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How to explain one bad semester in grad school applications due to personal issues?


onebadsemester
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I am currently a first semester Junior biology major, math minor with a 3.9 GPA planning to apply for a biology related PhD after a gap year as a lab tech. This semester, I experienced highly personal issues that I do not feel comfortable disclosing in a personal statement which is affecting my grades. Specifically, I am expecting to get a C-/C in into biochem and a B/B+ in intro physics. How do I explain this dip in my personal statement if I do not want to go into detail, and what can I do going forward to make up for it?

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6 hours ago, onebadsemester said:

I am currently a first semester Junior biology major, math minor with a 3.9 GPA planning to apply for a biology related PhD after a gap year as a lab tech. This semester, I experienced highly personal issues that I do not feel comfortable disclosing in a personal statement which is affecting my grades. Specifically, I am expecting to get a C-/C in into biochem and a B/B+ in intro physics. How do I explain this dip in my personal statement if I do not want to go into detail, and what can I do going forward to make up for it?

I recommend that you write something along the lines of "my grades were down in the fall term of my third year due to a personal issue that I have resolved." Your transcript should "speak for itself" on this point when it comes time to apply.

From a GPA management perspective, you could potentially see if you can withdraw from the problematic courses and retake them next term. You could also take courses this summer and "ace" them. From a grade point perspective, summer coursework may not move the needle too much, but from a Mark I eyeball perspective. readers will see the low marks bookended by a whole lot of A's.

You can also check and see if there's an honors program in which you can participate and/or if you can compete for an internship this summer.

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It happens to many of us. I was a late bloomer, and had two bad semesters, and recovered with mostly Bs until graduation. My final GPA was a 3.1. Don’t sweat it, but I would reach out to the graduate admissions office and address your concerns with them. There's nothing you can really change about your past. They might breakdown your transcript/resume and provide feedback on submitting a top-notch application, regardless of GPA.

I don’t know about the PhD level, but I know peers with stronger resumes that got rejected from the best graduate programs because they didn’t communicate what the admissions office is looking for. Attend online information sessions and listen to their advice. Persistence and eagerness will get you on their radar.  

If you are looking at MIT, Stanford, Cal, Harvard, Duke, or other high-caliber programs, you might have a shot with this advice. Remain ambitious and you'll do fine! It’s possible to get accepted into an even better school. For me, I ended up at Georgetown five years after undergraduate. I didn't mention say a single word about my bad semesters on my application.

Edited by dchang11
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