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nandoswitharando

Borderline GRE AWA score?

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I'm applying to top PhD programs in sociology (Columbia, Berkeley, UCLA, Irvine, UT Austin, etc.) I took the GRE last week and got a 165 V (95th percentile), 155 Q (59th percentile), and a 4.5 AWA (82nd percentile). I'm happy about my verbal, somewhat satisfied with my quant, and nervous about my AWA. Will the 4.5 AWA score cause adcoms* to look askance at my entire application?

I'm a senior undergrad at a private, top-20 U.S. university, and I've been writing a qualitative honors thesis for the past year. I have a 3.811 cumulative GPA, with a 3.865 GPA in my last 60 credits. I've had the same research assistant job for over 2.5 years, and am that professor's only RA. An article I co-authored with faculty is under R&R with an education policy journal. I also speak four languages (English is not my first language, though I was born and raised in the States). My interests lie in K–12 education (especially secondary), immigration, and race/ethnicity. More detailed info about me is in this thread https://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/91865-from-top-intl-affairs-bs-to-top-soc-phd/.

Will all of these other qualifications be enough to outweigh my mediocre/slightly above-average AWA score, or should I retake the whole test for an extra 0.5–1.0 increase? I'm a first-generation college student and a Black woman, so I'm aware that I will probably be subject to increased scrutiny. In terms of time and money, I can't afford to retake the test without applying for a small grant from my university/not eating healthy food for a while and shifting focus away from my coursework, thesis, job, etc.

*Besides Austin, which I know doesn't consider AWA scores at all.

 

 

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Current student at one of the schools you listed. Your GRE scores are fine, and wouldn't be something I would worry about (mine was aa 4.5 in writing as well and both my V and Q were lower than yours––much lower). Other than that, your undergraduate trajectory actually reflects my own. Same GPA, same RA experience, I didn't co--author though but I was credited in a study I worked on. I speak three languages and english also wasn't my first language either (I was born and raised here too!) Anyway, I think that you shouldn't worry about the GRE stuff, like at all. Like, I mean, stop thinking about it completely. Start focusing on your statement of purpose, your personal statement (for Berkeley, and Columbia now accepts little "diversity" snippets), your writing sample and your CV! The one piece of advice I would give you (actually one isn't enough LOL) is write a statement of purpose that let's your voice shine; so we get to know you. I tried to hide too much of myself in my statement. Be honest about what draws you to your fields of interest and how sociology can help you build a set of questions around it (and how, not just why, you're the person that will make a significant contribution to those fields; whether it's because of your personal experiences or because of the research questions you've already begun asking in your thesis, or because in the process of reviewing a piece of literature a series of questions emerged and so as a result you've begun learning about a particular set of computational tools you'd like to pursue under Professor X to help you answer those questions etc.) Undergraduate applicants also have a habit of summarizing their coursework––don't do that. Rather, focus on how a set of sociological fields have guided you to your study on X and actually talk about that study (what did you do; how did you do it; what were your findings; how does your thesis reflect a change in what others have thought about/said about what you've studied, etc.). You can also point to how your RA helped guide you through your questions or methods, etc. From there, point to what you'll be pursuing in graduate school (following the method of how you explained your work thus far). The trick here is to think about how your past work left you with new, unanswered questions or methodology you'd like to pursue. Maybe you were looking at white and black students but didn't look at asian students and now want to do a comparative to see if this would produce a change to your observations and/or theory. When you're done you move into why this program; mainly who you want to work with, etc. BUT don't forget about geography––actually, that's really important. Why NYC? Why the Bay Area? To answer that talk about how your research makes sense in the context of the social world the university is in/around. That's fine if you want to conduct fieldwork abroad or thousands of miles outside of campus; you'll most likely be supported at any of these programs. That said, you'll still have years of coursework before you do that and so these programs wanna make sure you'll make the most of your time in the area you're in (for instance, if you're studying the relationship between economic relations and knowledge production through the social life of tech startups, the Bay Area or New York might make the most sense for you... but don't just assume they know this. Tell 'em.) What else... oh, reach out to one or two professors you align with and one or two graduate students (ideally 3rd or 4th+ years). More than half of the people I met during admissions day had made contact with either a professor or a graduate student (or both). Try aiming for tenured junior faculty opposed to senior faculty (although the latter can't hurt either). I'll leave you with this. I didn't get in my first or go my second time. But that's okay too, actually. I'm still the youngest in my cohort and, frankly, it was the right move. You'd be surprised how much your interests change once you actually leave academia. All of a sudden, you realize, you have many more interesting questions you'd like to ask and it's those questions that will make you stand out if the first time doesn't work out. Good luck and lemme know if you have any questions! 

Edited by s0ciology1992

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@soci0logy1992, thanks for the detailed response! My draft statement appears to meet the criteria you provided. I'll just have to keep tweaking it, and I need to work on those diversity statements (which stress me out, even though I am a minority multiple times over).

Do you have any tips for writing the diversity statement – specifically, writing it in a way that doesn't sound "woe is me" or "confrontational" while still both addressing the very real obstacles that I (and people like me) have faced in academia and discussing how who I am impacts my research interests and potential future activities (in research and teaching)?

EDIT:  In writing the diversity statement, I'm worried that I may be rehashing parts of my statement of purpose... any tips on addressing that?

Edited by nandoswitharando

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