PhD application to top school - 3.5GPA with extenuating circumstances?

lazylinh
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Joined: Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:51 am

PhD application to top school - 3.5GPA with extenuating circumstances?

Postby lazylinh » Tue Oct 09, 2018 11:04 pm

Hi all! This is my first post here, so I'd appreciate any input (and sorry for cross-posting from PhysicsForum!)

Anyways, I'm currently a 4th year student in Combined Physics and CPCS in a top 3 university in Canada and trying to apply for grad school in top schools in US, but am freaking out comparing my 3.5GPA to all the 4.0 profiles on here!

I did very well in my undergrad, got a fellowship to work at a National Lab from which I got 2 publications in PRC (but is n-th author and mostly did data collecting/some analysis + equipment maintenance during runs - will these make any real difference in my application?).

However, during my 2nd year, I did a full coursd load + TAed for 1-2 courses per term + was Resident Advisor. I ended up being very close to my residents and closely dealt with a suicidal resident, a resident whose partner committed suicide, and a resident who was sexually harrassed through messages by their biological grandparent amongst others. Furthermore, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, and my dad got into a car accident with 2 twins where one passed away and one is still in vegetation state... He is still serving his sentence right now, but it was a hard year for our family. I was in denial and tried to act like everything was fine, but I was struggling hard with mental health issues, and my grad slipped to a C+ average. By the time I accepted that I was struggling, it was too late to help my disastrous GPA...

That summer I just tried to recover, and came back to 3rd year doing research and pulled back an A- average (got an A average first term, but my grandfather passed away during final season of 2nd term, so my average got slightly affected). So my current GPA is around 3.5/4.33.

During last summer, I got a fellowship to work at my research lab on topological insulators and was mostly leading the research as PhD and grad students were busy. I want to get into CME and had since learned stacking, AFM, SEM + will soon assemble our lab's Raman and might work with MBE. With CPSC, I know C/Java/Python etc. and can self-teach any new languages. Also, my prof is from my 1st choice uni + well-known in the field and is willing to introduce me to PIs I'm interested in working with.

Also my GRE is V158, Q160, W3.5 (was staying up til 4am doing research the night before, but will redo and should get better).

My question I guess is if I can get a PGRE ~900, do I have a chance for at least 1 of the top school (Stanford/Harvard/MIT/Yale/Berkeley), or is it a complete waste of time with my GPA? Also, how much details of my circumstance should I include in my application?

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Nishikata
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Re: PhD application to top school - 3.5GPA with extenuating circumstances?

Postby Nishikata » Thu Oct 11, 2018 2:08 am

2 publications, expecting good GRE scores, research experience and good recommendations from professors. Seems like GPA is your only downside here, which you have valid reasons to cover it. I can’t tell from your answer, but if you have advantageous profile in grad school admissions (female/white/black/latino/hispanic/self-funded), you might have better chance to get in.

For top schools, nobody knows the exact admission formula. I think you can try anyway.

lazylinh
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:51 am

Re: PhD application to top school - 3.5GPA with extenuating circumstances?

Postby lazylinh » Thu Oct 11, 2018 1:17 pm

Nishikata wrote:2 publications, expecting good GRE scores, research experience and good recommendations from professors. Seems like GPA is your only downside here, which you have valid reasons to cover it. I can’t tell from your answer, but if you have advantageous profile in grad school admissions (female/white/black/latino/hispanic/self-funded), you might have better chance to get in.

For top schools, nobody knows the exact admission formula. I think you can try anyway.


I'm a SE Asian female (with Canadian PR), so mayybee that's slightly advantageous? Also I wonder if the 2 publications would count as I didn't contribute as much to it? Also, how would you advice me going about explaining my situation? Is what I did here too much/little detail?

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Nishikata
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Re: PhD application to top school - 3.5GPA with extenuating circumstances?

Postby Nishikata » Fri Oct 12, 2018 10:40 am

Yes, that should add to your advantage. The publications will still count as your strengths, no worries. Some research papers from CERN or other big collaborative projects have hundreds of co-authors, so I do not think anybody will ask specifically your contribution in them. First-authors have the privilege to say that they are the main contributor to the paper, but the subsequent authors are not much disadvantaged. Research is still research.

Resident Advisor experience is a plus, but not able to justify drop in GPA.
Meanwhile, the medical condition of a close relative and the imprisonment of your father are highly valid reasons. Hence please segregate these experiences from the above and state them accordingly. I don't see the point of stating the details of the victims of the car accident (twins/vegetative state), so maybe just write that your father got incarcerated for a loss of life in a car accident and it significantly affected your mental health.

Even without explaining all that to detail, i think your current GPA is still acceptable. At least I do not think it will downright disqualify your application given your other strong points.




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