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Chances for BME PhD Programs (Low UGrad GPA)


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I'm looking to apply to Boston University, CalTech, Carnegie Mellon, Case Western, Columbia, Cornell Tech (Masters), MIT, Northwestern, UCSD, Michigan, and U Toronto. I plan to reach out to the PIs that I'm interested in working with over the next month to get the ball rolling, but my GPA slipped from a 3.3 to a 3.15 during my Spring 2017 semester (overcommitted to leadership activities, attempted to pick up a CS minor, and didn't manage my time as well as I should have), so I'm wondering what my chances are based on my application as a whole. 


Undergraduate Institution: Cornell University, College of Engineering

Major: Biomedical Engineering (Instrumentation Concentration)

Minor: Computer Science (tentative)

GPA: 3.15/4

Gender: Female

Race: African American

GRE: Have not taken it yet, scheduled for late July. Practice tests have me at around a 168/167 but I'm trying to get that up to perfect. 

Research Experience: Two years (as of today) working in a biomechanics research lab doing both wet lab research and extensive computational analysis and modeling of biomechanics. Will be doing research as an Amgen Scholar this summer. Interned at Novartis during Summer 2016. 

Publications: One Abstract from Novartis, my PI for this summer is hoping to publish something with my name on it, will likely end up with another 1-2 this fall (the grad student I work under is defending in May and hasn't published yet). 

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: NACME Scholarship, several diversity related awards from Cornell Engineering

Extracurriculars: Co-President + Co-Founder of Cornell BMES, President of Engineering Ambassadors (tour guides and panel members for engineering admissions), President of fencing club

Outreach: Teacher for 7-12 STEM outreach program, member of Alpha Phi Omega, working on a science communications outreach program to launch this fall

Research Interests: Implantable Electronics, Neural Engineering, Bioelectric Materials


Thanks for any thoughts! Also, if anyone has experience spinning low GPAs in the application process, I'd love to hear about what you did. 

Edited by laveritecestla
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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello laveritecestla,

It's hard to answer your question in a positive way as you have listed many of the top schools.  I think the only way you can go about getting into the institutions that you listed as they are all top schools is to connect with professors personally to see if exceptions can be made, though some do not have distinct cutoffs it doesn't look good and it's hard to spin something that is so recent.  I worry about your GPA because going from 3.3 to 3.15 in a semester is quite significant.  Even at 3.3 you are at the very low end for admission to many of the schools that you listed (doing a quick search most people that get in are at 3.7 and higher). You might not be able to get through the graduate admissions process (before professors look at applications) if the schools have a hard cut off for marks (like the University of Toronto).  A solid journal or conference paper would certainly help but it might be better to have a few "safety" schools.

Your extracurricular activities are very excellent and show that you are multi-dimensional.  This would probably benefit you more in looking for work than a research position, but it still helps. 

If you look at Cornell, which because of your status as a student there and you have probably the easiest time to make a connection with a professor, you are still very well below the cutoff for GPA (for the research I know you mentioned Cornell Tech masters) and many of the schools the cutoff is around 3.7/4.0 (University of Toronto).  I don't think getting a perfect GRE score will improve your chances since your current score is quite respectable.

For Cornell Research, Michigan, -

  • GPA: Minimum Grade Point Average: 3.5/4.0 or above
  • Class Standing: Student should be in the Top 5% of their class or above

For University of Toronto

  • GPA: Minimum Grade Point Average: 3.7/4.0 or above

At Case Western (3.0) you still meet the requirements.

Grad studies is incredibly competitive and I hope you have success in your applications and don't let my assessment get in the way of your dreams.  Just make sure you have a backup plan.

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