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3.1 GPA... too low for PhD admissions?

noorasixnoorasix Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
Hi everyone!

I graduated with a Bachelors degree in 2015 in Biochemistry from Rutgers University. My undergraduate GPA was close to a 3.4. At that time I had no research experience and I opted to do a masters in Chemistry to improve my CV, since I did not get accepted to PhD programs right away. Unfortunately my masters GPA has been even lower (around 3.1).

I had a 1 year research experience in undergrad (not significant enough to get a letter since the professor could not secure a tenure), and have been doing research ever since starting my masters. I will hopefully have a manuscript going in by December in a good journal (that's what the post doc has been saying). From here I expect to get a pretty strong letter too.

My General GRE score is 89% in QUANT/65% in VERBAL, and 4.5 in analytic writing. I took the CHem GRE and scored 79%.

So given my stats, what are my chances of getting in a top tier PhD program for Fall 2018 admissions? Is there anything I can do (like retaking the GRE, for instance) that will improve my application for a PhD program? Any input will be truly appreciated.

Please and thanks.
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Replies to: 3.1 GPA... too low for PhD admissions?

  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 Registered User Posts: 31,957 Senior Member
    Go back to school, improve that GPA - a 3.5 in a PhD is borderline grounds for dismissal....
    And get top scores on your GRE.
    No point in doing a PhD if you can't be a top performer.
    Right now, keep working and take Master's level classes part time. If next year you have not had straight A's move to another goal.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,670 Super Moderator
    A 3.4 undergraduate GPA is a bit low - could be okay if you had an otherwise outstanding application package, but with an average package looks a bit low. The more concerning part is a 3.1 in the master's program. Most graduate programs inflate grades considerably, so it's expected that successful MS students will have a 3.5 or higher if applying to PhD programs. A 3.1 in a graduate program is indication of not doing so well. Why is your master's GPA a 3.1?

    Normally I would tell students to take non-degree classes at the graduate level to try to raise their GPA. While that's a good strategy for an applicant who didn't perform well in undergrad, or maybe was borderline, I don't necessarily think it'll be as helpful for a master's student with a 3.1. How may classes will you have to take to bring your GPA up to at least a 3.3, if not a 3.5? It might be a lot.

    A manuscript going in may be nice, but remember that it can be a long time between when you submit a manuscript and when you even get an R&R, much less a publication. Still, you can say that you have submitted a manuscript.

    Retaking the GRE won't help you that much. It's really your GPAs, and particularly that master's program GPA, that's going to be the issue. This is a situation in which I'd ask your current professors in your MS program for some advice - what do they think you should do and/or where are you competitive?
  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN Registered User Posts: 2,408 Senior Member
    edited May 21
    Ideally PhD students are selected among the best undergrads and masters students. But students with a B average in a masters program are not the best students. It would be odd for a top tier PhD program to actively seek out students from the lower half of a masters program and it would be difficult for your grad school professors to be able to write a credible recommendation for you for good programs. I agree that you could discuss your future plans with your professors in your masters program.
  • NASA2014NASA2014 Registered User Posts: 1,960 Senior Member
    If you retake the GRE for chemistry and get a higher score. Some people say it helps for admissions but check with the university you're interested and see if they have an option to send the score.
  • xraymancsxraymancs College Rep Posts: 4,265 Senior Member
    Perhaps you should not be looking for a "top" program, whatever that means. Besides trying to improve your GRE score, you should look for programs which are not quite as selective and will look at your application without discarding it because of GPA or GRE. Find the right advisor at such a program and you will be fine.
  • cosmicfishcosmicfish Registered User Posts: 4,216 Senior Member
    Just to emphasize what others have said, a 3.0 in a master's program is like a 2.0 in undergrad - the ragged edge of failing out. A 3.1 in your grad degree suggests you were struggling and is going to be a red flag for PhD programs, even modest ones. If you are going to do a PhD it will probably not be in 2018 unless you can pull off some great research.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 30,095 Senior Member
    You may be able to get into a PhD program, but I'd skip applying to top schools. Probably the one thing you could control now are your GRE scores, so I'd go after another attempt at your subject test. My kid just applied to PhD programs in a different STEM area with a 3.1 from a college known for grade rigor. She got 7 acceptances & 2 rejections. But she did not shoot for top schools -- she was realistic and focused on schools that were specifically a good match with her research experience and interests.
  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 Registered User Posts: 31,957 Senior Member
    ^ also, your kid attended one of, if not the, top college in her field and is under represented in that field. Op attended a modest masters program and we don't know whether they're under represented.
    Any grad school knows that ANY student coming from your kid's school is going to be stellar and that a 3.1 from that school denotes excellence. A sub 3.0 from a regular undergrad is not going to lead to a top Master's program and anything short of a 3.5 from such a program isn't going to yield a funded PhD (the only type worth pursuing). Ip worried op is accruing debt and spinning their wheels. :(
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 30,095 Senior Member
    I think the OP has a shot at some not-top programs with funding. But the funding is is not great at some of them -- funded and "enough to live on plus health insurance" are two different things.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,670 Super Moderator
    ^Also, the question is whether going to a mediocre/lower-tier PhD program is even a good use of one's time and resources.

    Mine might be an unpopular opinion, but I'd argue that it's probably not - particularly if the OP's eventual goal is an academic career. Academia is already difficult enough to secure employment in; applicants with PhDs from lower-tier PhD programs are at a disadvantage, especially in more bloated fields like the life sciences.

    If one's goal is industry, then it may be more of an open question.
  • noorasixnoorasix Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    Thanks a lot for all your response

    I have done pretty well towards the first two years of undergrad (had 3.8), but due to a few personal problems (for which I suffered emotionally) my grades fell in my finAL two years. I thought doing well in a master's program may compensate for that but looks like I couldn't really 'pull myself out' yet.
  • noorasixnoorasix Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    Thanks a lot for all your response

    I have done pretty well towards the first two years of undergrad (had 3.8 gpa), but due to a few personal problems (for which I suffered emotionally) my grades fell in my final two years. I thought doing well in a master's program may compensate for that but looks like I couldn't really 'pull myself out' yet. :( I didn't want to bring that up in the application since that sounds kind of lame, and indicates that I'm trying to make excuses. One other reason probably is, contradictory to my school's norm I started research from day 1, my school recommends spending the first year in doing courses, and the next year in research. Again, I overestimated myself that I'd be able to handle the load. :(

    If I take two more classes in the Fall my GPA will rise to a 3.36.. will that be much better? I'm also on student loan so that's another thing to consider. The other thing is, most programs have deadlines in early December and the grades don't come in until end of December. Is it okay to scan and upload the transcript AFTER a few weeks the application is due?

    Will retaking the GREs be of any help? Which one should I retake, General, or Chem GRE? I've been thinking of retaking the GEneral GRE because of my Verbal score.

    I spoke somewhat briefly to my research professor and he has said that he will write a strong LoR, and I can get two other moderately strong LoRs from my lecture professors.

    Also, some extra info:
    1. I attended Rutgers University for undergrad and grad.
    2. I am an Asian American female.

    Please let me know if there is a way that I could compensate for my low GPA. Again, any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • xraymancsxraymancs College Rep Posts: 4,265 Senior Member
    Improving your GPA will help but the advice that I gave and others have too still stands. You will not be admitted to highly selective programs. You need to focus on programs that are less selective and will read your full application. These tend to be smaller programs so you need to identify the ones that have the kind of research you are interested in. Another possibility, if your current research advisor is a strong supporter is to see if he/she would be willing to use personal contacts to recommend you to a specific program. This can work too.
  • noorasixnoorasix Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    Will retaking the Chem/ Gen GRE help?
  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 Registered User Posts: 31,957 Senior Member
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