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Hi all - I'm an electrical engineering graduate from the Class of 2017, and will be applying to grad schools this cycle for the Fall of 2019 (M.S. program in the same discipline). Unfortunately, I'm one of those people looking to get in somewhere with a bad GPA - specifically, a sub-3.0 GPA.

It's literally right around the 3.0 cutoff (2.95), but my major GPA is lower than that; it's a B- average. I took a look at my transcript, and there really isn't anything good that I can take to shed any kind of positive light on either one of my GPAs. There is no significant upward trend at any point, and I didn't have any "special circumstances" that severely limited my ability to study and get good grades. The only upward trend that I've got is a jump from around a 2.86 my freshman year to a 3.05 during my sophomore year, but a measly jump like that during my underclassman years is insignificant. My academic marks as an undergraduate were pretty much always stagnant, and remained around a 3.0 until the very last moment.

My reasons for the poor marks? I was involved, yes, but nothing crazy by normal standards. What really killed me, though, was my personality. I wasn't lazy, and I wasn't a party-goer. I was just afraid to ask questions, even when I didn't understand something. When I first stepped foot on campus, I had absolutely no background in the STEM fields aside from mandatory coursework at the high school level. In my first engineering class, I was taken aback by how much everybody else already knew about the discipline. Lecture material went right over my head, and I could not find any openings to jump into during discussions. I felt dumb as heck, but I tried to shoulder the burden on my own, tying myself to online resources and other methods that I could try from the comfort of my own laptop. Looking back, what I was afraid of wasn't really looking dumb in front of my professors; it was looking dumb in front of my peers, the guys and girls with whom I would be friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for at least the next four years.

If you take out the disappointing academic performance, however, I do think that I can remain fairly competitive with a lot of other applicants out there. I went to a fairly well-regarded university ranked in the top 25. Among other things, I was involved in a design team, did a big-time internship at a big-time company, served as president of a professional organization, and am fortunate enough to be working as an electrical engineer post-graduation doing stuff that pretty much have everything to do with the line of study I would like to pursue in graduate school. But - graduate school is all about business, and you're not there to mess around. GPA still matters a lot, and I realize that.

Here's my question to you all - I've read a lot of posts on people who have had bad uGPAs, but have had legitimate reasons for the bad marks - be it depression, family problems, or health problems. I've got none of that - I was just too afraid of looking dumb, and, in a way - too prideful to admit my deficiencies early on by asking for help. If there's one thing that I do have to say to that, it's that I really feel like I've improved on this attitude after starting to work as a full-time engineer. In school, I could remain in my little shell, but nobody would bat an eye - I could save my "embarrassment" at the expense of my GPA, but it was all private to me. At work, trying to act like I knew how to do things when I really didn't can lead to a bad product, strained relationships with clients, a bad reputation, and getting the axe - the list is endless. Performance has everything to do with job security. I swallowed my pride and approached work with humility, asking questions as often as I could, no matter how dumb - looking back now, one full year later, I can say that I really have learned a lot not just about my discipline, but about communication, as well. Can addressing something like this in my SOP help me come off as a more mature and prepared candidate for admission, or is that 2.95 on my transcript - especially since I have nobody to blame but me - going to keep admission committees skeptical about my potential and seriousness? In general, if you've got nobody to blame for bad marks but yourself, what's the best way to approach that issue in your writing? If there's one thing that I am absolutely confident about, it's my writing skills - I just don't want to get off on the wrong foot and jeopardize my chances.

I have my range of schools that I am shooting for, but to put things into perspective - the schools that are higher on that list (i.e. my dream schools) are places like Texas (Austin), UCLA, and UCSD. I realize that some of these places have explicit GPA cutoffs of 3.0, and the average GPAs of admitted students is way up above the clouds, but f**k it, I'm going to shoot my shot anyway.

Thanks!

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It sounds to me like you're talking about social or performance anxiety, not just a personality quirk. I thiiiiink you could write an interesting SOP about it if you talk mostly about your professional experiences-- absolutely do not let any reader come away with "this person was a mediocre student in undergrad" as a conclusion. If you take this route-- which is risky and I'm not sure I'd recommend it over a narrative the is wholly positive-- the conclusion should be "this person is an expert communicator with the best interests of the client/product/whatever at heart, and it took a commitment to personal and professional development to become this way"

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I think that's the route to take. To explain how being afraid held you back and show how you've grown out of it and can handle grad school by giving examples.

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6 hours ago, loffire said:

To explain how being afraid held you back

Put your previous experience in a positive light, which will reflect your personality as well.  It's important to show how you've maintained the optimism and drive throughout the experience. 

Happy to help with more feedback!

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