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From top int'l affairs BS to top soc PhD?

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Apologies if this is too early/not in the appropriate place – I'm only used to lurking here. I'm applying to sociology PhD programs for entry in fall 2018 and would like to get an indication of my chances from a more detached source so I can figure out whether it's worth shelling out hundreds of dollars on applications, GRE fees, etc. My faculty mentors all believe in my ability to get into my target programs, but I'm afraid they're just being nice. Of course, I know it will be difficult to gauge my chances of admission without GRE scores.

Here is my info:

  • BS institution: small-ish top-20 R1 private U.S. university
  • BS major: international affairs; may pick up a Chinese minor
  • Interests: education (K–12, especially secondary), international migration, race/ethnicity
  • GPA: 3.81 cumulative; 4.00 major (will probably drop to a 3.95+ after this semester)
  • GRE: none yet; I will begin studying in earnest after my final exams are over in mid-May, and will sit for the exam in August/early September. From what I've already studied, I can tell that my quant score will be lower than my verbal.
  • Research experience:
    • 2+ years of working as an RA on a mixed methods study in immigrant education
    • honors thesis – qualitative; started conducting fieldwork in fall 2016; while I'm not a soc major, I draw heavily from sociology of race/education/migration; for what it's worth, I was told by the honors committee in my program that my proposal was the best they had seen in several years
  • Publications:
    • Under review: 1 co-authored with faculty; mid-tier education policy journal
  • Presentations:
    • 1 co-authored paper with faculty, AERA
    • 1 solo paper at my uni's undergrad conference
  • Coursework: Three research methods courses (one quant, one qual, one mixed), a handful of econ courses (required for my major), lots of anthropology courses
  • LORs: I'm confident that I can get extremely strong letters from at least three professors, all of whom I've known for years. However, my university isn't well-known for sociology (we don't even offer graduate degrees in soc), so my writers are all from other social science disciplines.
  • Other info: first-generation college student; Black; proficient in three foreign languages, including Mandarin; studied in Taiwan on a scholarship; interned in the executive branch of the U.S. federal government in an office directly related to my area of study

Schools of interest: Columbia, UCLA, Berkeley, Penn, possibly Harvard GSE and NYU Steinhardt. 

I feel that I'm mediocre at best and totally unsuitable at worst. While I think my research experience and faculty relationships will help (I've got experience conducting interviews, including with minors and in languages other than English; designing and translating questionnaires; and using Stata), I think my GPA will set me back relative to other applicants, and I'm nervous about the GRE. I should note that I/my family can't afford to pay for an MA to boost my chances.

With that, do you think I'm qualified for and should apply to these programs? If not, do you have suggestions for other programs, or should I not apply at all?

Edited by nandoswitharando

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Though I won't be at Ivy League, your background seems more than enough to get you in to at least one of the top 20. Sometimes it's the luck of the draw and it is highly competitive, but I would say everyone who is applying will be similar to you. Work hard on the GRE scores to get between 160-165 and write stellar letters which fit with the departments interests (research interests meshing well may be more important than you realize!) and I would say you're golden. You've got international experience etc so you could potentially propose a really interesting research question in your letter and get them really interested in you. Best of luck!

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@Concordia I sure hope I can get in someplace with this record. I've been reading Inside Graduate Admissions and don't know what to make of my situation – I'm getting a degree from one of the best international affairs programs in the U.S./world, so I may be considered "low risk," but as a Black woman from a working-class family and a first-generation college student I may also be considered "high risk." My GPA also worries me, as I'm afraid I may no longer have a 4.00 major GPA after this semester (I'm in between an A- and an A in one course). Everyone else seems far more qualified and accomplished than me, which is making me nervous.

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You don't need a 4.0 major GPA. You have an excellent track record. Just work on your personal statement and writing sample, and try as best as you can to articulate why you want a sociology PhD. PhD admissions can be decidedly arbitrary on some level, but that's out of your control. It's good that you're reading Posselt's book, that gives you more insight into the inside baseball. But don't obsess too much about it.

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For every department who remembers a first-gen student who flamed out, there are several others getting heat for not going beyond the usual crowd when selecting students.  

Again, focus on what you can control.  Proposal, writing sample, recommendation choices, etc.  

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