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Thread: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

  1. #1
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    Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

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    I've been pretty dead-set on pursuing an Economics PhD since my sophomore year of undergrad, but I came into college with a very bad math foundation. In high school I almost failed Algebra 2, and that poor early exposure has haunted me through undergraduate courses. I feel like I've definitely improved, and my math grades this semester should be As or at least A- (doing well so far), but I would like some blunt honesty here. There is no doubt in my mind that I want to do an Econ PhD, I just would like to know exactly what I'll need to do in order to compensate for my mistakes/deficiencies. I am open to RA-ships or masters programs to strengthen my application, but only if absolutely necessary. Thanks!

    Type of Undergrad: State flagship, ranked top 20 USNews for Public Schools, Top 40 Econ IdeasRepec

    Undergrad GPA: Overall 3.63, Math GPA 2.51, Econ GPA 3.81

    Type of Grad: N/A (1 course taken while undergrad)

    Grad GPA: N/A (A)

    GRE: 170Q, 170V, 4.5W

    Math: Calc 1/2/3 (B-, A, C), Linear Algebra (B), Intro Proofs (B-), Math Probability( IP), Real Analysis 1 (IP)

    Econ: Intermediate Micro (A), Intermediate Macro (B-), Wrld Econ Hist (A), Econometrics 1 (A), International Econ (A), Pub Econ(A), Global Econ Dev(A), Econometrics 2 (A-), Labor Econ(A), Graduate Micro Theory (A)

    Other Courses: Intro Stat Analysis (B+), Data Analysis w/ R (A), ArcGIS(IP), Land Use (IP), Econ Research Methods (IP)

    Recommendations: 3 currently ready, looking for more. One is my grad micro theory prof that I also RA'd for, he is an Assistant Prof. The second is full professor from our agricultural/environmental econ dept, she is my thesis advisor and I've been in her graduate research group for 2 years. Third is Fed economist that I RA'd for over a summer.

    Research Experience: RA for micro professor, RA for Regional Fed economist (top 10 PhD), senior thesis, NSF-REU internship.

    Research Interests: Rural/Urban economics, Labor Economics, Political Economy, Environmental

    Concerns: My math grades are abysmal, but I believe with an upward trend (will be too late for my real analysis/probability grades to show up on applications). Also my strongest/most passionate letter is from an AP who is well published (two top 5 pubs) but not well known.

    Other: I have the option to return to the regional fed I interned at and work as an RA for 2-3 years. I would take this option but I would much prefer to pursue a PhD now, unless I have a clear plan on how to maximize the return from the RAship.

    Applying to: I want to leave nothing to chance, so ~30 schools (using internship money to finance app fees). All top 10s (reach), majority of top 20, then regional preferences from 30 to 40. I would be very happy to get into specifically Penn State or Michigan State, but I know that I'm probably a weak candidate so I'll be grateful for anything.

  2. #2
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    Re: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

    Top 10 looks very unlikely, even 30-40 isn't obvious. But there's lots of information we don't have. Did you get an A in graduate micro? That might make a difference. Mostly, go ask your letter writers where you should apply. They know a lot more than anyone here will.

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    Re: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    Top 10 looks very unlikely, even 30-40 isn't obvious. But there's lots of information we don't have. Did you get an A in graduate micro? That might make a difference. Mostly, go ask your letter writers where you should apply. They know a lot more than anyone here will.
    Hey there, thanks for the reply! I did indeed get an A in graduate micro. My letter writers have said that top 30 is possible, but I was hoping to get some more opinions. Is there any more information I could provide that might be useful?

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    Re: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

    First thing, congrats on the A. That does matter.

    If your letter writers tell you a top 30 is possible, that could mean anywhere in the top 30. But it's often code for the top 20 is pretty unlikely and 20-30 would be a good shot but not guaranteed. You should try to elicit more information from your letter writers. They are in the best position to evaluate your chances and you know they are on your side.

    One strategy that can help in being tactful is to write out a list of places you are thinking of applying to and then ask each letter writer to cross off ones they think are too aggressive and to add some they think are safe.

  5. #5
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    Re: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

    I'll definitely present my list of prospective schools to my letter writers and get their feedback, that's a good idea so thank you!

    Regarding the whole RA-ship/Postbacc programs, do you think that given my profile, I would significantly benefit from doing more of these things? RA-ships would almost certainly be within the Federal Reserve system, and Postbaccs I'm interested in are the AEASP or Columbia's Bridge to STEM program. I think I'd be perfectly happy with many of the schools between 20-40, so my main hesitation to actually applying to these RA or postbacc programs is if they're necessary for admission to such schools. In your opinion, do you think that one strategy is strictly dominant for someone with a profile like me, or is it more up to individual risk tolerances and how willing I am to roll the dice?

    And also, what are your thoughts on the trade-offs between traditional Econ and Ag Econ PhD programs? I've looked into several Ag Econ programs and have found professors with common research interests to me, but I'm scared off of these due to placement histories. My impression is that if you can't get into a top 4 ag econ program, it's generally better to go to the best traditional Econ program you're accepted to and then publish on those applied micro subjects that Ag Econ people generally do.

    Also thank you so much for your responses so far to the thread, you've definitely helped to soothe my nerves and to make the path forward a little bit more clear.

  6. #6
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    Re: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

    Tried replying this morning but hasn't shown up, in case that one died along the way --

    I'll definitely try the list strategy you suggested, it sounds like a good idea.

    Regarding RA jobs and postbaccs, like the AEASP, do you think that these would make a significant difference in my application strength or am I fine without them? I'd be perfectly happy with schools in the 20-40 range, my applications above that are just leaving open the possibility for getting insanely lucky. Any RA jobs I do would almost certainly be with a regional Federal Reserve.

    Lastly, I was also wondering what your thoughts are on Ag Econ programs. I think that my research interests fit them reasonably well, and my senior thesis is on transit/environmental econ topics. From what I've gathered reading other threads on this forum, there's a big dropoff in Ag Econ quality after Berkeley/Cornell/Maryland/MSU, especially in terms of placements. My biggest fear with going the Ag route is basically that I'd get a poor placement. Do you have any advice or insight into the whole Ag Econ side of PhD programs?

    Thank you for your replies to this thread, overall I feel a lot less nervous with this process and I think I've got a bit of a better perspective. I really appreciate your help!

  7. #7
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    Re: Low-GPA Profile Evaluation

    I suspect for schools in the 20-40 range, an RA position is less important. Getting a good A in your current math courses could also help. (I don't know enough about ag econ programs to comment.)

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