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I am starting to contact potential supervisors to do a PhD and I am wondering whether (and how) I should include my grades while contacting them. I am in the UK so there is no GPA standard (there is a GPA but it differs substantially between universities and can be very confusing). So far I have thought of including one of the following:

  • "Expecting a first class honours degree"
  • "... with an average of A"
  • "in the top 5% of my class"

The first two are probably more common but they only place me in the top 20%, I am in the top 5% however, but I feel a bit pretentious to say the third - or is it okay to do so? Is there a more suitable way of including this information?

I am including all my advanced (3rd and 4th year) courses in my CV (and not sending transcripts etc as I feel it would be spamming their inboxes to send loads of documents upon first contact) is that also okay?

By the way, the potential supervisors I am contacting are all over the world and therefore would be impossible to arrange meetings, otherwise I would have done so instead of relying on emails, but in this case, emails are the essential way of communicating with them which is why I am sort of being an overly perfectionist.

Thanks very much,

(An active A.SE member that chose to write this one anonymously.)

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I'm a little confused -- you're contacting faculty when you have not yet applied to or been accepted into the program? What is your purpose in contacting them? In my experience, at the very beginning stage before you apply, you might contact a faculty member to talk about their interests and what you'd like to work on, to see if you'd be a good fit, what the research possibilities might be, and so on. Including all your background information at this point would be inappropriate, in my opinion.

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In your email, I imagine you will be including a succinct overall description of yourself. This would be a good place to include the information that you have strong grades. If you get a nibble, you could then include some specifics, or better yet, an informal transcript as an attachment.

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In my experience (computer science, top 10 US institution), there are some faculty members who just don't care about grades. I'm in that camp. I never even look at the transcript when evaluating applicants. Then there are others for whom grades are a filter. For example, if you want to go into graphics but got "only" an A- in an applied math class, I know some people who would never even consider you. However, either way, nobody is going to get excited that you are in the top 5% of your class. We probably get 100 applicants a year who are in the top 5% of their class.

So actually my first advice (and again, this depends on the field, area, and school you are applying to) would be not to contact potential supervisors at all. That's because in the US, Ph.D. admissions are department-wide. It probably does make sense to contact supervisors at places with per-faculty or per-group admissions. Where you do contact people, if you get them interested in you, they might just presume for the sake of the email exchange that you have reasonable grades. So maybe find a way to convey this information for people who want it but in a way that doesn't dilute whatever more interesting hook you use to get people interested (like have it on a resume that is accessible from your home page).

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