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I'm undergraduate civil engineering, and I'm planning for master degree. My GPA is 3.7, and I didn't do GRE yet. However, I have strong research interest and I have some publications. Do you believe that I can be enrolled in high ranked universities such as MIT, Berkeley, Stanford?

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    At Illinois, you would need at least a 7.5/4.0 GPA, fourteen journal articles, six patents, and membership in the National Academy of Engineering to even be considered for admission. But I hear standards at MIT are a bit lower; you should be fine. – JeffE Apr 29 '15 at 2:13
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Your GPA is sufficiently high that it will not prevent you from applying or being accepted to pretty well any US university - but once your GPA is above a 3.5 it tends to just be marked as "good enough". A research group that would base a decision solely on a GPA of 3.7 vs 3.9 vs 4.0 would have a disturbingly irrational fetish for GPA that it would be a mark against the research group more than it would be against you!

It appears this sentiment is shared by Dr Mor Harchol-Balter of Carnegie Mellon University, where she writes (my emphasis added):

3.1 Transcript – grades and classes

When applying to a Ph.D. program in CS, you’d like your grades in CS and Math and Engineering classes to be about 3.5 out of 4.0, as a rough guideline. It does not help you, in my opinion, to be closer to 4.0 as opposed to 3.5. It’s a much better idea to spend your time on research than on optimizing your GPA. At CMU the mean GPA of students admitted is over 3.8 (even though we don’t use grades as a criterion), however students have also been admitted with GPAs below 3.3, since research is what matters, not grades. A GPA of 4.0 alone with no research experience will not get you into any top CS program. Keep in mind that GPAs are evaluated in the context of the undergraduate program. A 3.4 GPA from a topranked CS undergraduate program like CMU counts the same as a 3.8 or 3.9 GPA from a less well-known CS undergraduate program.

As @Potato notes, this strong preference away from GPA and towards research may only apply to some fields where undergraduates are capable of participating in research. This may also not be true of Universities without such a very strong focus on performing research. In short: YMMV.

At the graduate level there are multiple factors considered, discussed in various and tremendous depth throughout other topics on this site (and highly recommended to be searched through!). But with that said, your GPA is more than high enough that you may now safely worry about all the other criteria that will be considered: reference letters, statement of purpose, any existing relationships directly or indirectly with professors at the institution, experience in research (or that shows potential for research), GRE score being "high enough" (just like your GPA!), TOEFL for international applicants (again, "good enough") etc.

  • Thanks for your motivating. Because some professors in my university defeat me to apply for MIT, Berkley, and Stanford. – Mohamad Na Apr 29 '15 at 2:44
  • @MohamadNajib I would only add that you should not ONLY apply to colleges who are well known for taking only a tiny % of candidates - a 2-10% chance of admittance is not 0%, but it sure isn't a guarantee either! But if you don't apply then certainly your chance is 0%. Just don't think that the US only has 3 great Universities - it's a very big place! – BrianH Apr 29 '15 at 3:58
  • Do you have any data on this? Your assertion that every GPA above 3.5 is equivalent seems inaccurate to me. Most people know I who attend elite STEM PhD programs had near-perfect GPAs as undergraduates. – Potato Apr 29 '15 at 4:25
  • I mean, it seems obvious to me that having a 3.5 is worse for your admissions chances than having a 4.0. The real question is, how much worse? – Potato Apr 29 '15 at 4:26
  • @Potato I'm not asserting that all high GPAs are equivalent - just that there is an extremely strong diminishing return at work. There are many reasons - GPAs aren't fully comparable across institutions or even programs, course difficulty varies, semester load/work, etc - and I'm not aware of any graduate program that sorts by GPA or has GPA as a tie-breaker. I've heard lots of statements that say it isn't, though - from every program that has anything to say on the topic. From another angle: it's hard to imagine a case of "Oh, we would admit this candidate...if only that had an extra 0.2 GPA" – BrianH Apr 29 '15 at 15:18

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