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I have a very low undergraduate GPA. I used to play a sport at the state level and thought I could cope up but didn't. Failed in multiple papers, completed a 3-year degree in 5 years. In the end, I had a 2.0 GPA (On the 4.0 scale). However, I got admission at one of the top universities in my country for my master's because the bachelor's GPA wasn't a prerequisite, and having a degree was enough plus I had to give an entrance exam as well as sit for an interview. I got a full 4.0/4.0 GPA in my master's and now am a research intern at one of the top institutes in my country, and have a publication to my name. I also was a research intern in the Research and Development laboratories of 2 companies during the summer and winter. I will be applying this fall to universities abroad, and I wanted to know how much my chances of getting in will be affected before spending money on GRE and university applications.

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    I recently checked related rules of my graduate alma mater (there was a similar question to yours here a little while back) which is highly ranked on the West Coast. There, and as to GPA, they will only look at your bachelor’s gpa, not your masters at all. So this could spell trouble, but of course your other credentials might help. Other schools might have different procedures; it might also depend on your field. Aug 14 '21 at 15:29
  • @gnometorule is it a good idea to contact a professor in the department I will be applying to before I fill out the application if that's the case? Aug 14 '21 at 15:41
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    For this specific question (will my bachelor’s gpa be looked at?), no. You will find this when going over instructions how to apply online - unfortunately on a university by university basis. To talk to a professor you would love to work with generally, and if the conversation goes well describe your issue, maybe. If you google around a little, you’ll find many questions on students intending to apply to graduate school contacting professors (should I? How? When? What (not) to do?) on this site too. GL! Aug 14 '21 at 15:47
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    If you contact a faculty member, I suggest you contact the Department Head or the Chair of the Admissions Committee. They might give you advice on how they value your degrees and grades. They cannot give you a concrete answer unless you apply for admission. There is no point in talking to other faculty members; they will properly refer you to either the Department Head or the Admissions director. Aug 23 '21 at 16:06
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This varies by country and even by university, but in general, most people will give your recent work more weight in a decision than earlier work. People grow and change and it is usually recognized.

But ultimately, the only way to know for sure is to apply. GRE might help in some places. But a few applications will give you solid information. A wild guess (not a prediction) is that you will be ok.

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In the US, M.S. degree grades are expected to be high, since masters programs tend to give relatively high grades because people are paying so much to be there. Undergraduate grades are considered more meaningful because not everyone does well.

Your undergraduate GPA is going to hurt you, especially at big programs that get a lot of applicants. I worked at a lab at well-known Massachusetts university a few years back, and I helped screen graduate applications for one of the engineering programs. They got so many applications that they would essentially throw out anyone below a relatively high GPA cutoff, so with a 2.0 GPA in that program you would not even be looked at. That is an extreme case because everyone in engineering applied to that particular school and they couldn't go through it all. In other places, there are fewer applicants and people have time to more carefully review applicants, in which case having a publication and a lot of additional training looks very good. There are plenty of less famous programs in the US that get fewer applicants and would more holistically evaluate someone with good recommendations, research experience and a publication.

I would put together a list of a few programs you're interested in that are not MIT/Harvard/Stanford/etc. Look for ones with research you would be interested in. Reach out to a few professors you would want to work with, briefly state that you've published and are interested in applying to their program, and you want to know if you'd have a chance. 'I've published in X, I'm interested in Y, I have a M.S degree in Z but I did poorly in undergrad for personal reasons. Am I wasting both of our time applying here'. If you're not spamming everyone but actually emailing people interested in what you do you'll probably get a few answers. It is in their interest to answer since if you're not qualified and you apply they have to read through what you send in anyway. See what they say and reevaluate.

GRE has become dramatically less popular in the US, especially in sciences/engineering/math where everyone does well in math. Depending on your field, you may not even need it at a lot of schools. Double check that before you take it.

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  • Thank you for the tips. I would be applying to Europe as well not only the US. Also, my field of study is statistics. As far as I know, there are several universities that are offering PhDs in Data Science, Biostatistics, and related fields. Maybe I could apply to those departments which are a bit less popular. Also, I am pretty sure with my grades I won't be getting into a top 15 uni so I am at this moment focused on whether I am wasting my time applying or should I focus on looking for a job. Do you think emailing a professor before applying changes an applicant's chance of getting in? Aug 15 '21 at 5:01
  • @NilanjanDebnath I can't specifically give you advice for statistics, but in a lot of fields I don't think you would be wasting your time, but you do have to find the right places to apply. It is unlikely emailing will change your chances of getting admitted, but maybe you can get feedback before you apply. I think different places and also to jobs makes a lot of sense. You never know where you'll get a good offer that makes this moot. Aug 15 '21 at 14:58
  • I disagree with the first paragraph. Students don't "pay professors" for their education. There is no incentive for a professor to give a good grade for poor work. It is insulting to suggest it. There is, of course, a filtering process so that more capable students, on average, are likely to be seen in a masters. I think the standards are the same, but the audience is different. Such a practice would also reflect very poorly on the reputation of a university. And reputation is what they most want to protect.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15 '21 at 16:32
  • @Buffy Maybe other countries work differently, but in the US system, students absolute do pay to be in a masters program, usually tens of thousands of dollars per year. Furthermore, in many programs getting a C grade is grounds for probation or even expulsion from the program. This is a severe step for the student, and it costs the program a lot forfeited tuition. As a result, everyone has a strong incentive to compress grades into the A-B range, and so lower grades rarely given. Conversely, at the undergraduate level, C grades are more widely given (I definitely had some in college). Aug 15 '21 at 17:26
  • Yes, they normally pay to be in a masters only program. But they don't pay the professors directly. Most professors are probably completely unaware of the financial contribution of any student. Professors do the grading and set the standards. It isn't a "pay to play" system at all. And yes, I'm in the US and have taught in such programs. If you got a B from me, you earned it. No freebies. Why would I want to demean myself? Again, it is the audience that is different, not the standards.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15 '21 at 17:31

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