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I am about to apply for a Master program in U.S. as I am about to graduate in Bachelor of Engineering. Though I heard that all my grades during all my academic life is taken into consideration (GPA). Here in Brazil is very common to have a huge gap between universities both in teaching level and avaliation process. So, holding a degree from a weak college may be much easier and thus helping you to get a higher GPA while a well-known college will be much more difficult and probably your grades will be lower. Even though you have a degree from the very best college and you do have a good knowledge of most subjects, the GPA from the person who came from the weak college may be higher.

This also extends to the outside world (comparison between GPA's from different countries). So, how is it really done in practice? Do I still hold a reasonable chance of getting into a nice college with not a so high GPA?

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We have the same phenomenon in America, of course. All other things being equal, a 3.5 GPA from Princeton is much more impressive than a 4.0 from some random state university. The whole idea of GRE scores is to provide a metric that isn't confounded by the difficulty of different programs at different colleges in these ways. An additional difficulty you face is that your American evaluators won't know how good or bad your university is. This makes your GRE score doubly important.

  • I believe you do, but as you said, as an american you can tell which universities are better or impressive. But if I come from Brazil, they will simply look at the other requirements like Toefl, GRE and etc or they try to know if my college is well known or not? Will my GPA have any importance? – FELIPE_RIBAS May 2 '14 at 17:39
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    The people who are looking at your application are professionals at what they do, and you won't be the first applicant from Brazil. So they have most likely at least heard of your institute, regardless of its level of prestige. Many of the most prestigious schools around the world are very well known and well respected in American universities. – Jonathan Landrum May 2 '14 at 17:49
  • It's really hard to estimate how your program might weight it. My guess is that it'll have less weight in your circumstance just because they won't know what weight to give it. That's what I was saying above. – shane May 2 '14 at 17:49
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    The phenomenon of grade inflation complicates your comparison considerably. – Nate Eldredge May 2 '14 at 19:10
  • My sense was that Princeton had suffered far less grade inflation than most of its Ivy League cousins. nytimes.com/2010/01/31/education/31princeton.html?_r=0 – shane May 2 '14 at 19:31
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You can add a note in your statement or supplemental materials that "At my university, ____, the mean GPA was 3.5 with an sd of _ and in my department, the mean was xyz with an sd of __" so that it's clear that you are two sigmas above average, etc.

That assumes that you are above average. You should be able to get this info from the university registrar or office of institutional research.

But you should know that GPAs as a whole are deprecated in the application process. Individual grades (how well did you do in computer science, for example), some test scores in some disciplines, and your statement is much more important. As well as your letters of recommendation.

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    If your university is not well known, being "above average" at your university does not carry much meaning either. – ff524 May 4 '14 at 20:11
  • It at least gives some context as to where you are in terms of your peer pool. You can also add a note in your file that "University of ____ is ranked 3rd in my country according to the survey of universities conducted by so and so organization." But I wouldn't worry too much about this. If we're seriously looking at you, we'll contact you and try to evaluate you via criteria non-dependent on your institution -- by telephone interview for example. – RoboKaren May 5 '14 at 15:46
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    In my (US, research university, engineering) department, we don't do phone interviews for any MS students (the volume of applications is just too high). I guess YMMV depending on the department. – ff524 May 5 '14 at 15:49
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In general 3.4 or 3.5+ is considered a good GPA, and you won't need to explain why it isn't higher to any reasonable admissions board no matter where you graduated from. Well know schools want a diverse grad student body, and will look to pull students from prestigious schools as well as smaller state schools and international schools.

No matter the GPA, I would apply a prestigious "dream" program or two and see what happens. This is especially true if you can line up excellent recommendations. While it might be a longer shot, $50 application fee isn't much, and you will not be left playing "what-if" with yourself.

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