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Explaining bad semesters?


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Hello,

I am really in a conundrum here, and I would like to get some advice if possible. I am an international student. I studied engineering as an undergrad and then did a master's in philosophy. Now, I'm applying for philosophy PhD's, but I have two bad semesters in the undergrad transcript. I have one semester where I had a 1.00 GPA, out of 4.0, with 1F and 1W, and a second where I have a 0.00 GPA with 4 F's. During the time, I initially thought I would leave the engineering program for good and enroll at a philosophy/psychology program to start over. So I didn't even care for the courses. But then I thought I might benefit from finishing the degree -- it is a respectable one in the country -- even if I chose to pursue a different career or a different field in grad school. I eventually finished the program and graduated with a 3.72 CGPA. I studied extremely hard in the last two years. I also have a minor in Psychology. Then I enrolled in an MA in Philosophy program at the same university and graduated with a 4.0 with 1 W. 

How do you think these F's would affect my chances of getting into a good PhD program in North America? Philosophy programs admit few students and even fewer international students. So I sort of think that these two semesters might give the committees a reason to do away with my application. Should I not bother applying?

Or should I try to explain the two semesters in my statement? There are conflicting opinions on how to do that. Some people think you should not even mention that, but if my file gets ahead in the admission process and they look at my transcript in more detail, that might raise some questions. 

I think I have good recommendations and a good writing sample. I have a good TOEFL score and also have a fairly good GRE score. Would those help? 

I would appreciate any advice. I wish everyone a nice admissions cycle.

Thank you! 

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1. Transcripts typically play a stronger role at the beginning of evaluating an application, not in the later stage of evaluation.

2. Your application would look better without the rough semesters. There is no denying that. However, you are in a stronger position than you realize, because you have attended a master's program and have demonstrated your capacity to succeed in philosophy. That fact will reduce an admission committee's concerns.

3. If you are sure that you want to say something about it, ask one of your letter writers to address it in their recommendation. "DisplayName_1 informed me about two rough semesters from a time before deciding to pursue philosophy. I assure you these semesters are not representative of current academic ability and performance. blah blah."

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4 hours ago, Olórin said:

1. Transcripts typically play a stronger role at the beginning of evaluating an application, not in the later stage of evaluation.

2. Your application would look better without the rough semesters. There is no denying that. However, you are in a stronger position than you realize, because you have attended a master's program and have demonstrated your capacity to succeed in philosophy. That fact will reduce an admission committee's concerns.

3. If you are sure that you want to say something about it, ask one of your letter writers to address it in their recommendation. "DisplayName_1 informed me about two rough semesters from a time before deciding to pursue philosophy. I assure you these semesters are not representative of current academic ability and performance. blah blah."

I agree with all of this. Your MA helps demonstrate that you can succeed in doing academic philosophy, and getting your letter writers to explain your bad semesters is the right strategy. Black marks like this on your transcript aren't ideal, but they won't necessarily sink your application, especially provided that you have a strong writing sample and good recommendations. So make sure your sample is as strong as it can possibly be!

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  • 4 weeks later...

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