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A BA, a Better MA, and a Gap


Go Weast Young Man
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Looking to next year's application cycle there are two areas I'm not entirely sure how to deal with in my application on which I'd appreciate some input if anyone else has dealt with similar issues before. 

1 - My undergrad performance wasn't very good. Not absolutely catastrophic but a B+ average definitely isn't what phd programs are looking for. There's not a sympathetic reason I didn't do well and I didn't particularly overperform in history courses. My work habits were just bad and they got much better in the years afterwards when I had a job. I did much much better in my MA a few years later (both in terms of GPA, research, and building relationships with professors) and put in a lot of prep work in the years in between (mostly reading 200+ books in my field). I know there's not really anything to be done about it now but (1) how much damage should I expect that bad undergrad performance to do to my application in light of more successful graduate work later? and (2) is it generally better to let that later performance speak for itself or to acknowledge the bad undergrad and talk about what I did to improve?

2 - I had several years out of school between undergrad and my MA and will have a couple between my MA and hopeful phd. How much do programs care about your work experience in that time if it's not hyper relevant? I've had some university TAing positions, did some community college teaching, and have had a couple brief contract research projects, but have mostly worked law jobs because I've gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle (being able to pay my student loans). Is the teaching\research work worth highlighting at all or should I just stick it on the cv and focus on my academic work? 

Thanks in advance!

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42 minutes ago, Go Weast Young Man said:

Looking to next year's application cycle there are two areas I'm not entirely sure how to deal with in my application on which I'd appreciate some input if anyone else has dealt with similar issues before. 

1 - My undergrad performance wasn't very good. Not absolutely catastrophic but a B+ average definitely isn't what phd programs are looking for. There's not a sympathetic reason I didn't do well and I didn't particularly overperform in history courses. My work habits were just bad and they got much better in the years afterwards when I had a job. I did much much better in my MA a few years later (both in terms of GPA, research, and building relationships with professors) and put in a lot of prep work in the years in between (mostly reading 200+ books in my field). I know there's not really anything to be done about it now but (1) how much damage should I expect that bad undergrad performance to do to my application in light of more successful graduate work later? and (2) is it generally better to let that later performance speak for itself or to acknowledge the bad undergrad and talk about what I did to improve?

2 - I had several years out of school between undergrad and my MA and will have a couple between my MA and hopeful phd. How much do programs care about your work experience in that time if it's not hyper relevant? I've had some university TAing positions, did some community college teaching, and have had a couple brief contract research projects, but have mostly worked law jobs because I've gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle (being able to pay my student loans). Is the teaching\research work worth highlighting at all or should I just stick it on the cv and focus on my academic work? 

Thanks in advance!

If you have multiple strong recommenders at your MA program that can speak to your abilities as a professional historian in training, I don't think your undergrad experience will matter much, if at all. If you are applying to a school that asks for a personal statement, talk about your growth in that essay. If the school calls for only a statement of purpose, you might mention it, but briefly. The SOP is mainly about your research plans and intellectual orientation.

In terms of your work experience, I would mention it only if it helps you tell a story about yourself as a future historian (in which case the same guidance about personal statements and statements of purpose applies -- the former is much more about storytelling than the latter). PhD programs don't really care about "credentials" unless they are extremely prestigious or have some bearing on your funding.

 

 

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On 2/19/2021 at 9:48 AM, Go Weast Young Man said:

Looking to next year's application cycle there are two areas I'm not entirely sure how to deal with in my application on which I'd appreciate some input if anyone else has dealt with similar issues before. 

1 - My undergrad performance wasn't very good. Not absolutely catastrophic but a B+ average definitely isn't what phd programs are looking for. There's not a sympathetic reason I didn't do well and I didn't particularly overperform in history courses. My work habits were just bad and they got much better in the years afterwards when I had a job. I did much much better in my MA a few years later (both in terms of GPA, research, and building relationships with professors) and put in a lot of prep work in the years in between (mostly reading 200+ books in my field). I know there's not really anything to be done about it now but (1) how much damage should I expect that bad undergrad performance to do to my application in light of more successful graduate work later? and (2) is it generally better to let that later performance speak for itself or to acknowledge the bad undergrad and talk about what I did to improve?

2 - I had several years out of school between undergrad and my MA and will have a couple between my MA and hopeful phd. How much do programs care about your work experience in that time if it's not hyper relevant? I've had some university TAing positions, did some community college teaching, and have had a couple brief contract research projects, but have mostly worked law jobs because I've gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle (being able to pay my student loans). Is the teaching\research work worth highlighting at all or should I just stick it on the cv and focus on my academic work? 

Thanks in advance!

I'd say my trajectory bears similarly to yours. I didn't do very well in my undergraduate studies (eeked out a 3.23 after a strong performance in my senior year) but I suppose my coursework shows an upward trajectory. I, too, did an MA, and did much better (finished with a 3.98). Then I became a history teacher, which is not particularly relevant to the work of an historian. I did highlight how it helped me interact with different groups of people (students, admin, parents) and prepared me for independence and collaboration. 

On 2/19/2021 at 10:35 AM, AfricanusCrowther said:

If you have multiple strong recommenders at your MA program that can speak to your abilities as a professional historian in training, I don't think your undergrad experience will matter much, if at all. If you are applying to a school that asks for a personal statement, talk about your growth in that essay. If the school calls for only a statement of purpose, you might mention it, but briefly. The SOP is mainly about your research plans and intellectual orientation.

I'd build upon what AfricanusCrowther says here. What did your undergrad professors think of you? I didn't do particularly well, but for some reason, a few professors saw some potential in me and thus they wrote very strong letters that helped me overcome my GPA (and SEVEN W's). I also had multiple MA professors who didn't know me as an undergraduate and could speak directly to my performance in my MA. I focused heavily on writing an originally researched writing sample and revised my SOP religiously. I was accepted to all 4 programs to which I applied. 

Hope this helps! 

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