so I recently found out that I got an unexpected bad grade in a philosophy class this semester. In fact, I got a 'C' in the class. This grade does not reflect my academic abilities, I got an A on the final paper and averaged an A- on the shorter response papers earlier in the semester. I got a C because the professor is really anal about and harshly punishing about attendance and deadlines. I probably would have gotten an A-/A but for the fact that I forgot to sign-in on the attendance sheet a couple times and because I was 1-2 minutes late to class a couple times, which docked me a whole letter grade, and I turned in one short paper in a day late because I misread the deadline, which cost me at least 7-8 percentage points. The professor, of course, hasn't violated her own rules here, technically all this is on the syllabus, but up until know I've found professors to universally be a bit lenient on such matters when they're clearly honest minor mistakes. I'm mad because I essentially lost 1.5 to 2 letter grades because I am a bit disorganized and occasionally make minor mistakes (though honestly, I don't make them very often, it just happened I was unlucky to have a couple happen in this particular class) even though my actual work was A level.

Sorry for the venting. Anyway, I'm posting here because now I'm really worried that my relatively low cumulative GPA combined with this big fat 'C' in a philosophy class in my second-to-last semester, will just kill me with adcoms. I did get an A and an A- in my two other philosophy classes this semester, and I also got a B+ in a graduate level critical theory class I took in the German department, at least. Does this 'C' really hurt my chances overall? I will be taking three philosophy classes in the fall, so I will have one more set of (likely good) philosophy grades when I apply (and I will be much more careful next semester to not have a situation like this again).

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@ThePeon Your GPA will probably be fine, as folk have said. However, you may have to take a terminal master's in-between your undergrad and phd. I had a shockingly low GPA (2.55!), and even though I had high major GPAs and +90% GRE scores, it still disqualified me from any direct-entry phd program. So... I now have two master's degrees (3.7 & 3.9) and am in a fully-funded PhD program. Just added 4 years to my track, that's all... :) 

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5 hours ago, ThePeon said:

Ugh, so I recently found out that I got an unexpected bad grade in a philosophy class this semester. In fact, I got a 'C' in the class. This grade does not reflect my academic abilities, I got an A on the final paper and averaged an A- on the shorter response papers earlier in the semester. I got a C because the professor is really anal about and harshly punishing about attendance and deadlines. I probably would have gotten an A-/A but for the fact that I forgot to sign-in on the attendance sheet a couple times and because I was 1-2 minutes late to class a couple times, which docked me a whole letter grade, and I turned in one short paper in a day late because I misread the deadline, which cost me at least 7-8 percentage points. The professor, of course, hasn't violated her own rules here, technically all this is on the syllabus, but up until know I've found professors to universally be a bit lenient on such matters when they're clearly honest minor mistakes. I'm mad because I essentially lost 1.5 to 2 letter grades because I am a bit disorganized and occasionally make minor mistakes (though honestly, I don't make them very often, it just happened I was unlucky to have a couple happen in this particular class) even though my actual work was A level.

Sorry for the venting. Anyway, I'm posting here because now I'm really worried that my relatively low cumulative GPA combined with this big fat 'C' in a philosophy class in my second-to-last semester, will just kill me with adcoms. I did get an A and an A- in my two other philosophy classes this semester, and I also got a B+ in a graduate level critical theory class I took in the German department, at least. Does this 'C' really hurt my chances overall? I will be taking three philosophy classes in the fall, so I will have one more set of (likely good) philosophy grades when I apply (and I will be much more careful next semester to not have a situation like this again).

Not to freak you out, but I would honestly be a bit scared about that B+. I've been in grad school for five years, have friends that have been in grad school for years all over the country, and for us a B+ in a grad course would be BAD news. It's basically expected that everyone gets an A. Sometimes an A- gets handed out, but that's when you really crashed and burned. Perhaps your future department won't be like this, but I would say the departments I've been in would see the inability to get an A in a grad course to be a red flag. I'm not saying it's damning and they'll throw out your app (hell you could still get into NYU and Rutgers for all I know), but it's just something to be cognizant about.

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On 5/11/2016 at 11:35 AM, ThePeon said:

Ugh, so I recently found out that I got an unexpected bad grade in a philosophy class this semester. In fact, I got a 'C' in the class. This grade does not reflect my academic abilities, I got an A on the final paper and averaged an A- on the shorter response papers earlier in the semester. I got a C because the professor is really anal about and harshly punishing about attendance and deadlines. I probably would have gotten an A-/A but for the fact that I forgot to sign-in on the attendance sheet a couple times and because I was 1-2 minutes late to class a couple times, which docked me a whole letter grade, and I turned in one short paper in a day late because I misread the deadline, which cost me at least 7-8 percentage points. The professor, of course, hasn't violated her own rules here, technically all this is on the syllabus, but up until know I've found professors to universally be a bit lenient on such matters when they're clearly honest minor mistakes. I'm mad because I essentially lost 1.5 to 2 letter grades because I am a bit disorganized and occasionally make minor mistakes (though honestly, I don't make them very often, it just happened I was unlucky to have a couple happen in this particular class) even though my actual work was A level.

Sorry for the venting. Anyway, I'm posting here because now I'm really worried that my relatively low cumulative GPA combined with this big fat 'C' in a philosophy class in my second-to-last semester, will just kill me with adcoms. I did get an A and an A- in my two other philosophy classes this semester, and I also got a B+ in a graduate level critical theory class I took in the German department, at least. Does this 'C' really hurt my chances overall? I will be taking three philosophy classes in the fall, so I will have one more set of (likely good) philosophy grades when I apply (and I will be much more careful next semester to not have a situation like this again).

Yes, that C and that B+ will definitely hurt you.

Edited by Flipflophero

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