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Application Assessment
Name: Li Min Objective: apply for the PHD. 1) Chinese government will support the living expense, while the student needs to get tuition waived. 2) Or apply for the PHD with full scholarship.
Expected Country: USA
1. How likely can the applicant get tuition waived and why?

The likelihood of getting tuition waived at a university in the USA is good, provided the student gains acceptance by that university; however there are caveats.


Most US universities offer tuition waivers for graduate students working in the broad area of plant molecular biology. This is typically given as part of a "package" where the student provides a service of research or teaching to the advisor/department. Such packages also usually come with some funding for living expenses (usually equivalent to working 20 hours/wk at a reasonable hourly income). These are typically called "teaching assistantships" or "research assistantships," depending on the duties.


I am not aware of any US programs which have tuition waivers that are not contingent upon providing service to the advisor/university, but a student who only needs a tuition waiver and not additional funding will probably be able to make a persuasive case for being granted only the waiver in exchange for some amount of service less than a usual assistantship.


2. How likely can the applicant get full scholarship and why?

The likelihood of getting a full scholarship at a university in the USA is fair to poor.


"Full graduate scholarships," as opposed to graduate assistantships, are relatively rare and highly competitive in the US. University-wide scholarships are available, but typically fewer than five are given out in a year. Departmental scholarships may also be available, but again, there is a lot of variation as to which departments offer such funds and typically fewer than five are available in a year.


Based on the applicant's current GPA and very limited CV, the likelihood of her being a strong candidate for such scholarships is relatively low.


3. What levels of schools can the applicant enter with tuition waived and why?

With additional development of the CV and a carefully-written research statement focused on specific research interests, the applicant would likely be accepted to PhD programs at middle-tier, regional and national universities.


The applicant clearly has experience with research and publishing of scientific work related to plants, a GPA above 3.5, and sufficiently high TOEFL & GRE scores to be accepted for graduate study at a US university.


The brevity of the CV and the formatting and language errors within it call into question whether the applicant would be able to carry out productive work at a high-tier US university. I think that the CV does not currently reflect the applicant's full language skills, though, so development of the CV will be important.


The applicant's experience is somewhat limited, which limits the type of school to which the applicant is likely to be admitted. For example, an American student with the equivalent CV would not be accepted at a top-tier graduate school, such as Harvard or Yale, and would find it difficult to gain entry to well-known, competitive departments at high-tier universities (e.g., the Department of Genetics at the University of Georgia). However, even within high tier universities, some departments are more competitive than others (e.g., the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Georgia may be within reach).


Research assistantships are a more likely option for non-native speakers of English in the US, but they are often highly contingent on the choice of advisor since such assistantships often come directly from the advisor's research funding. This might be less important if only the tuition waiver is needed.


4. What levels of schools can the applicant enter with full scholarship and why?

With additional research experience, development of the CV, and a carefully-written research statement focused on specific research interests, the applicant would likely be able to gain acceptance with a department-level scholarship to PhD programs at lower-tier, regional US universities.


Full graduate scholarships are rare and highly competitive at US universities. The applicant would likely have to intentionally choose a lower-quality graduate program in order to achieve funding of this type. For this reason, it is not recommended.


5. What's your advice for the applicant to achieve better application results?

Develop a more thorough CV to fully reflect your achievements. Some PhD applicants have several years of work experience already, so to be competitive the evidence of your ability to do research and balance a busy schedule must be clear.


Most PhD programs will require a personal statement to help determine your motivation for studying for the PhD, English language skill, and help identify faculty who may be a good fit for you. Crafting a draft personal statement would help you prepare for that part of the application, and it will also help you refine your thinking about why you want to study for the PhD.


Develop a clear idea of the specific kind of research you would like to do. It is often much easier to be funded as a PhD student if you know the specific research area, and even topic, that you want to study and contact a particular faculty member to work with. This is especially true if that faculty member is actively searching for students, since this means they have funding available.


Alternatively, if you prefer a specific geographic location, identifying universities and departments within that location can help narrow down the numerous options. All universities and most departments will provide statements on their websites about funding for graduate study, which can help you determine whether the graduate assistantship option could be available to you.


Scientific societies are usually an excellent place to find current "job openings" for M.S. and Ph.D. students. Networking is another good option.


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