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Please chance me for a top 10-20 engineering graduate school?

thequickbrownoxthequickbrownox Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
Hi all,

I am a senior mechanical engineering undergrad with interests in aerospace, specifically the thermal sciences. I go to Penn State. However, I only have a 3.49 GPA, which makes me nervous considering how selective the top engineering programs are. I am interested in these following schools:

Virginia Tech
University of Texas, Austin
Penn State (I think this is my best shot but I prefer a change of scenery)

Maybe some other Big Ten school and a reach school like UC Berkley or something.

To summarize my stats:

Major: Mechanical engineering; interests in thermal design and aerospace

GPA: 3.49 / 4.00

Research: one summer REU dealing with fluid flow (relevant to my research interests), presented at an ASME conference (no publications).

Internships: good thermal design internships at a major aerospace company and NASA. Both internships are directly relevant to the thermal sciences and the research areas I plan to pursue.

I also serve as a technical writing/speaking TA at my school, and I take relevant technical electives which may help my application (I think).

Recommendations: I know I can get great recommendations from my technical writing professor and my research advisor (who is a heat transfer prof). I can also ask my mentor at NASA (who also does thermal sciences work).


Do I stand a chance with a mediocre GPA? Do you think I can get funded? I want a career in research, or at least something close to that. I hate the prospects of graduating with simply a B.S. and going straight to industry to work an office doing grudge work. I love research and I want to pursue it, even if that means a PhD someday. I plan to email a couple departments to get information on their labs.

Thank you very much!!! And please, if there is something I need to hear, tell me the truth.

Replies to: Please chance me for a top 10-20 engineering graduate school?

  • thequickbrownoxthequickbrownox Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
  • BeaudreauBeaudreau Registered User Posts: 975 Member
    @thequickbrownox - My oldest son is a rising senior in aerospace engineering, who will apply for a PhD starting 12/1. I have been haunting this board pretty regularly for the last six months. It's a great forum, but not as active as most of the undergraduate forums, so I don't know if you will get a response to a chance-me question concerning a specific field at your identified schools. To me, you have some great work and research experience, but as I'm sure you know you are below the GPA threshold for many of the top schools, e.g. Purdue at >3.6%. I also don't see your GRE scores, which could help you a bit or further hurt your chances.

    You could consider a Masters program at one of these schools, which would give you a chance to get a good grad-school GPA and get to know some of the faculty. Your GPA is good enough for many Master programs. You would probably want to pursue a thesis option. The downside is that you would likely have to pay for the degree.

    Another option would be to set your sights a little lower and consider good schools like Arizona State and Iowa State. Both have large ME graduate programs. I couldn't find the data for ASU, but ISU's PhD placement stats are really good; 95% are placed within 6 months of graduation. https://www.grad-college.iastate.edu/academics/programs/career_placement.php?id=78 My youngest son just finished his freshman year at Iowa State in Materials Engineering. We have been very impressed with the quality of education he is receiving. These are just examples that I am a bit familiar with; I'm sure there are many other good options.

    If you haven't already used the ASEE website, it is extremely useful in breaking down engineering UG and graduate statistics. http://profiles.asee.org/ Their summary book is great. https://www.asee.org/papers-and-publications/publications/college-profiles/15EngineeringbytheNumbersPart1.pdf

  • thequickbrownoxthequickbrownox Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    Thank you @Beaudreau for your reply. I will keep these things in mind moving forward.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 3,608 Senior Member
    Nope, you'll never get in with that GPA. Ask @boneh3ad. :D

    In all seriousness, you've amassed a solid GPA and great experience. He'll be very helpful advising you.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Registered User Posts: 7,006 Senior Member
    edited May 19
    GPA threshold? There's generally no such thing for graduate schools in engineering. It's extremely subjective, so "chancing" you is nigh on impossible.

    I will say that I got into some of the schools on your list and was rejected by some of the schools on your list with a similar background and research interest to you and a 3.4-ish overall GPA. It certainly didn't hold me back. I ended up at a top 10 aerospace PhD program, then a national lab, and now I'm a faculty member at a research institution running my own aerodynamics program. So, don't let your 3.49 get you down. You're solid.

    I'll also note that you should take a look at the specific departments in question. If your interested is the aerospace side of fluids, then a place like Berkeley is perhaps not a good choice anyway because they don't really do a lot in that field. Your targeted list should reflect your research interests.
  • thequickbrownoxthequickbrownox Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    Thank you very much @boneh3ad. This is very encouraging (although it's always nice to hear what you wanna hear, haha). But seriously, thanks. You're right; I shouldn't just let one hurdle hold me back. I will apply and see what happens.

    And I will look into specific programs in more detail.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Registered User Posts: 7,006 Senior Member
    That said, I agree with the above that some "safeties" would be a good idea. There are a lot of other great programs out there that are slightly less selective.
  • BeaudreauBeaudreau Registered User Posts: 975 Member
    @thequickbrownox One other thing you might consider is to visit some of the schools you are interested in. You already know a lot about Penn State, so it’s a chance to learn more about other colleges. In January, my son and I flew to the Midwest to visit Michigan’s and Purdue’s aerospace engineering departments. (He was still on winter break at Texas A&M.) I arranged the visits, but otherwise did not participate other than to drive him around.

    My son’s a space geek, particularly rocket propulsion. At Michigan he met with faculty and an admissions counselor. He then toured their Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory with a post-doc fellow (recent Princeton PhD). http://pepl.engin.umich.edu/about.html My son was extremely impressed and got to ask specific questions about areas of research, graduate school life, and the application process.

    We next visited Purdue. Again he met with faculty and admissions. He then toured their Zucrow Lab, where they research rockets, combustion, turbines. https://engineering.purdue.edu/Zucrow/research Again, he learned first-hand what they are researching and the types of students they are looking for. They were very enthusiastic and could not have been nicer.

    One guy you might want to reach out to at Purdue is Dr. Stephen Son. He was very enthusiastic and could not have been more helpful when I was setting up our visit. He was out of the state on our visit date, but did set up my son’s visit to Zucrow Lab. Dr. Son has a huge group of grad and undergrad students under him. http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~sson/Son_Webpage/ He actively encourages students to send him resumes. My son also met with Dr. Maurice Pourpoint at Zucrow Lab. https://engineering.purdue.edu/AAE/people/ptProfile?resource_id=23845 He’s another down-to-earth, enthusiastic guy, who is doing some very interesting research.

    Based on these visits, my son loved Purdue, but decided that plasma propulsion really excited him. He set up senior research in the field with two A&M professors, who had both just recently been hired to kick-off A&M’s plasma research efforts: http://pdml.tamu.edu/. One is a recent Michigan PhD and the other just got his from Princeton, another top school in plasma propulsion research. http://alfven.princeton.edu/ Both professors have offered to help him with his applications to Michigan and Princeton.

    Over spring break, my son flew to Atlanta and met with Mitchell Walker, a Michigan PhD who runs Georgia Tech’s plasma propulsion lab. http://mwalker.gatech.edu/hpepl/ Doctor Walker discussed what they are looking for in applicants, including that they prefer that all three recommendations be from professors concerning the applicant’s research. This is nowhere on the GT AE website.

    So overall, these visits were very valuable. They helped my son determine specifically what field he wanted to spend 5-6 years of his life researching. He made contacts with some of the professors he would like to study under. He got to tour labs and evaluate facilities. He got specific admission tips. He was able to focus his senior research.
  • thequickbrownoxthequickbrownox Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    Thank you @Beaudreau!
  • xraymancsxraymancs College Rep Posts: 4,193 Senior Member
    I would echo what @boneh3ad says. You should apply to a couple of your most desirable programs but also to some moderately selective ones too as long as they have the kind of research you seek. These programs will not discard your application based solely on GPA or GRE scores because there are fewer to read and if you have strong letters, it will help a lot. There are not a large number of Ph.D. programs in Aerospace Engineering so you can look through them all and find the ones which will fit you best.
  • nakorurunakoruru Registered User Posts: 140 Junior Member
    As a sort of safety option, you could apply to the Master of Mechanical Engineering program at Johns Hopkins "Engineering for Professionals" (https://ep.jhu.edu/programs-and-courses/programs/mechanical-engineering). It is a 10 course master's program that you will have to self-fund, but at least your GPA is just above the cut-off there. If your end goal is to get into a PhD program, doing well in this master's program could help. Plus, I figure a master's from Johns Hopkins would not look bad on your resume either.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Registered User Posts: 7,006 Senior Member
    A professional masters program may be somewhat helpful but is far from the ideal preparation for a PhD program, especially one with as limited options for electives and focus classes as that one.
  • nakorurunakoruru Registered User Posts: 140 Junior Member
    I was more thinking along the lines that he already has some decent research and internship experience under his belt, but his GPA now may be his biggest concern. So pursuing such a masters program might be a suitable arena from which he can hopefully get good grades to leverage on his PhD application.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Registered User Posts: 7,006 Senior Member
    If I am hiring students into my research program to pursue a PhD and I see they have some research experience as an undergraduate and then went on to get a MS with no research component and almost exclusively applied courses like the one you linked, that would be a big red flag for me. There would have to be other circumstance contributing, e.g. the MS degree was obtained while working full time.
  • nakorurunakoruru Registered User Posts: 140 Junior Member
    edited June 18
    Perhaps, but given that PhD programs have GPA maintenance requirements too, the problem I see is that his master's GPA is too low to pass most PhD programs. If I were looking at PhD applications, I would be concerned that his grades would not let him even qualify for PhD candidacy.

    I do understand your point of view though.
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