Graduate admissions 2022

Hello, I am a parent of undergraduate junior student (Molecular and Cellular Biology ) aspiring to join MS/PhD program. My student has a decent GPA, has 2 years of research experience in a lab at school. Not getting admission to summer paid research programs even though initial contact with professor is promising. Any idea if this is indication of graduate admission? Who/what resources can help assess individual application to point out potential gaps? Any tips or insight will help. Thank you

I seriously doubt that it is an indication of graduate admissions, such opportunities may just be limited at your institution.
I’d suggest speaking to faculty in your department and at the target institutions. Also the professional development office at your school.

Thank you for your response. Will talk to career development office at current school. Thank you for that idea.
The faculty at target institute was contacted. Faculty reviewed resume and called for interview and expressed interest and willingness to afford the opportunity. But admission was denied. This has happened in multiple institutions and both last summer and this year. Does professor have any say on candidate selection? The admissions committee (a generic email address) simply said that there were too many applications and they had to make a tough choice. In making that choice, they would have found some applications more appealing than others and I am trying to understand what factors were missing in ours so as not be make the cut. Any ideas on who can help with this?

I think research in the lab at your school is pretty typical for an undergrad. I’d build on that, try to get all A’s this semester, prep for the GRE (in case it comes back), TA or tutor, volunteer, participate in EC’s, and make sure your list has some less selective schools on it.

@lathaamenon - Hi there. I have one son who is in the third year of his PhD program (aerospace engineering) at Michigan, one who completed his biomedical engineering masters degree at Georgia Tech, and my youngest boy started his materials engineering masters degree at Lehigh in September.

I note that you say your student is “aspiring to join MS/PhD program.” Which one? The vast majority of US PhD programs admit students directly and typically do not award masters degree. This is a big change from when I went to college in the US and is not the practice in many countries. In fact, a university may warn that a student considering a PhD should not apply to the masters program but instead directly to the PhD program

Volunteering and extracurriculars don’t really matter. Teaching experience is not particularly important. Grades, research experience, and letters of recommendations are key for PhD applicants. Research experience is not that important for MS/MA applicants. Many students actually get research-based masters degrees to cure a lack of undergraduate research.

Another key point not all parents know (like this one when we started out). PhD programs are funded and provide a stipend for living expenses. Masters programs typically do not provide significant financial assistance. If your student wants a student loan, he/she fills out the FAFSA; parental income etc. is not entered.

Finally, when evaluating PhD programs, it’s all about the fit. If your student’s research interests align with a professor’s, your chances are much better than if there is no fit. Your student will likely be supporting the professor’s research interests and co-writing papers. What this also means is that your student will need to evaluate programs of interest. There is little sense in applying to a university without a fit. Even a mid-tier university could reject your student if there is no fit. Conversely, if there is a strong fit, your student may have a strong shot at a top-tier university with a good fit.

As an example, my oldest son has been interested since high school in electric/ion propulsion for space satellites and vehicles. He has also been interested in chemical propulsion. We visited Purdue, which is very strong in chemical propulsion, and Michigan, which is very strong in electric propulsion. After the visits, he decided that he was all-in on electric propulsion and focused his classes and research on this area his last two years of college. He got into two of the three universities he applied to, which both had good fits, and was rejected by one that was not a particularly good fit. His earlier visit to Michigan, meeting with the professors, and touring the facilities also helped, I expect.

1 Like

For my kid, I think volunteering and ECs were important for her fellowships. If you look at websites with bio’s of students who win these, they mention ECs and volunteer activities. These fellowships are not limited to STEM students so they take a broad look. The STEM oriented ones likely only care about STEM related activities/contests/awards.

Also, teaching experience came up in interviews with faculty who thought teaching was an important part of academia (a minority) but it did come up.

Also, regardless of fit hypsm is going still going to be more selective than say U Arkansas who e-mailed and offered funding after seeing gre scores in a database.

Thank you for the detailed information. My students lab and research experience is in stem Cell therapy. And yes, we are interested in the PhD program. We were hoping to explore Stem cell therapy for Neuro regenerative therapies. This was the field that professors in multiple universities interviewed and expresses interest in affording summer opportunity. But admission was rejected. Without this experience and without this working rapport with professor, how can we establish contact and identify fit?
Thank you again for taking time to share valuable input

Thank you. My student has some EC and volunteer and leadership. No tutoring though…

I’m suggesting that they keep with working with the lab where they got the original experience (paid or unpaid).

If that doesn’t work out, then do as @Beaudreau suggests and do a Master’s first to get research experience, improve GPA, form relationships with faculty, etc.

Were the rejections from REU’s? if so, that does not necessarily indicate how grad school admissions will work: they are very competitive and they tend to choose students whose background is the closest fit. For example Collegekid2 was told that she got an REU b/c of her familiarity with a specific piece of equipment - they wouldn’t have to ‘waste’ time training her to use it! So, it can be that random.

However: getting some form of research IS crucial. It’s fine if it’s at the home university, but a PhD is a research degree and they want to know that you are ready to be part of a research program for 4-6 years.

Not your question, but this:

is problematic. There is no “we” here- it is your student. Whatever else, a parent should NEVER make contact with the career development office at the university OR with a grad program.

Rejections were from SURF program at Caltech and UCI
Student is working in lab at parent institute since sophomore year.

And point taken - no ‘we’. Just student. Thank you

Did your student contact a professor at Caltech prior to submitting the SURF application?

Yes. And professor agreed to give opportunity. This info was added to application as well…

Getting rejected from the SFP office after finding a mentor is uncommon. Did the SFP office give you any reason for rejection?