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I was reading the following article by Mathew Might. HOWTO: Get into grad school for science, engineering, math and computer science

I saw the following the paragraph

What doesn't matter

GPA? I don't care if it's 2.0 or 4.0. I won't even look at it. The school you went to? I'll judge you the same whether you went to Nowhere State U or a top-ten school. Transcripts? Never seen one. GREs? Irrelevant. Where you work/worked? Unless it's a research lab, it's not important. I don't think these items have much predictive capacity as to whether or not someone can complete a Ph.D.

Is Mathew Might telling the truth? For me it's very hard believe that GPA, GRE scores and undergraduate school don't matter. I used to think that they play an extremely important role in grad school admission.

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    I had found anonymous mathematician's answer to this question pretty helpful - and he makes a couple points with respect to grades. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/8040/… – user4383 Mar 5 '13 at 15:57
  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2897/… – dmckee Mar 5 '13 at 17:38
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    Is Mathew Might telling the truth? — That's an awfully provocative way to ask. Matt is describing his own beliefs and behavior; he's not claiming that nobody cares about GPAs or GREs. – JeffE Mar 7 '13 at 7:49
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    @JeffE while agreeing with you, probably the question has been badly worded, and the OP means do most of professors think this way? – Googlebot Mar 10 '13 at 10:45
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I am not doing my PhD in CS or maths but based on my experience, I believe it's a yes and a no, more specifically:

I don't think these items have much predictive capacity as to whether or not someone can complete a Ph.D.

... is an accurate assessment of the situation. Being a grad student is sort of waking up in a different world, what you have done previously isn't really indicative of what you are capable of doing during your PhD. Most PIs are aware of that...

GPA? I don't care if it's 2.0 or 4.0. I won't even look at it. The school you went to? I'll judge you the same whether you went to Nowhere State U or a top-ten school. Transcripts? Never seen one. GREs? Irrelevant.

Sadly, I don't think this is all that common. How a professor chooses a student varies a lot, and I don't think your GPA etc will be irrelevant to some profs. Especially not if you are in a number-driven, cold-heart-competitive place...

What's more common however is that your grades won't be the only criteria. They will most likely not be a deal-breaker. You will most likely get a chance to explain why you did good on some courses and worse on others. Primarily you will get a chance to explain what you like to do with your career.

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It is highly dependent on the program. Two programs that I applied to were polar opposites and demonstrate the variety in a very succinct way, I think.

School 1:

  • GPA south of 3.5? don't bother applying.
  • GRE quant scores south of 700(1)? don't bother applying.
  • Never published or fewer than 5 years professional experience? Seriously, why are you wasting our time.

School 2:

  • GPA north of 3.3 are preferred, GPA north of 3.5 will get preference, but we can work with you.
  • GRE scores should be submitted if you have them and they are still valid.
  • It is strongly recommended that you have relevant academic or industry experience

The only real difference between the program admissions is that school 1 accepted baccalaureates on a straight path to PhD and school 2 requires a recent masters degree in one of a few rather specific fields.

This was my experience but your mileage may vary. As I say, it's very dependent on the program.

(1) I don't claim to understand the new-fangled system, sorry.

  • were they both american schools? – user774025 Mar 5 '13 at 16:50
  • Yes. Both are schools in the Washington DC area and both programs are comp sci/info sec. One is a PhD program and the other a DSc. Which is why, I suspect, that the programs have such markedly different approach. If you're interested in more detail we can follow up off line. – grauwulf Mar 5 '13 at 16:52
  • I do not understand this : "GPA north of 3.3 are preferred, GPA north of 3.5 will get preference, but we can work with you." – avi Nov 5 '13 at 7:14
  • Or should it be : "GPA north of 3.3 are preferred, GPA south of 3.5 will get preference, but we can work with you." – avi Nov 5 '13 at 7:14
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    avi: I was speaking casually. It would have been better to say "The college prefers a GPA greater than 3.3, and GPAs better than 3.5 will get preference, however; there is not a strict minimum GPA." Does that help? – grauwulf Nov 5 '13 at 18:49
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This depends greatly on the field. I have been in graduate admissions committees in two different fields.

Field A: the subject GRE in this field is a joke. The committee doesn't look at it, and doesn't look much at the regular GRE's. It's all recommendation letters and grades in the relevant courses.

Field B: the subject GRE in this field is very difficult. The committee is very reluctant to take anybody who scored less than the 90th percentile on the GRE. (Of course, you have to have good grades and recommendation letters as well.)

  • I'm mainly interested in mathematics. – user774025 Mar 6 '13 at 20:55
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The more popular the school and program, the more likely it will use test scores and transcript grades as "screening tools" to weed out uncompetitive applications. However, there are probably reasonable thresholds that exist on both measures; exceed those, and your exact GPA and GRE scores probably won't be taken into much consideration.

Ultimately, though, GPA should play a much stronger role in GRE, if only in the sense that somebody who does outstandingly in the core classes but struggles in "general education" classes that don't pertain to the field will probably have an easier time than somebody who has a better overall GPA, but weaker grades in the major. GRE scores are only correlated with performance in coursework; I don't think it has much to do with actual aptitude for research (although it may have some correlation).

  • I absolutely agree with this. In my example above the first school is extremely competitive and the second is a teeny-tiny-local college. Good point about competition being a factor here. – grauwulf Mar 5 '13 at 18:43
  • GRE scores are only correlated with performance in coursework — ...if even that. – JeffE Mar 7 '13 at 7:31

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