Don't overthink this.
You will have letters of recommendation and good grades from a good school.
Hi, I'm doing a Mathematics-Economics combined program at a top LAC that deflates grades (avg of 3.1 for graduates, hasn't increased much in forever). Currently I have a ~3.5 but that'll probably reach ~3.6 by the time I graduate. How will this be viewed when compared to similar schools with inflation. Thanks.
If your letter-writer is experienced, they'll mention your percentile in your class or your cohort, make a note of the unusual grade deflation, and they'll also compare you with previous entrants to PhD programs. If your main advisor is a relatively inexperienced letter-writer (e.g. first 3 years out of grad school), you should feel free to remind/prod them to do all of the above while evaluating you. Chances are they already understand this, but there is a small fraction of young faculty who don't have any common sense in this area (see below), and you don't want to take any risks.
Last edited by chateauheart; 08-08-2018 at 04:35 AM.
I have ~3.8 in my major with the lowest grades being B+ in micro theory and vector calculus (proof based). I'm taking real, probability theory, math stat and abstract algebra next year. Hopefully will have good math grades to offset the belw-par overall GPA.
It doesn't work in your favor. Most adcoms would rather work on their research than review your application. Some are going to toss your application out before they even get to your other materials. Others might skim your LORs, but they are probably going to be looking at sections that discuss your research potential rather than your grades. A couple are going to go through your application with a fine tooth comb, and in that case chateau's advice is valuable. It is an unfair yet all too common reality that doesn't just stop at new phd admissions. This behavior continues in the job market,when your papers are being refereed, grant applications, etc etc.
How well did you do on math courses? Have you done multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and real analysis? What grades have you gotten in those?
The most important thing to remember that even with poor grades and test scores, you have a shot at a T10 school if you have recommenders who will make calls for you to the relevant departments to which you are applying. PhD admissions is a political exercise, more than anything. Good grades does give you a better chance, but the increase is marginal as they will be hundreds of applicants with similar grades trying to be admitted. What makes successful applicants stand out are their LORs. A large proportion, and don't be surprised that it's over half, of classes at a T10 department will be filled by RAs or former RAs/students of faculty. That means you'd see a lot of whitebread undergrads from T10 schools being admitted without any further mathematical preparation beyond multivariable calculus. Levitt, was admitted at MIT having only taken calculus. I hadn't taken real analysis and I was admitted to Princeton on the back of LORs. I also got a C+ in Vector Analysis (Calc IV).
The whole process is idiosyncratic.
So whether you're at a grade deflated school or not is really not that relevant. There will be applicants from your school with perfect grades. Of course, you'd probably have a better shot intrinsically by not being from a lowly-ranked state school with an unranked economics department for example. Many students from very lowly ranked schools apply for T10 schools with their 4.0 GPA and grad-level math and econ courses but I think they do not necessarily have a better shot than a 3.5 in econ from UChicago with minimal math and no grad-level courses. I've sat in classes at a flagship state school in Baton Rouge and the material is frankly embarrassing. You can essentially get an A by just showing up to class. I think top departments know that and low ranked schools are generally taken less seriously unless they have an M.A from a high-ranked school.
Few applicants outside of the "circle" get admitted straight out of college anyway. My advice is either do an M.A/M.S in statistics or data science at schools like Harvard and Stanford, or M.A in Economics from Toronto/Duke/NYU. The intention is not necessarily to learn anything out of them. You'd learn all you need during your PhD. The intention is to get good letters out of those schools.
Be proactive and get to know your professors. You'd be fine.
Ph.D. (Candidate) Princeton University M.A. Columbia University B.A. Columbia University
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