Programs Emphasizing GRE over GPA?
December 8, 2004 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Grad School help for a (formerly, academically) poor student. I have an abysmal undergraduate GPA... very, very poor (2.064/4.0). I have a very high GRE (1430 quant/verbal). I'm looking for an interdisciplinary Humanities/Social Science hybrid sort of degree (lots of flexibility...) from a respectable school that will give the most leverage to the GRE. Additional info: Undergrad degree is in Geography, (AB, 2002), relevant work experience is virtually nil, social service/portfolio is just OK (can be padded). In summary, is there a resource that will spell out for me the programs that emphasize GRE (preferably to the exclusion of all others)? Many thanks.
posted by anonymous to Education (13 answers total)
My understanding is that the GRE is usually used as a first-round weeding mechanism. Applicants with low standardized testing scores are sloughed off, and then the admissions boards start looking at other qualifications. There may be programs that weigh the GRE more heavily than others, but I can't imagine that any will let a 1430 fully compensate for a 2.1 GPA. Unfortunately, the GRE is just not that important.

Poor GPAs can be overcome by having stellar letters of recommendation and a convincing and explanatory statement of purpose. If you are able to persuade the admissions board that the 2.1 is an aberration and that you will take grad school seriously (and will succeed in your studies), then they may be willing to overlook it. But it will be a difficult hurdle.
posted by painquale at 2:41 AM on December 8, 2004

High GRE scores barely help you at all, whereas low GRE scores give the admissions committee an excuse to pick someone else over you for the spot. I was a bit miffed to find my 1570 quant/verbal and perfect writing score netted me exactly zero grad school acceptances. Should've taken classes in college more seriously, I guess.

As for your specific question, with the current trend in higher education being largely that of moving away from standardized testing (and advertising more "holistic" assessments of applicants or outright not accepting SAT/GRE scores at all), I'd imagine it to be rather difficult to find any specific programs that actually highlight standardized test results as part of their acceptance criteria. If the admission criteria for a program are mentioned anywhere at all in non-vague terms, it's virtually assured to de-emphasize standardized testing, not the other way around. Sorry.
posted by DaShiv at 4:07 AM on December 8, 2004

See my comment on this thread (similar but reversed from your situation).

I think that you're not shit out of luck with mediocre grades in undergrad. Especially if you discuss your personal development / lessons learned in a part of your personal statement. It's all about the subjective criteria for grad school, not objective ones like for undergraduate admissions.
posted by zpousman at 6:12 AM on December 8, 2004

Unfortunately, I'm in agreement with what the others have said above regarding the likelihood of your great GRE scores helping you overcome your GPA deficiency. However, like painquale said, excellent letters of recommendation and a seriously kick-ass statement of purpose are more likely to help.

It's true that the general drift is to use more subjective criteria for grad school admissions after the candidates have met the baseline, but what I would specifically look for in a program's admission's information (or reputation) if I were you were programs that placed special emphasis on letters and statements over all quantitative measurement e.g. both the GRE and GPA. Since you are looking at interdisciplinary (humanities) programs, you've probably increased your chances of this, however depending on the mix / relative weight and influence of the social sciences you also desire in your grad school experience you may be canceling that edge out.

Additionally, be sure to research the faculty in the program as well as the program itself and tailor at least one part of your statement of purpose towards this information. Don't overdo it because this person may not be on the admissions committee, but you'll also be better off if you can increase the likelihood of getting at least one faculty to make a case for you (i.e. you app stands out to them -- often based on a perception of affinity). This is also where attending a class or having some interview or structured email (often set up through the admissions office) time with a faculty person can help.
posted by safetyfork at 6:22 AM on December 8, 2004

You may to work up a little bit--get a master's degree at a perhaps less respectable school, but do a stellar job and get a perfect GPA and references. Then it will be a lot easier to apply for a PhD at a better school.
posted by grouse at 6:55 AM on December 8, 2004

Speaking with my graduate coordinator's hat on, my suggestion is: if at all possible, take graduate-level coursework as a nonmatriculated student, and ask the instructors in those courses to write letters of rec for you. You want to demonstrate that you've overcome whatever academic problems you had as an undergraduate. Moreover, you need some additional grades, because many programs use the GPA as an initial winnowing tool.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:11 AM on December 8, 2004

Any program that admitted students solely on the basis of GRE scores would probably not be one that most people would describe as "respectable."
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:18 AM on December 8, 2004

I would agree with zspousman and safetyfork about the importance of the statement of intent/personal statement, etc. In any grad school stuff I've researched or applied to (granted, its in Canuckistan rather than the US), the personal statement and your ability to indicate where you want to take a particular degree and explain away your poor undergrad GPA is of paramount importance (speaking as a less-than-stellar undergrad student that still managed to get into grad school). If you can find a program outside of law or other highly competitive numbers games that will weigh your GRE highly, your personal statement will still be a key part of that equation.

I'd urge you to take a step back and start thinking more specifically about what kind of grad degree you would like to get (in terms other than "interdisciplinary Humanities/Social Science hybrid sort of degree") and what you envision yourself building towards in terms of a career. In my mind, this will allow you to write a particularly compelling statement of intent that will allow the admissions committee to look at the "whole package" so to speak in terms of your dedication to completing this degree and making it work.

Without having decided in more detail what kind of grad school work you want to do and why, it sort of sounds like you have recognized that you need higher education, and that means grad school, so you'd better find a place. This may not have been your intent with the wording in your question, but it appears that way,and it's like putting the cart before the horse. It doesn't mean you have to decide what you want to be when you grow up, but it may mean that you have a more satisfying grad school experience that will really meet your needs because you have taken the time to do some self-direction before you end up in a program you may hate just because they weigh your GRE higher than your GPA.
posted by Cyrie at 7:19 AM on December 8, 2004

Have you considered looking outside the US (which I assume is where you are)? A lot of places in the UK will consider students on the back of their most recent degree if it indicates that you have sufficient ability. If you're looking for a PhD then it will also be quicker if you do it in the UK than in the US. Tuition for overseas students can be steep though.
posted by biffa at 7:22 AM on December 8, 2004

Look for patterns in your grades that will help, and explain in your personal statement. For example, if your first two years were in the toilet, but you pulled it together your last two, or if you have a 3.8 in your major, your GPA won't be as much of a factor.
posted by crythecry at 7:36 AM on December 8, 2004

Follow thomas j wise's advice: you need to actually demonstrate academic performance, not simply say that you've learned your lessons and will do better in the future. Take a few more couses and do a stellar job. Otherwise you're asking an admissions committee to take a big leap of faith.

I've read numberless graduate admissions essays, and so many of them apologize for poor performance in undergrad and cite lessons learned that it's meaningless. Even a semester or two of stellar performance in your field will make your application much more credible.

Along similar lines: the grad schools I applied to all required both a statement of purpose and a writing sample. Make your writing sample really, really awesome.
posted by josh at 8:26 AM on December 8, 2004

Just to add on what others have said...
After you do your research and decide on a program, see if they allow you to take a certain number of hours before admission (and then count them toward your degree requirements) from the school. If so, seize the opportunity by takings something other than an entry-level course that excites you and kick total ass. Do the reading, attend all lectures, participate in discussions, attend seminars and presentations sponsored by the department, devote productive hours to assignments and projects, visit professors during office hours, etc.

Treat it like an audition, because that's what it is in essence. It's also a way to gage how serious you are about graduate work. You can wear the minimum if you're satisfied. It's just that some people choose do wear more and we like to encourage that....You do want to express yourself, right?

This is the path I took getting into a well respected MLIS program with a barely 3.0 GPA, an average, outdated GRE, and recommendation letters that did not come from academics. I'll also second the value of a well-written personal statement that shows some familiarity with the strengths of the program and research interests compatible with some member[s] of the faculty.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2004

Having been part of the grad-student admission process, my advice is to not apply right now. Work in the field for a while and take extra classes -- obviously, do very well in both your work and classes.

We may very well have different views on what is a reasonable grad program, but you will have a hard time with your current numbers and experience -- unless, of course, you can manage to write a mind-blowing set of essays. But even then it's iffy -- without numbers and non-run-of-the-mill letters of recommendation you will get a very cursory review.

Aside: letters of recommendation are 99.999% of the time identical -- random person is all "blah blah capable blah brilliant blah best student blah". Get someone noteworthy in the field, or get some anonymous person who will write a truly great letter. Something that makes me think this person writing the letter is disappointed the applicant isn't going to work for them, but writes a glowing review, despite their own self-interest, out of inalienable respect of you, your ability, and your limitless potential.
posted by justin at 9:56 PM on December 8, 2004

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