I just read an incredibly disheartening post on reddit about Grad School admissions in the Biological sciences. The post basically makes it sound like I have no chance of getting into a good PhD program.

I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Degree in Biochemistry in 2012. While in school I worked as an undergraduate researcher for 3.5 years. Post graduation I've been working in Biotech Research for close to 3 years now.

I graduated Berkeley with somewhere in the range of a 3.2-3.3 GPA. The average GPA for my major at Cal is a 2.8 . Does the rigor of my undergraduate institution matter? Berkeley's grade deflation is pretty notorious but will that matter?

From what I read in the post it sounds like most schools won't even look at my application. I'm starting to wonder if its worth it for me to apply at all.

I've attached a link to the thread on reddit. Your honest opinions would be much appreciated.


  • I feel like this post you're flagging doesn't answer my question about how or if my undergraduate institution will play a role in my prospects.
    – Cole2790
    Apr 7, 2017 at 16:41
  • Depends on what program you're applying for. If you're going for a program at Harvard, then you're probably competing against loads of other candidates from Stanford, MIT, etc. who have 4.0s. If you're applying to a lower tier university, then you might have a better chance.
    – Michael
    Apr 7, 2017 at 16:55
  • I see what you mean. I have a ton of research experience and I have industry experience so I think I'm a unique candidate who has proven that my GPA is not reflective of my ability to succeed in research. I just don't know if my application will get weeded out based off of GPA before anyone gets a chance to see that.
    – Cole2790
    Apr 7, 2017 at 18:14
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    From the accepted answer to henning's linked question: When admissions committees consider the GPA they are considering a number of factors including the grades, the strength of the school and major (emph mine).
    – Kimball
    Apr 7, 2017 at 18:54
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    I honestly suspect the only true answer to your question is "no one can say for sure". If you apply and get rejected from everywhere, well then there you go, you've got your answer and you can continue on to Plan B. And if you get in, the probability is then 1 because you got in and it doesn't matter what your a priori odds were. I don't think anyone can say your chance is 0, so then effectively all that is left is: is it worth it to you to try to apply and see what happens? Apply broadly, to top R1 programs and those not so top (but that you'd still be honored to attend), and who knows!
    – BrianH
    Apr 7, 2017 at 22:05

1 Answer 1


It depends. Different schools, programs, and faculty have different ways of looking at applicants. Based on my limited experience, a 3.30 GPA from an R1 will likely count for more than a 3.30 from a less reputable institution. However, if you are applying to top-tier programs, you may be competing with students who have higher GPAs, also from R1s.

The reddit link that you posted is from one single professor at one institution. Without knowing the specific institution, program, and/or faculty member you are applying to, it is impossible to say what will be weighed, as there are not standardized admission formulas.

Some faculty are looking for students who match their research agenda and have research experience (i.e., they are proficient enough at research so they won't suck the faculty member's time). Others may prioritize GPA, and some might place more emphasis on quantitative GRE scores.

The link that you posted and the link from @henning both have good advice for tailoring applications to fit the department, institution, or faculty member.

If you are uncertain about applying, it might not hurt to contact a faculty member you are interested in working with to ask if they would consider your application. Even better, you could find a common contact/reference (maybe your undergrad advisor/professor/? knows someone in the Ph.D. department you want to apply to?) who can introduce you.

You might also want to check out college/graduate school/institution GPA policies to see what the minimum GPA for doctoral study is at your prospective institutions. If you have to maintain a 3.0 as a doc student, some faculty may question your ability to succeed at a more rigorous level.

To summarize: Ask the faculty member you are interested in working with what they consider when selecting doctoral applicants.

  • Thanks SB for you well thought out answer. Do you think I could get into an R1 institution at all? I know schools like MIT, Berkeley, and Harvard are a long shot for me but I would be equally happy at places like UW Madison, or University of Washington Seattle. Basically I know I want to go to graduate school the only thing that holds me back is fear that schools will look at me as a mediocre candidate due to my GPA and chuck my app in trash.
    – Cole2790
    Apr 7, 2017 at 18:02
  • No chance at MIT, berkeley, harvard, etc.
    – Rüdiger
    Apr 7, 2017 at 19:02
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    @Cole2790 I was a graduate student in a biological science at UW Madison. Your GPA would definitely be on the low side in my program and might bar you from consideration as an at-large candidate, though it isn't completely disqualifying. Note that at schools like UW, some specific programs are top 5 or top 3 and rank above those more famous names. A better path might be to take a research job in an academic lab (this will mean a big pay cut), letting your PI know that you are interested in grad school in the future.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 7, 2017 at 19:21
  • @Cole2790 I can't speak for Biology in particular, but I know people with lower GPAs who have been admitted to R1 PhD programs.
    – SB Ph.D.
    Apr 7, 2017 at 23:14
  • My husband had a shitty GPA and great letters. He applied to like 10 places for chemical/bio science/engineering and only got into the worst-ranked one and the best-ranked one. I think the explanation is that if you are an unusual candidate, you have to apply to a bunch of places and hope that at one you are the right kind of unusual!
    – Dawn
    Apr 8, 2017 at 2:53

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