Please take time to read this, I appreciate any advice from any Ph.D. student or mentor, an advice from a neuroscience or health science field person is more useful to me.

I am an international student from India, pursuing my master's degree in Pharmacology at a US university (a private university not classified as a research university).

Hopefully, I will graduate in May 2018. I have a serious and never-ending interest in doing research in the neuroscience field. I planned to do Ph.D. in neuroscience and took care of all requirements.

My undergrad was in Pharmaceutical Sciences from India, I made an evaluation of my undergrad transcripts and converted into US GPA score by WES, and it is 3.23/4.0.

My maser's GPA as of now (3 semesters) is 3.64/4.0.

GRE: 151 Verbal, 153 Quant, 3.0 Analytical writing TOEFL: Reading - 27, Listening -29, speaking -20, writing -28 (Total - 104)

I don't have any published research papers yet.

I wrote a cohesive Statement of purpose explaining my research experience in my master's program and also my future research interests and mentioned the names of potential advisors that I searched in the respective university faculty websites.

Sent all documents before deadlines.

I applied to a total of 10 Universities, they are:

Univ of Alabama Birmingham - rejected
Univ of Texas Austin - awaiting decision
Rockefeller University -awaiting decision
Univ of Illinois Urbana Champaign - rejected
Univ of Iowa - Awaiting decision

Univ of Kansas - selected for an interview, but got rejected few days after the interview

Univ of Michigan - Awaiting decision
Icahn School of medicine - rejected
Univ of North Carolina - Awaiting decision
Yale University - rejected

So, I got rejected from 5 universities, out of which one university interviewed me but rejected later. Now, I am waiting for the decision from 5 more. I feel that my confidence levels are dropping already.

I am not worried about falling, I have failed many times at many things, and I am sure that I will apply next year or in two years to the same program.

But one thing I noticed was, many of the Universities that rejected me replied: "because of so many extraordinary applications, we could not give admission to an excellent application like your's".

I don't know whether this reply from them is generalized one or specific to me. But I don't know how to be the extraordinary applicant. One bad thing in my application that I am aware of is my GRE. If there are any experienced Ph.D. students here, please suggest me what to do.

Thank you

  • 5
    "Because of so many extraordinary applications, we could not give admission to an excellent application like your's": This sentence doesn't mean anything. They write it whenever they reject an application for any reason. Just ignore it. Jan 10, 2018 at 20:53
  • 1
    Sounds to me that you have the wrong background? Do the courses of your masters and their neuroscience masters overlap?
    – Mark
    Jan 10, 2018 at 20:57
  • As far as the GRE is concerned, my score went up quite a bit with practice. If you have not done so already, do every practice test you can get, and then retake. Jan 10, 2018 at 23:00
  • 1
    You don't mention anything about your reference letters. Are they as strong as they could possibly be? Also, you still have 5 places to hear back from, don't give up yet! Jan 10, 2018 at 23:35
  • @astronat I don't think it has anything to do with reference letters. It's GPA and GRE. Jan 11, 2018 at 4:11

2 Answers 2


You're being rejected because you're applying to top universities where the other candidates are better. You're getting beat out on both GPA and GRE.

All but two of the schools you listed are R1 universities. These are the top universities in the country and will be very hard to get into. You also have a medical school, Icahn, on the list, and that also will be hard to get into, simply because it's a medical school and all of them are always deluged with applicants. You only have one R2 university, Rockefeller, on the list.

For a top school, you pretty much have to expect that successful PhD candidates will likely have a 3.8 or better GPA and GRE scores that place them in the 80th percentile or better. Your 3.2 UG and 3.6 master's GPA is low and your GRE scores are very low.

Consider applying to some more R2 schools or even, possibly, some R3 schools.

  • 2
    Right. If you're getting rejected in early January, you're out of your league. Jan 11, 2018 at 2:49
  • Nicole, Thanks for such a straight review. I actually did a lot of research before selecting universities and I do know that they are R1 research universities and I deliberately applied to them.
    – MNK123
    Jan 11, 2018 at 23:28
  • After reviewing every university's research profile and also the professor's profiles in neuroscience. I selected Icahn because my graduate academic research project deals with a protein on which there is a serious research going on in Icahn. One thing I was disappointed about was I thought even if I don't get accepted, at least I would end up with an opinion on my profile but no university gave me a review. I prefer to get into an R1 research university, of course, I would like to increase my skills.
    – MNK123
    Jan 11, 2018 at 23:48
  • Now maybe I need to find what should I do to become a potential Ph.D. student. Maybe I will try to get a job and some experience and then do a master's again, but in neuroscience, and then apply with good GPA and GRE, this a very long path but, I don't wanna give up. Thanks again for the review.
    – MNK123
    Jan 11, 2018 at 23:48
  • 2
    You'll never get feedback on an application to a US graduate school. You can talk to the admissions chair to get a general impression, but you'll never get specific advice.
    – aeismail
    Jan 12, 2018 at 0:18

To add on to Nicole Hamilton's answer, what to do next (assuming you are rejected everywhere):

  1. Send in your applications earlier, to more schools (preferably include more that are not R1 universities).
  2. Develop a better understanding of neuroscience as a whole. Write to professors who work on things you're interested in, ask them what they're doing, ask them how to get into the field, ask them for papers to read. This will help you even if you don't eventually apply to the universities they're at.
  3. Take more courses at your current institution, with the aim to improve your transcript. Retake the GRE for the same reason.
  4. Work with a professor at your current institution on a research project. If you do well you'll not only get a good reference letter, you can quote that in your application.
  5. Get some real-life work experience, preferably in neuroscience or a field that provides transferable skills.

Of the five options above, #4 will probably improve your application the most (if you do well). #5 is the most drastic but also the one most likely to change your life. It'll give you fundamentally new experience and might actually cause you to decide that you don't actually want to do PhD study. However, it's hard to convince an employer to hire you if you're only going to stay for a year. If you take this option you might have to delay PhD studies for 2+ years.

Ultimately remember that getting rejected everywhere is not the end. You can improve your application and try again next year. Good luck!

  • Thank you Allure, I will try to improve my application.
    – MNK123
    Jan 11, 2018 at 23:56
  • Personally I believe the most direct (but maybe not easiest or feasible) way could be to publish a good paper.
    – lalala
    Feb 11, 2019 at 8:39

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