I'm an undergrad at a top 20 school in Computer Science in the US. I'm applying to top 5 programs for PhD/Masters and have been told I'm top 1% of interns at FAANG companies, to establish background.

I currently have a 3.8, which although not amazing, is something I'm relatively proud of. This semester, I had a grandparent and a friend pass away due to COVID and thus have had a very hard time with school. I've gotten 2 Cs this semester (my first 2 ever) and I'm not sure how to deal with this. It will probably drop me to a 3.7, which is beyond some cutoffs and drastically lowers my percentile rank

Given this is Academia SE, I'll focus more on the academic concerns - is there any way to add an addendum to the grad school application explaining this? Is there any value in doing this or is it more along the lines of "everyone has issues, deal with it"? I'm also concerned about showing a bad GPA on my resume - is there any way to get the two courses marked as pass/fail or something along those lines that I should ask the school about?

  • 1
    Likely duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/q/180292/75368, and probably several others.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 12:59
  • As a side note, such a narrow range of applications is likely to bring sorrow, not joy.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 13:00
  • @Buffy - I understand, but my main research advisor is very against having many applications (something that we disagree on), so my application to lower tier schools would be significantly worse to the point where I'm not sure I'd want to go to those schools
    – ecy
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 13:09
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    You are the one at risk, not the advisor. Good luck. There are lots of great schools in the top 50 in the US. More elsewhere. You are probably going to one of them.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 13:26
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    I don't think the GPA is much of an issue anywhere as I said in answering the linked question. But if you are rejected by one of a small range of schools (for whatever reason) you can face the same fate at other very similar schools. And the total number of slots is also fairly small.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 14:07

1 Answer 1


The top 5 CS programs in the US could fill every slot in their PhD programs with only those applicants with perfect 4.0 GPAs. This is especially true of the competition in hot areas like machine learning. They don't admit only 4.0 students because that's not all that matters.

But if you're in the 3.7 range, you're going to need some exceptional LORs, some publications, something to make your application stand out against all those 4.0 people. If you don't have enough to persuade one of them to admit you, you may not have enough to persuade any of them.

You might consider pleading your case about the impact of covid in your personal statement but I'm not convinced that will be helpful. I think most faculty are already aware of how covid has impacted students' lives and that "senioritis" is a real thing that happens even to good students. And most people aren't that interested in reading excuses. I think your transcript is what it is.

A better plan would be to sprinkle your applications across a wider set of schools. There are 137 R1 universities in the US. Someone will take you. And it could be one of the top 5. But that's not the way to bet.

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