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How to address weak academics in a SOP?

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I have always been interested in my pursuing Machine Learning when I was in college. However, I was really disappointed in the quality of teachers in my undergraduate college. I grew disillusioned in what was being taught and decided to pursue my own interests in college; I researched topics by myself, made projects, learned stuff from the internet. Eventually, I was able to secure a pretty good internship as well because of my efforts. But my academics did suffer because I invested my efforts elsewhere. Now I want to apply for a master's in the specialization for ML. If possible, I will also like to pursue research opportunities in this field.

No matter how passionate I describe myself in my SOP, the admissions committee is going to be skeptical of my commitment because of my low grades.

I may be wrong about this, but I think it will improve my chances if I acknowledge my poor academics in my SOP, but I don't want it to overshadow my accomplishments or the hard work I put in to follow my interests. People who have faced this problem before ( or actually, anyone who has experience with these things) what would be the best way to address it in my SOP? How should I phrase/word it? Any examples are of course appreciated. Anything I should be careful of/steer clear of?

Thanks :)


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I am not an expert in admission but was in a similar situation as yours. My intuitive reaction is that you should explain your low grades in your SoP. Admission committee will not do it for you. You also need to apply some strategies in your explanation (tones, word choice, logical cohesion, etc..) and avoid any "red flag" marks. Then, you need evidence that proves your scores/GPA does not represent your (academic) potential. By evidence, I mean LoRs, projects, extracurricular events, etc..

I will use myself as an example. My undergrad GPA is very low. I explained the reason and showed what else I did (with evidence of achievements). My LoR writer is the dean of my faculty. Despite my low GPA, he acknowledges my potential based on our interaction and my extracurricular accomplishments. After graduation, my achievements within my job also prove my competency. I ended up in a master program in a top30 university. 

So, I think the very basic rule here is that use plentiful evidence of your potential to compensate for low GPA. The more, the better. You need to do (and I did) much more than those applicants with high GPAs to prove your potential. 

Also, there are plentiful successful applicants with sub-3.0 GPAs in the thread below. You can see how they succeeded. 


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