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Best option for low undergrad GPA (Engineering)?

NotTreeNotTree Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
Sorry in advance for this post. I usually don't like to pose these types of questions, but this is the best way I can think of to garner some varied opinions.

So I'm at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to deciding whether to pursue graduate school, and its mainly because I'm having trouble gauging what my expectations should realistically be. I graduated with a sub-par GPA (2.99, UCLA Chemical Engineering), but I have good GRE scores. I've been working for over a year in the Pharma Industry since graduation, but I think this may actually hurt me because it makes it more difficult to get academic letters of recommendation and my work is not research based. I literally have no idea what type of graduate programs I would be a competitive applicant at, but I know I will have to go several tiers lower (relative to undergrad). I am not picky when it comes to choosing a field of study because I want to use this degree to advance my career, and am not interested in research. I've considered programs in Chemical/Bio Engineering, Pharmaceutical science/development and Statistics.

If anyone has had any experience applying to graduate schools from a similar situation, or can name some schools that I might be competitive at, I would really appreciate you sharing.

Also, I intentionally haven't specified whether I'm looking for PhD or Masters programs. I am open to both possibilities, but I think my preferred option would be to go to masters at one school, then phD at another. I'm not sure how practical this is with transferring credits, so if someone can comment on this, that would also be appreciated.

Replies to: Best option for low undergrad GPA (Engineering)?

  • hisllamahisllama Registered User Posts: 112 Junior Member
    There's a lot to unpack here but I will preface this with my background is in the EE/CS/tech world so I can't give you much insight into your specific field but I was in a very similar position to yours in other aspects. I also had a below 3.0 GPA from a UC and worked for 2 years in industry before going back to get my master's to advance my career.
    So the first thing I would recommend you look into is a master's of engineering program. The schools that offer them pitch it as basically an industry-focused non-thesis master's program that takes 1.5-2 years. Not everyone has it, but there are some well known places like Duke, Rice, Cornell, and Berkeley that do. They also tend to be more lenient about requiring academic letters of rec for these programs and your industry experience will be looked upon more favorably than at a traditional MS program.
    Which brings me to my next point, if its only been a year, you can still get letters of rec. I ended up going in and physically meeting with my senior thesis advisor after I'd graduated to ask for a letter of rec. They asked me to write them a summary of my thesis and the work I'd done with them to jog their memory which they used to write my letter of rec. If you ask nicely and they vaguely remember your face, you're good to go. I also offered to refer any students working under them to my company as my replacement.
    Also, if you're thinking of doing a PhD at any point in your life, do it now. Don't do a master's and then a PhD. Its not worth it to switch schools or do them separately mostly because of the money factor. Essentially all PhD programs are funded while almost no non-thesis/non-research-based master's program is funded. I'm also not sure if it would be the best choice for you to do a PhD if you don't want to do research and are eager to return to industry post-degree to advance your career. PhDs are generally a 6 year commitment and unfortunately, your GPA is too low for a lot of places to consider you for a PhD.
  • NotTreeNotTree Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    edited July 14

    Thank you for the insightful response. I appreciate your concerns regarding the cost of doing a masters separately, and that is definitely something I have considered. I agree that my GPA may disqualify me from most PhD programs, so my hope is that performing well during my masters can help my chances of getting into decent PhD programs. I simply don't think my qualifications are good enough at this point to get into any PhD program that's worth pursuing.

    I've considered Masters of Engineering before, but I'm not sure I would have a chance at any notable schools like the ones you mentioned (the cost is also a big factor). One option I have is to go to a school like San Jose State, for a MS (very cheap and low GPA requirement), and potentially work/co-op/internship on the side. After completing that degree I could re-evaluate whether I wanted to continue towards a PhD, and I wouldn't have to sacrifice too much regardless of what I choose. Even then, Im not particularly confident that I'd be accepted to a school like SJSU, but I think that is at least worth trying.
  • BeaudreauBeaudreau Registered User Posts: 1,000 Senior Member
    @NotTree - @hisllama makes some good points. I am also not in Academia, or even in the tech field, but I have been researching grad school options for my three sons, all of whom are currently studying engineering (three different fields).

    First, a 3.0 from UCLA in chemical engineering is nothing to sniff at. That's a tough major at a top university.

    I agree that you are unlikely to get admitted into a PhD program at a decent university. However, you should have a shot toward masters degree. If you are interested in a PhD, I would think that a MS with a thesis option would be the best option. You would get research experience and the opportunity to get good grades at the graduate level. Depending on the PhD program, you could satisfy some course requirements too.

    Now this is what I and @hisllama are struggling with. You want to leave the PhD option open, but you are not interested in research. PhDs are based on research. If you are not enthusiastic about research, with solid recommendations from your professors, you shouldn't even be considering a PhD. In this case, I agree that a non-thesis masters (Masters in Engineering) would be your best option. They seem to be offered by most of the top-50 engineering colleges. Many also have distance-learning options. These have gotten very popular and the diploma does not say whether the degree was earned on or off campus.

  • happymomof1happymomof1 Registered User Posts: 25,343 Senior Member
    What sort of advanced degrees do the people who have the job(s) you think you'd like to move up to have? Where did they study? Are there any obvious favorite programs/universities? Start with those.
  • NotTreeNotTree Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    edited July 14
    Thank you for the responses, @happymomof1 @Beaudreau

    When I say that I'm not interested in research, I mean as a career path. I think that I would enjoy working on a research project for several years as part of my education, but I cannot see myself working in R&D or academia long term. I'm primarily interested in getting an advanced degree to improve my credentials. I've done some research into distance-learning options and have found some interesting programs. I know that UC Riverside has an online MS (not MEng) program, which would allow me to continue working. My main concern with these types of programs is that the coursework will not be transferable if I decide to continue with a PhD, though I guess that can apply to almost any Masters program.
  • hisllamahisllama Registered User Posts: 112 Junior Member
    It sounds to me like your perception of a PhD is a little off. As I understand it, the sole purpose of a PhD is to set someone up for a life in academia or research. Its a lot easier to explain with pictures http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/
    For advice specific to your field, reach out to your coworkers, boss, old professors, any mentors you have and see what they have to say. They will be able to tell you if its worth it to get a PhD in your field and if they know you well enough, if they can see you doing a PhD.

    If you are looking at schools near SJSU, Santa Clara University is not a bad option. They are pretty lenient about their admissions requirements; they actually don't even ask for an SoP, but it is still a respected school in the area. They charge tuition on a per class basis so you only end up paying for the classes you take. I want to say its around $3k/class so a 10 course MS degree would run you about $30-40k in tuition and fees.

    And I also think you're selling yourself short and focusing too much on the low GPA thing. Like @Beaudreau said, a 2.99 from UCLA is not as bad as you think it is. Grad school admission is less about the hard numbers and more about program fit than undergrad. The expectation is that you are applying to the program to work with a certain professor or do something the university specifically offers.
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