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xyloneogenesis

Getting into Hopkins PhD with 2.8 undergrad GPA

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TL;DR: do not give up hope if you have seemingly impossible odds like I did with an undergrad GPA of a 2.8, it may take some time, but you'll make it if you stick to it (details how are below)

 

My history in super brief parts: biochemistry major at a decent (science-focused) state school with a 2.8 cumulative GPA, straight C's in all maths and physics classes (withdrew once from calc 2, got C second time), even lower science GPA, roughly 55th percentile GRE scores (81st in essay part) after taking them twice, >1 year of undergrad research (no poster/publications), a bunch of related temporary internships, and a summer lab TA position. Defeated by all my senior year rejections, I networked for a job and got a lab tech position in a relevant field. 

Then I worked for a year after college. No publications, still. Got my first PhD interview at Lehigh (second time I applied) and I completely bomb it (literally didn't talk about my research once) and they told me not to apply again, and that moment was when I really considered hanging my hat and resigning to a life of subservient lab rat roles for the rest of my life. Then out of desperation I applied to a couple reasonable masters programs and one reach school (masters at Hopkins). Letter of rec writers were my lab tech supervisor, undergrad PI, and senior seminar course professor that knew my analytical/critical thinking skills well. Spurred by the (above) existential fear, I sought out to maximize my odds as much as I could by whatever legal means necessary. That meant going to the department at Hopkins and pitching my story and "voluntarily interviewing myself" to show them that I'm worth their time. And to this day I felt like that pitch was what got me into this program with such abysmally low credentials. [Insert here: long excerpt about attending childhood dream school and being in disbelief for two whole years]

I busted my ass and got a 3.45 masters GPA, and by the time I was applying for PhD programs during my masters, I was already incorporated in a lab doing research for a couple months and my PI had me set up for a middle author paper (my first paper) before my PhD applications were sent. Applied to a couple state schools (two acceptance out of like 5), one ivy league (rejected), two Hopkins programs. Everyone in my department at Hopkins knew I was BEYOND determined to get into the PhD program, even with seemingly impossible odds. I networked within my department like my life depended on it (it felt like it did). Then I got that hallowed interview invitation from Hopkins. So of course I took advantage of all my colleagues and got interview help and tips from them. Interview went fine and I got to pitch my research stuff properly in a relatively laid-back environment (I was interviewing with people who I see every day). Then a week or two later, I get an email from the chair of my department asking to see me in-person to share good news, so of course the most logical thing I did was panic and jump to the irrational conclusion that he was gonna serve me my second rejection letter in-person, but of course he just wanted to tell me that I was accepted into the Hopkins biochemistry PhD program. If I could've signed the papers immediately then and there, I would have. 

 

Non-academic/work details that may have factored into my crazy acceptance: club sports team captain for 2+ years in undergrad, director of graduate consulting club for a few months, masters student representative (which may have been crucial because I got to attend all the faculty meetings and they got to know me as a person), and captain of club sports team in grad school. I grew from an entitled underperforming undergrad from a regular state school to a determined and confident go-getter (after my failed Lehigh interview), and I won't lie, a confident, determined, and outgoing personality will only get you good points in any graduate-level interview. One of the Hopkins faculty that I interviewed even remarked that he wished more interviewees were as cognizant as I was about communicating properly and professionally in an interview setting. This is largely out of most applicants' control but: the application year can be a huge factor that determines whether a program lets in as few as 2 or as many as 9 incoming PhD students. 

 

I think my success is just a culmination of various parts that seem inconsequential on their own, but together can actually make a difference. If your undergrad GPA is too late to be saved (like mine was), then you have to compensate by bolstering every other aspect of your application, which in my case, can sometimes also include your personality/the way you carry yourself. Maybe that means spending extra money and time doing a masters, maybe that means stepping outside your comfort zone and polishing your communication skills, whatever it is, it will require time and dedication but if you want it badly enough, you will find a way. 

My path is not for everyone, and your mileage will vary, but I just wanted to share my story with everyone in the hopes that those who are on the brink of losing hope will find the fire in themselves to find a way to make their goals happen. 

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Thank you for sharing your experience, and congratulations on your acceptance!

I was just curious to know if your research mentor(s) and prospective faculty asked about your low undergraduate GPA? If so, how did you approach talking about this topic?

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2 hours ago, NeuroImmunoNerd said:

Thank you for sharing your experience, and congratulations on your acceptance!

I was just curious to know if your research mentor(s) and prospective faculty asked about your low undergraduate GPA? If so, how did you approach talking about this topic?

literally everyone and their mother asked about my GPA lol i just owned up to it and told them that i made mistakes and that i had no real excuse for the low grades. its better to own up to it and then give them evidence that there is an upward trajectory in your grades than to outright lie because they can smell lies a mile away. give them evidence that you've changed and improved. the important thing isn't to dwell on the mistakes you made and trying to reason through them, the important thing is everything after that and everything that you are now. 

also during my Hopkins PhD interview, they didn't really inquire about my undergrad GPA when I had a graduate GPA in their department. every department looks for certain credentials and will focus on some more than others (some may like more critical thinking skills, others may prefer raw GPA girth, others may prefer knowledge of the synthesis of data, etc) 

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On 4/28/2017 at 4:45 PM, xyloneogenesis said:

literally everyone and their mother asked about my GPA lol i just owned up to it and told them that i made mistakes and that i had no real excuse for the low grades. its better to own up to it and then give them evidence that there is an upward trajectory in your grades than to outright lie because they can smell lies a mile away. give them evidence that you've changed and improved. the important thing isn't to dwell on the mistakes you made and trying to reason through them, the important thing is everything after that and everything that you are now. 

also during my Hopkins PhD interview, they didn't really inquire about my undergrad GPA when I had a graduate GPA in their department. every department looks for certain credentials and will focus on some more than others (some may like more critical thinking skills, others may prefer raw GPA girth, others may prefer knowledge of the synthesis of data, etc) 

Thanks for the advice, I really appreciate it! :) 

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This post gives me hope and so much life! I am coming from a similar situation/ different field. I don't have a very strong undergrad gpa (2.8) but have finished my masters program, after significant time in the work force, with a 3.9. My greatest challenge has been feeling that this course of action was impossible for me because of my immaturity in college and to feel so passionate about a course of action now has left me a little upset. This post made me happy and gave me hope that it is possible!!!! Thank you!

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Thank you for sharing your story! I have a 2.9 undergrad gpa and a masters gpa of 3.3 both from the same top 25 public university. I have loads of research experience but no publications and have been out of school for 3+ years. I am in the process of applying to PhD programs right now and keep having panic attacks when I think about my low gpa and keep asking myself why am I doing this?! I am just going to be rejected out right. I am glad to hear people who have similar experiences to myself and made out very well :) 

Congratulations on all your hard work!

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Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm currently in a similar situation: 2.7 uGPA, biochem major, straight Cs, secured research position at umich for a year after graduation and I'm applying to their MPH program for the fall of 2018. Although there was an enormous extenuating circumstance during my undergraduate career, I'm only going to briefly mention it but otherwise admit full responsibility. So I must ask, what in particular (in regards to your "pitching your story" to JH masters) maximized your chances? My GRE scores are good-ish, experience is good, LORs will be strong but I'm having a hard time referencing my undergrad GPA to adcoms.

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Thank you for sharing you story!

I must mention at here, if you didn't doing master research at Hopkins, you probably has little chance to get the PhD position at Hopkins. So I think undergraduate GPA isn't important on you application for PhD.  

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@yangwenli Pretty sure that's the point here. That you can easily overcome that UGPA and average GRE scores if you're willing to put in the work and prove you're competent in other ways. This case was the OP proving themselves everyday in in a rigorous masters program at the dream school.

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Great story, thanks for sharing. I personally got a 2.5 in community college before transferring to a top 3 state school, and leaving with a 3.7 gpa. My verbal, and analytical writing scores are above average, but my quant score is horrendous. I have very little relevant experience in the field, so I will have to go the extra mile to get into the programs I want.

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