First time here, so forgive me if this isn't the right place for a question like this. It's a big long -- I think certain details matter.
I'm applying to masters programs in higher education -- I want to work in academic affairs and advising and also learn about higher ed affairs and research.
Okay. I have a liberal arts degree from what I would say is a very respected university -- GPA 3.87/4.00. Letters of reference will good but not stunning -- it's been a while since I was a student. Unfortunately no direct experience or research in higher education or student affairs, but I've worked in K-12 education since graduating, and I've volunteer-mentored some students through the college admissions process. I'm quite confident in my GRE scores (taking in a couple weeks) for the programs that want them. And I'm a good writer -- I think I'll be able to articulate my story and professional and academic interests very well.
But -- I think I have a big problem. After graduating college, I went to work as a K-12 teacher, in a program that also enrolled me for a master's degree in teaching. I was young and immature, and while I did a good job as a first year teacher, I wasn't as interested in the masters coursework and decided that classroom teaching wasn't for me. After a summer and a fall semester of getting all A's, I decided that I would leave the program after the spring, a year before getting the degree. And... I decided that it didn't make sense to finish the master's courses that spring. So I withdrew from the program, and my spring semester ended with two big fat "F's". As I said, very immature and naive of me.
Now, applications for the higher education programs I'm applying to now ask for transcripts for ALL classes taken before, undergraduate and graduate. I'm worried about how much damage the transcript showing those two "F's" is going to be. I thought for a second about not submitting them, but concluded it was risky, and frankly dishonest. I have to own it. I can talk about it in my personal statement about how the uncertainty of my life post-college caused me to make mistakes. And the rest of my academic record is very good (even counting the failed courses, my GPA for the graduate courses overall was 3.26/4.00 -- not great but not terrible). But I'm worried that admissions committees are going to see those failures and immediately discount me, or say "This person wants to work at a college and be an academic counselor?" I'm not proud of the way that experience shook out, but I've gotten older and more mature since then, and that experience is actually part of the reason that I want to go this route. I guess I have to own my failures.
But does anyone have insights on how much this is going to affect my viability as a candidate for masters programs? Am I screwed for the higher end programs like Penn or Vanderbilt? What can I do or say that would minimize the negative impact this can have on my candidacy?