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SOP 1st Paragraph: Public Health


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For review. I'd like to apply to Biostatistics or Epidemiology MPH programs. Thanks.

I was involuntarily committed to a “suitable facility” a few months after I graduated college. I have Bipolar Disorder Type I with psychotic features, and it went undiagnosed until my final semester of college. I always attributed my low GPA – W's and F's littered across my transcript – to stress, lack of discipline and laziness. There is some truth to that, but my mental illness, left untreated, slowly affected my life in real and increasingly severe ways. My journey, though unpleasant, has increased my patience and maturity. Going to clinics, attending day treatment programs, being hospitalized and arrested (no convictions) has given me a first hand look into public health as a consumer. I've always gravitated toward service-oriented work, and my experience and illness has sparked a desire to work in Public Health.

Also, what direction do you think the body of the essay should take?

GPA 2.7

PowerPrep Practice:

590 V / 720 Q

510 V / 700 Q

No work experience

Some volunteer work in service based organizations - not health related.

Edited by t_macc
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I see you're concerned about your rather low GPA, and I acknowledge that you should say something about it in your SOP. I also agree that having had a bipolar disorder is a good explanation.

All those said, I'm not sure you should talk about those issues right in the opening paragraph. In the first paragraph, I'd clearly mention my research interest (for a phd application) or my carrier goals (for a master's application).

And in the rest of the SOP, I would explain how and why I became interested in the areas I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I would also explain how I developed some capabilities making me a competitive applicant. I think through the explanations that you provide for your interests and qualities, you can also address your GPA issue, mentioning your illness. You can also tell about your first hand experiences that have given you a well-developed view of public issues, a view that other applicants might not have. However, I'd suggest that you make use of the "show, not tell" rule here: In addition to stating the fact that you have the first hand experiences, articulate a very concise argument that reflects one of your insights to the public issues. Try to find an insight that other applicants are least likely to have. Then briefly explain why that insight has arisen from your experiences with clinics, treatment programs, etc.

In short, I think if you put the disorder thing right in the beginning, the reader would conclude that you consider your mental illness a great weakness. This way, IMO, the reader will consider it so as well, although he (she) might not have considered your disorder that big an issue before seeing your first paragraph.

Hope this helps. However, what I said were just my thoughts. Maybe others do not agree with them.

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Thank you for your response. I'll look into ways of moving around the bipolar issue.

I see you're concerned about your rather low GPA, and I acknowledge that you should say something about it in your SOP. I also agree that having had a bipolar disorder is a good explanation.

GPA-wise, I did very well in the first 3 semesters of college. And I finished my last 20 credits well, too. Should I make a special mention of that in my essay, or is it evident to the adcom from my transcripts? I just want to highlight that I do have the academic ability, but if they will see it from the transcript and GRE, then there is no point in putting it in the essay.

Thanks again.

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GPA-wise, I did very well in the first 3 semesters of college. And I finished my last 20 credits well, too. Should I make a special mention of that in my essay, or is it evident to the adcom from my transcripts? I just want to highlight that I do have the academic ability, but if they will see it from the transcript and GRE, then there is no point in putting it in the essay.

You are right. In you essay you should not mention items that are included in other parts of your application. But my personal take is: you should not mention your GPA for its own sake. but if you need your GPA as a premise for an argument that you are developing, then this is a different story. In order to prove that you have the academic ability, you need to give an explanation. And that your performance was good before the disorder started as well as after it was diagnosed and treated is a good explanation.

If you want to check if there is a point in mentioning your GPA in the first three semesters, you should answer the following question:

"if I don't mention my GPA, will the adcom itself put the detailed information from my transcript together with what I say in my essay about the disorder, reaching the conclusion that my Fs and Ws should be attributed to the disorder?"

If the answer to the question above is "yes", then you'd better say nothing about your grades. But I really doubt if it is a "yes". So, I would briefly point to my grades in the beginning and at the end of college.

I short, I would mention my GPA, but in a professional way.

Good luck :)

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Thanks again for the response. Okay, how is this. Italics are not part of the paragraph:

I was always a bright student. From ------ high school (super prestigious high school), I enrolled in the -----prestigious program----- (that I ultimately got kicked out from) at ------ College with free tuition and prodigious scholarships. I finished my first 40 credits with a 3.7 GPA while participating in extra curricular 1 in the fall, extra curricular 2 in the spring and extra curricular 3. And during the beginning of my darkest depressive episode, I gathered the courage to finish my last 20 credits with a 3.50. I'd rather not make excuses for what happened to my grades in between, but I was ignorant, immature and also lacked the fortitude to handle my mood episodes effectively.

The next two paragraphs, I explain my mood symptoms, treatment and experiences being arrested and hospitalized.

My closing paragraph is:

I didn't write this essay to invoke pity or divert responsibility, because I would like to be judged by my merit and ability. It has taken years of failures and effort to finally get my act together and manage my illness. I've encountered many mentally ill people throughout my experience, and I can say that I am fortunate for many reasons. I don't want to squander my talent with meaningless pursuits or inaction. My aim is to fully utilize my potential in public health, preferably psychiatric epidemiology, so that I can benefit society.

Should I mention that I can't travel outside my city, so I'm limited in options of MPH programs to apply to? That's basically saying, "I'm not applying anywhere else, accept me and I'll enroll." Is that bad?

Should I mention that I want to go to a particular school because they have classes specific to psychiatric epidemiology? Or that they are affiliated with many research centers linked to psychiatry or psychology?

I'd like to go to Columbia's Mailman SOPH. Their average GPA and GRE scores were 3.4 and 581 V - 671 Q.

Enrolled vs. Accepted vs. Applied is 516 to 1254 to 2015

My GPA is 2.66 (B.S. in Math), and I'm scoring on the GRE practice exams ~500-600 V and ~700 Q. Thanks.

Edited by t_macc
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Here is a suggestion (Italics are not part of the note)

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Paragraph 1:

In this statement, I will briefly explain how I became interested in Public Health, how I came to specifically like Psychiatric Epidemiology, why I am decided to apply to Columbia's Mailman SOPH. This note also covers the my background in mathematics which is relevant to my field of interest (i assume math is quite relevant to epidemiology. am i right?) as well as the lessons I have learned from my own bipolar disorder experience.

Paragraph 2 (your academic background)

I have a BS in mathematics and I performed well in my courses in the first three semesters (no need to mention the numbers IMO). Although during the next 5-6 (?) semesters my performance dropped substantially due to an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, I boosted it again after I became aware of my case and went received treatments. My interest in math was not for its own sake. I saw math as a tool that, if used properly, helps to solve real world problems whose solution benefits the public. I think if I continue my educations as a Master's student in Public Health, my background in math could help me ... (here, mention some areas where your math background could help you. Try your best to say something that few PH applicants who have math background are able to say!)

Paragraph 3 (the bipolar disorder)

As I said, I suffered from a bipolar disorder during the period of ... . My illness being diagnosed late did hurt my academic performance, but from a positive points of view, I can see it had its own advantages. It provided me with first hand experiences of having had a mental disorder and of being exposed to clinics and treatments. (tell a little about your experiences. Include only relevant things, but even not all relevant things! include only the relevant points that no one without a bipolar disorder can tell)

Paragraph 4. How you are going to take advantage of your experiences

Being treated, I now was much better. But I was still concerned about how the period of serious (I don't know how serious your disorder has been. remove this word if it was not serious) disorder would affect my future career. My mental illness had not been my fault. So, it was my right not to see it affecting my future. But who was responsible for actually realizing this right? It took me a long hard time to come up with an answer: Me. To fulfill this responsibility, the first step was to see that period as a college were I was offered a course, rather than as a gap in my active life. I decided to organize what I had learned during those years and during the treatments. I was especially interested in formulating and documenting questions whose answers would be beneficial to our public health systems. Being concise, I'd like to mention just one of the question formulation processes: "What would have happened if I had already known that if an outstanding student abruptly performs bad, he or she might be suffering from a disorder? wouldn't it have prevented the delay in the diagnosis of my problem?" If so, then "Why didn't I know? Wouldn't a Warning System help a lot in this regard? Wouldn't a warning system work better than the current surveys to which many people are not (or don't want to be) exposed?" If so, then "Why such a system does not exist? Is it so costly to implement that its possible benefits are not worth the costs? Or is it just our Public Health system not having noticed the necessity of such a system?" If the latter is the case, then "Why such an important issue has not been noticed? Aren't many people in the US whose lives have been negatively affected by a late diagnosis of a disorder while they could have easily diagnosed it if warned properly?" If the number of such people is large enough, then "Why does not such a prevalence of this issue provide the proper feedback to the Public Health System? How should the system organize itself in order to be able to unearth seemingly hidden feedbacks about crucial problems?". This process not only brought me back the feeling of being actively involved in something meaningful, but also helped me become more clear about what I expected from a MPH program.

...

...

(ritht now, I don't have any idea about how to close :) but you will find a good one)

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All in all, I suggest that you don't put such words as dark, depressive, failure, etc in your essay. Let them see you have managed to see your experience positively. Also there is no need to mention that you want to be evaluated based on your merits. They already know that. Do not directly mention that "you have managed your illness". Let the essay itself reflect this; this way, you will make them feel that it is too obvious to mention that you have succeeded to manage the problem. These is also the case with if you are confident that this problem will not negatively affect your performance in MPH. Do not directly state that because your confidence does not count for much. The one whose confidence in this regard is important is the admissions committee. Write in a way that makes them confident you will do great in your master's.

I think the issues you asked about (implying that you are not applying elsewhere and mentioning the specific classes) will be helpful if included in your essay.

And two final notes:

1. What I articulated here was just something to show you what sort of essay organization I am talking about. Even if you find it helpful, you may be not fine with the specifics. I see you may not have any interests in the questions I formulated in the last paragraph.

2. I'm not a native English speaker. So, there may be many problems with the wording and vocabulary of what i suggested.

Good Luck.

Edited by Soheyl
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How much should I talk about why I want to study at the particular college?

Wouldn't saying that the SOPH has x program and y research be obvious to the adcom? Or does it show that I am serious and know about the programs?

Thanks.

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Wouldn't saying that the SOPH has x program and y research be obvious to the adcom? Or does it show that I am serious and know about the programs?

Of course that SOPH has x and y would be obvious to them. But that you are applying because of those would not. So, I'd put x and y in the essay. PM me if you had any problems with which you thought I could be of further help.

Edited by Soheyl
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