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Programs Average grades in undergraduate but considering Masters degree

  • Thread starter NariCH
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My grades first and second year were good but third year due to some circumstances my grades dropped to just above average in most courses..I want to do apply for graduate studies but I'm not sure how competent and ready I am or if I ever will be accepted.
My question is what should I expect from graduate school, and what is required from me to have? How to know if I'm ready or if graduate school is a good option for me?
 

jtbell

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In the US, an undergraduate average of 3.0 (out of 4.0) is the minimum in order to be even considered for admission to most graduate schools. I don't know about other countries.
 

Choppy

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These sound like some good questions for your professors or your academic advisor.

One thing to keep in mind with graduate school is that there's an academic bottleneck that you go through to get there. Imagine separating your undergraduate class into two groups - those above the median GPA and those at or below it. The kids in the higher GPA group tend to get in to grad school. Those in the lower one, not as much. So if you do get in with an "average" GPA, you're likely to be on the low end of the spectrum - at least as far as previous academic performance goes.

Secondly, the work doesn't get easier. If you found yourself struggling with upper year undergraduate concepts, most of the stuff you'll study in grad school will build on that foundation. Anything you didn't master is likely to come back to haunt you.

That's not to say you shouldn't do it. But it's important to have a realistic outlook on where you stand going in and a plan for addressing any anticipated challenges.

The other thing I would say is that grad school should be one of those choices that you make specifically because you want to do it, not because you don't see any other options for yourself. Coming out of undergrad, in most cases a person's default choice should be to go out into the workforce and begin a career. If you have a specific drive to learn some of the more advanced concepts in your field and would really prefer to get into some research, so much so that you're willing to give up the opportunity cost that comes with a 'delay' in future earnings, then graduate school is a good choice.
 

Vanadium 50

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In another thread you mention you failed a required course and now have to wait to graduate. Failing a required course is not a plus when applying to graduate school, as they will ask the question you should be asking yourself: if you are having trouble getting through undergrad, why do you expect not to have trouble with grad school, which is more difficult.
 

Joshy

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This is quite interesting. Is there anything someone could compensate low grades with such as work experience? (in regards to graduate school application)

Do things like combined grades with a junior college or certificate program work? I get that "it couldn't hurt", but could it have a noticeable contribution to an application?

If there were mitigating circumstance, then is it possible to describe this?

More challenging classes and more units weigh into the application? Would they prefer someone with 3.0 out of 4.0 GPA who took antenna systems design and quantum mechanics (trying to emphasize challenging modules as an example) over someone who coasted through the bare curriculum with a 3.6 GPA? Maybe someone working during the school year and possibly in relevant positions such as internships or technical student worker positions?

... also totally get that people can't speak for every school, every application, every circumstance, every grade... looking for maybe something you've seen or heard for people within range of this average GPA group who has done more than school.
 
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I saw some professional education programs in engineering(distance) let you have a sub 3.0 GPA if you have work experience and score well on GRE.
 
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I imagine that exceptional research experience would help balance out a less-than-stellar GPA, as long as it is above, say, a 3.0. Like others have said, for most schools your application will be rejected by the online system before it even has a chance to make it to a committee if your GPA is below a 3.0.

As far as mitigating circumstances, some applications do have a section to explain poor performance. If poor grades were caused by, e.g., a severe illness, a death in the family, or some similar life event and your grades have since shown recovery, that box is where you explain what happened. I do think it's important that your grades have an upward trend or that you can prove that the issue won't affect you in graduate school. This isn't a box to crap on professors/advisors/classes/peers in your department though.
 

Joshy

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Thanks for the insight!
 

Choppy

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More challenging classes and more units weigh into the application? Would they prefer someone with 3.0 out of 4.0 GPA who took antenna systems design and quantum mechanics (trying to emphasize challenging modules as an example) over someone who coasted through the bare curriculum with a 3.6 GPA? Maybe someone working during the school year and possibly in relevant positions such as internships or technical student worker positions?
Really, what they're looking for are candidates who've got great GPAs while having taking challenging course loads AND have some solid research experience that objectively indicates they will be successful in graduate school. These are the students who tend to get in, and then the admissions committees work their way down their lists for the N positions they have available or what they define both objectively and subjectively as a minimum threshold for acceptance.

It's difficult to start playing a game of "this course was harder than that one" and weighting accordingly, so in most cases admissions committees won't get into that. On the other hand you can be pretty sure that they can recognise students who've taken a minimum course load. No one is going to be excited to work with either a student who'd just barely met the GPA threshold or who's taken the easiest courses possible.
 

Joshy

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I feel like I didn't describe the questions well enough. I think a lot of us could guess these universities are looking for all the best and most perfect traits (really a no brainer even if some of us have low GPAs); this thread seems to be more about what can these universities tolerate. Certainly: No one method is good for all and works for everyone or any circumstance, but what have we heard? Did going back to a junior college work? Some people claim that a reputable organization could help out (I mean "It's not what you know... it's who know" didn't just come out of nowhere, right?) Certificate programs? Other factors such as research, work experience, patents... etc. I'm sure it's not unheard of, but is it all just talk?
 

Choppy

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Junior college: I suppose a lot can depend on the specifics, but as I understand it most of these won't offer the advanced coursework that graduate programs are interested in. So doing this could in principle boost your GPA. But I think you'd be better off returning to a full university for an additional year if this is your strategy.

Certificate programs: similar to above. I think one way where this *might* be of some benefit is if, say you were to go through something like a machine learning boot camp, and then seek to get into some kind of a PhD project that would be using the machine learning to help solve some problem in physics. Sometimes project-specific skills can make a difference in admissions.

University reputation: Personally, I think this is one factor that tends to get exaggerated somewhat. One of the big reasons for the GRE is to help mitigate school-to-school differences. I think university reputation might be more of a factor in the extreme cases. MIT grads, for example, would probably be seen in a better light than graduates from a small school who hasn't had any graduates go on to graduate school. But in most cases they're not going to scale your grades. It's best not to count on your school's reputation for anything.

Who you know: This can actually be a pretty big factor if for no other reason than the fact that a good mentor with a solid knowledge of the field who knows your skills and strengths can give you advice about which programs to apply to. Sometimes as a graduating student it can feel as though you're taking shots in the dark at which programs to apply to. Insider knowledge can help you identify programs that are taking on more students, or might be looking for someone with any unique skills that you bring to the table. Another factor at play is that not all professors are equal. For one, if the person writing your reference letter is well known by the people reading the reference, it will tend to carry more weight. Also, not everyone knows how to write a decent reference letter in the first place.

It might also help to convert these factors into some kind of a standard currency. If, for the sake of argument, you define GPA as your standard currency, and your actual GPA is a 3.3. Things like having a full peer reviewed publication might bump you up to an equivalent of a 3.4, maybe a 3.5 if your the first author and your mentors have letters that state you did all the work yourself. A reference letter might be able to affect this too, but remember just about all applicants are going to have a least 'good' reference letters. So this might push you up the scale by 0.1 or so. Maybe that gives you a ballpark to play in.
 

Joshy

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Really great to know. Great feedback there. Thank you so much.
 

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