Reapplying to Grad School

Archived Q&A and Reviews

September 2003

I applied to graduate school at Berkeley last year and was not accepted. Now I am planning my reapplication, and I am looking for some advice from current and former grad students, faculty and staff about what kinds of things make for a good application. I am applying to a social sciences department, have good GRE scores (98th percent for everything but quantitative,) and have had a member of the faculty review my statement of purpose. I have also sat in on classes and am starting to get to know a few faculty members. I graduated with a 3.5 GPA, but from a state school, not an Ivy League, and my undergrad was in Liberal Studies. What can I do to make myself a more viable candidate? What is most important for these applications? I know that Berkeley is so competitive, but I also feel it is the most appropriate place for me to work on my research. Thanks in advance! hopeful applicant

Begin by talking to faculty on the admissions committee. They may have very specific concerns about your application. When I talked to the admissions committee (while my application was under consideration), I learned that they were mis-reading my transcript, and was able to clear up a misperception and get admitted. Depending on the information you get, you may decide to take another course or two, better prepare for the relevant portion of the GRE, or do whatever else is suggested might make you more attractive as an applicant. Remember, too, that grad programs at Berkeley get more good applicants than they have room for, so there is some randomness in the selection process even for those who are ''good enough.'' Simply letting the committee know that Berkeley is your top choice (and giving persuasive reasons why), may be enough to sway them next time. In short, don't ask us, ask them! If that fails, do investigate and consider other institutions. There are other excellent programs, and you may be surprised to discover that another one better suits you. Perhaps you should post your field of interest and other criteria so that we could suggest good alternatives that you may not have considered.

Anon, because I nagged my way in!

It sounds like you are doing everything right. It should not matter where you did your undergrad, as long as you did well and you have good recommendations from your teachers there. If you suspect your recommendations are luke-warm, it might be helpful to get recommendations from work supervisors or others who will be more complementary. Have you done any paid work that relates to your intended major? Make sure to work that information into your personal statement. If you meet faculty in the department of your interest, be sure to ask them their research interests. Many times, qualified applicants are denied because none of the faculty in the department have similar research interests and if they can't use your research assistance while you are a student, it's not worth their while to have you there (though they may not tell you this straight out). Feel free to contact me via email if you want any other unsolicited advice.


Hi, My advice is: get to know a faculty member. That person, who might be your advisor, will also act as a sponsor and patron during the application process. If you are still rejected then you were probably not a good personal fit for the faculty. It's often a very individual sort of draft at the admissions meetings -- ''I want her to work with me'' and so forth. This is especially true in the humanities and social sciences where fields are specialized and you would be ''indentured'' to a particular professor.

Good luck, A Berkeley Prof.

I also applied once to a UC Graduate program and was not accepted. I then followed advice to take a class in the department through UC Extension's Concurrent Enrollment Program (for credit, applied toward graduate requirements once admitted). I chose a small size class where I would get the opportunity for the professor to become well acquainted with my work. I then asked this professor to write me a recommendation. I reapplied and was accepted. You can take most regular university classes through concurrent enrollment if the instructor approves it. Good luck

Try try again

I know only what makes for a successful application in the department I have worked in. Although good GRE scores and college grades are important (more as a screening tool than anything else), they are by no means the determining factor. The two things that seem to count the most are the focus and specificity of your statement of purpose (does it seem like this person knows what she wants well enough that she will finish grad school in a reasonable length of time), and the match between your research interests and those of at least one tenured faculty member in the program. Talking to faculty in your program of interest would probably be the most helpful step you could take right now.
It may be too late for you to use this advice for Fall 04, but here's what I did: I enrolled in three classes in the department I wanted to get into through UC Extension. This is better than auditing, because you actually do the work and get a grade. I sat in the front, asked lots of questions, went to office hours, and worked my a$$ off. I made sure the professors knew who I was and how much I wanted to do graduate work in their department. I then asked the two professors of the classes I did best in for letters of recommendation. If you can establish a relationship with one particular faculty member -- the one in your field of interest who you will most likely be working closely with, that will help. You need someone with influence in the department to say ''I want this student.''

anonymous this time

Having done graduate admissions at a Berkeley social science dept., a few things come to my mind. First, if you have the time, try to take some courses with some of the dept. faculty through the Extension program -- and be impressive in those courses. The profs. may well be willing to serve as reccommenders, and their views will of course be taken very seriously. (I wouldn't bother with work references -- in my experience, those are rarely paid attention to.)

Second, you should try to talk with the faculty in your field, and prepare well in advance, ideally with a firm idea of what sort of work in particular you'd like to do.

Third, keep in mind that Berkeley grad school is very, very competitive, with 3.9 GPA students from hard programs being turned down all the time. Your application as you describe it sounds plausible but far from a sure thing (a lot would depend on how well ''Liberal Studies'' courses mesh with the grad program). So you should think about applying elsewhere as well, either to MA programs from which you might be able to jump to Berkeley if you do well, or -- better -- full doctoral programs at good schools not quite as competitive as Berkeley.

Berkeley professor