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I'm worried about my past academic performance (before Psychology) affecting my chance at a Master's.


exchanted

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So, I've done a lot of googling and I've yet to find someone with a similar predicament to me. (If you don't want to read a somewhat-lengthy, personal story, I suggest you skip this one)

After I graduated high school, I went straight to college. I wasn't sure what to study, but after the passing of my high school best friend, I decided to try to go somewhere in the medical field and entered the college of science to study Biology. While I was motivated to find a career where I could help the most people possible, I was also dealing with overwhelming grief and later on many other mental health issues caused by the sudden death of my friend (Depression, Anxiety, etc.). I stayed in this major for 2.5 years of college, struggling through courses, dropping many, and failing one. Eventually my mental health got so bad all I wanted to do was quit school all together because I could barely get out of bed in the morning. Instead, I changed majors halfway through my junior year of college to a hobby from high school: journalism. Despite knowing that I did not want to be a Journalist, I was still interested in research and interviewing subjects (something that later led me to my current studies), and I wanted to finish school on time, and take courses I knew I could do well in. I also knew I wanted to put all my Bio (and related) courses to use, so I decided to push through and complete a minor in Biology (I only needed 2 more classes to do so). Then, at the beginning of my senior year of college, my younger brother got really sick. He was in and out of the hospitals, having seizures, etc., and no one could figure out what was wrong with him. So, I went home to be with my family and help my parents as much as I could, and after he got better, I finished my Bachelor's degree in the midst of COVID 19. 

As you can imagine after all of that, my undergrad transcript is pretty ugly. There are lots of withdrawn courses, and that one failed course (Calc 2). Even after I switched major's, my grades got better, but they still weren't straight A's. (My final GPA was a 2.88). I left my virtual graduation with a degree I felt like I hadn't really earned, and a minor I had barely survived. I was completely unsatisfied (and quite honestly pretty ashamed) with my academic performance, and even now I look back on it with frustration and regret. There were a lot of circumstances out of my control, but that performance was still my fault, and I honestly wish I would have put school off a bit and gone back once I had a chance to get my head in the right place. Well, that's what I'm doing now.

I'm back in school, getting my BS in Psychology, and I'm doing a lot better. Still not perfect, I did get a B- in my first course at my new school, but my GPA is a 3.92 and I'm hoping to keep it there or get it even higher before I graduate next year. I can attribute my better performance to a lot of things, but mostly 1. I was diagnosed with ADHD after my first graduation. This changed a LOT for me, specifically in how I manage my day and my school work. 2. I'm studying something I really enjoy and am truly interested in. To the point where now I want to pursue my masters. I know that my transcripts from my first school will be included in my application, and I'm worried they'll kill my chances of getting into a good program. I'm already studying for the GRE and I'm hoping I can compensate some there, but I also know that schools don't necessarily weigh those scores like they used to (some I'm looking at don't even accept them). 

Does anyone have some insight into how I can expect admissions teams to view my old transcripts? 

Also would be happy to take any advice regarding how to address my poor academic history in my statement of purpose, obviously I don't want to include all of the personal details I addressed here, but I do want to address how my approach and motivation as a student has changed since then.

Thanks! - E

 

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Hello there :)

Sorry to hear about the difficult experiences during your first undergrad degree, I'm sure the pandemic didn't help :(

But the good news is that you are not alone. Many people take a more circuitous route (myself included) to get where they want to go. 

If I understand correctly, your next goal is to get into a master's program? Is this a thesis/ research based master's or a more applied one? I ask because different types of programs look at different things. More applied master's might be more ok with a lower GPA, but it might be easier to get into a thesis bases master's if you are strongly supported by a faculty member or you become very productive in research (or if you work for that prof as an RA for example).

A more general advice that I can give you is that less than ideal academic history can also be addressed by your letter writers. While you can address it in your statement of purpose, you only have little space to do so there and you also don't want to draw a lot of attention to that. So your letter writers can talk more about how you've overcome obstacles in their letters and your future potential.

GRE scores are on the out, but some programs might still accept them and that can work in your favor if you get good scores. 

Do you have a sense of what path you'd like to follow after the psych bachelors?

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IRT your SOP, I recommend that you keep your discussion of your GPA concise. You had a medical issue which you have addressed. Before you addressed the issue, your GPA was x (overall), since, your GPA is y (overall). I would not disclose the medical issue. One never knows if a department has just gone through a difficult experience with empathy and professionalism but is now thinking "Let's not do that again, at least for a while...!"

Similarly, I recommend that you not go into the details of why you changed from discipline to discipline unless you can develop a cohesive narrative that demonstrates intellectual growth towards psychology as a profession. This is not a suggestion to write a "Every since I was a ..." essay. I am suggesting that you tell the story of a serious minded student finding important questions and issues that can best be addressed in a psychology graduate program.

I would hit the mute button when it comes to describing your feelings about your past performance and your perceived inadequacies. To paraphrase a DGS who returned a SOP, "write it without the angst."

Question: Is there an opportunity to participate in your department's honors program for undergraduates?

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@SoundofSilence I'm really interested in research, specifically in Cognitive and Social Psych. I'm working on getting into a lab as an undergraduate assistant at my school right now, so hopefully I can gain some more experience for my application there (I have 3 semesters left in my bachelor's), after graduating I'm hoping I can make my way into a Research Thesis/based Master's, and then hopefully a Phd, but that's quite a bit down the road. If I have to I'll take a year between my Bachelor's and my Master's to get some more research experience, but I'd rather keep the momentum and go straight to my Master's if I'm able to gain admission to a program.

Thanks for the advice on my letter's of rec. I'll be sure to address my academic experience down the road when I chat with my letter writers and hope they might be able to help me out there.

@Sigaba Thanks for the advice on my SOP. I definitely want to avoid the "angst" and stick to a professional tone, which is why I wasn't sure how to address the reasons behind my past performance without oversharing/making it seem like something that could continue to affect my performance in the future. I think I definitely will address what led me towards Psychology as a profession, but try to be as cohesive as I can.

Unfortunately I am past the credit threshold to enter my school's honor's college, as I only have 36 credits remaining in my degree. I will ask my advisor about it though, just incase there might be any loop holes I can slip through.

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12 hours ago, exchanted said:

@SoundofSilence I'm really interested in research, specifically in Cognitive and Social Psych. I'm working on getting into a lab as an undergraduate assistant at my school right now, so hopefully I can gain some more experience for my application there (I have 3 semesters left in my bachelor's), after graduating I'm hoping I can make my way into a Research Thesis/based Master's, and then hopefully a Phd, but that's quite a bit down the road. If I have to I'll take a year between my Bachelor's and my Master's to get some more research experience, but I'd rather keep the momentum and go straight to my Master's if I'm able to gain admission to a program.

 

I think so far it is a good plan - getting undergrad research experience, which can support you for a master's and then you can use the master's experience to get to the PhD. I think you can go straight to the master's (people usually take time off for research after bachelor's if they don't go into a master's). The master's, if you stay productive, can be a very good spring board into the next step. Good luck!

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