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Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 40-60, large public state school
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science, Economics, Mathematics
Undergrad GPA: 3.8 ( approximately 3.9, 3.9, 3.6 by major)
Type of Grad: None
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 159 Q, 156 V, 4.5 W
Any Special Courses: 

Grad level: 2 PhD political science seminars (A,A-), PhD Math for Econ (survey of metric spaces, topology, and measure theory, A), PhD Macro 1 (part 1 of 4 part first year sequence, B-), Masters microeconomics (A), graduate Topology (A), PhD econometrics 1 (audit)

Undergrad level: Real analysis (A-, B+ or A-), Abstract algebra (B+,B+), Math Stats (B, B+), Linear Algebra (A-), econometrics (A,A; not calc or linear algebra based), econ research seminar

Letters of Recommendation: 1 from a political science prof I'm RAing for (just got tenure, PhD from a top 5). From here it gets murky as there isn't too much certainty. Potentially an economics prof (tenured, PhD from a top 5 econ) that I took a research seminar with; he wrote me a rec for other academic positions. There's a polisci prof I had for a grad seminar (got an A, seemed impressed by my potential at the time but haven't talked to him in a year or more). There are also other econ and polisci profs I've taken classes with and spoke about my research interests and ideas.
Research Experience: Currently an RA with a political science prof (1.5 years and counting). We are currently working on a project together that will lead to coauthored paper. No thesis.
Teaching Experience: Econ and math tutoring
Subfield/Research Interests: Political economy; comparative institutions
Other: Experience with R (need more practice though)


My main concerns: subpar grades in important math classes and a glaring B- in grad macro (these are bad signals and they hurt my GPA), not a lot of independent research experience (I would need to write something between now and application season to use as a writing sample given that my seminar papers aren't great), not a prestigious of an undergrad program, 2-3 year break between undergrad and grad school, and bad GRE scores.


What do you think my range of schools is for PhD programs? What do you recommend I improve between now and application season? Thanks!

Edited by not@prof_yet
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I don't think that you should be concerned with your grades, seeing as you took difficult courses and admissions committees will take that into consideration - regardless, a 3.8 GPA is fine. What you should absolutely do is take a seminar paper and build it into a polished writing sample, and study harder for the GRE and make sure that you nail the quant section on your next try. With a solid writing sample/SOP and a better GRE score, I think you would be competitive for top programs. It's difficult to recommend specific programs without more information on your interests - are you more interested in IPE or CPE?

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First, I agree with dagnabbit--don't stress over your GPA. It's more than adequate. There seem to be three areas that you need to work on, though.

1. Your GRE. Honestly, you have a very heavy quantitative background (and good grades in quants courses), and that isn't reflected in your GRE score. Where it is, now, you may be struggling with some departmental cutoffs. Study for the GRE and try to boost those scores. 

2. Have an excellent writing sample. Write a new paper or take an old seminar paper, and work that thing until it's pretty darn near perfect. An excellent writing sample can also help overcome a low GRE verbal. 

3. Solidify relationships with letter writers immediately. Choose people who know you well, know your work well, and can speak honestly to your potential and capabilities. 

good luck!

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I think your background in math will make you stick out to an admissions committees. 

Focus on improving your GRE scores. 

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Thank you so much for the responses! 


My plan going forward will be to start a new paper and get a proposal done as soon as possible. I found a conference that has a deadline in June, so I'll be deciding on a topic between then and now. Does anyone know the best places to look for conferences? Also, since I'm not an undergraduate (graduated in fall 2015), do you think I'll need a sponsor at a conference? Will being independent make it more difficult to be accepted into conferences? 


Will the 2 year gap between undergrad and grad negatively impact my chance for admissions to top programs?


Note taken on the GRE. When I first took it, I so fundamentally did not agree with it as an institution (i.e. why should I have to take a test to prove my worth when I have a 4 year body of work as proof?). So, I'll take it more seriously this time around.


@dagnabbit I'm more interested in CPE. I want to be more into IPE (and IR in general; I only took one IR course in undergrad), but definitely more interested in CPE.

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