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What Tier Schools Should I be Focused on (organic)?


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I am in the middle of my application process (taking the GRE on monday) and will be focusing on really digging into schools come next week.

My questions are around which schools, based on your experience, may except someone with my qualifications. I have been getting a lot of mixed messages from managers/professors and wanted some different points of view. My manager has been telling me he thinks I might be able to get into schools like stanford or Berekely while my undergraduate advisor suggested I focus on some of my other choices (CU boulder, Univeristy of washington) and that higher tier schools would be out of my reach.

First, a little background on me. I graduated two years ago from a small liberal arts school (not top tier) with my BS in biochemistry. During my undergraduate program I did a summer and two semesters of research in organocatalysis. After graduating I got a job as a research associate at a small biotech company in the bay area. My current position is also very heavily research focussed and, by the time I start grad school, I will have been working there for two years. My manager and the VP of chemistry are going to be two of my letters of recomendation and they think very highly of me.

My GRE score is most likely going to be somewhere around V:155 Q:162 based on the practice tests I have taken. My under graduate GPA was a 3.5 and slightly lower in my major (DAMN CALCULUS SERIES!).

I would really appreciate hearing from anyone who applied to graduate school with a similar background as me. What schools did you apply to and which did you get accepted to? what should some of my reach schools be? How important are GRE general and chemistry subject scores?

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  • 4 weeks later...

For chemistry, it seems that the general consensus is that the GRE is not really that important. For top tier schools, the GRE acts a screener to weed out weaker applications so that professors can focus on students that they feel can succeed at their institution. Based on your GRE, you seem to make most cutoffs for top tier schools. I know students that have gotten lower scores than you that were admitted to the best schools in the country (Yale, Columbia, Princeton, etc). Your GPA may not be a 4.0, however there are many students on here posting about their acceptances to top tier institutions such as Berkeley, Caltech, MIT, Harvard, etc. with GPAs as low as 3.1. Take my advice with a grain of salt, I have not been through the application process so my knowledge is very limited (I'm applying this application cycle). However, there is plenty of information on this forum to back my statements and I've also witnessed students, who may not be what is considered "stellar," admitted to top tier schools. I do not think Berkeley and Stanford are out of your reach. Do not be surprised if you are accepted. But do not be surprised if you are rejected either. The grad school admissions process is very mysterious, rejecting students with 3.9's and 325+ GRE scores and accepting students with 3.3's and 310 GRE scores. Your research and recommendations will get you into top institutions, not really your scores. Your scores only help you pass the initial screening.

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Are we talking Master's or PhD programs? I don't think your GPA and GRE will keep you out of the running for either level, but if you're applying to PhD programs I'm slightly concerned that you have two industry letters and only one academic letter. Really, it should be the other way around -- and only if your supervisor has a PhD in your field.

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Thanks for the reply. The main reason I decided on two industry letters is because the VP of chemistry and my direct manager (both PhD organic chemists) have seen about a year and a half of my research at the company. My undergraduate research advisor is really the only academic letter I could get from a professor who has seen my research first hand. I suppose I could reach out to another professor from my undergrad but most of them were just that... professors. Never saw me in a lab


any thoughts? 

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