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What do adcoms think of students who have obviously taken huge amounts of risks?


InquilineKea

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Yeah.. what you posted is pretty unclear. Do you mean how does it look if you failed a few grad school courses that you took when you were 18? If that's the case then I'm guessing it depends on the course and your other grades. If you took some random grad school class as a senior in high school and failed it then I don't think that would matter much..

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How do you even take a grad-level course at that age? Assuming that means first year undergrad, or especially high school senior, I didn't know that was even possible, unless you're some kind of prodigy.

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I went through an early entrance program. And it was a grad lvl applied math course.

The thing I'm really wondering is how to address these risks in a personal statement. Because I took those sorts of risks, my GPA is lower than that of most others (but I will have other things to compensate). Despite compensatory factors, however, it's obvious that I am a risk-taker, and that the adcoms may prefer a "safer" type of student.

I did learn valuable and useful things in the course (actually, there were two such courses). But ultimately there were certain issues that took me out halfway through the quarter. In later years, I did well in other applied math grad level courses.

I had low grades in other classes too. But hm, if you made your horrible mistakes when you were 16-18, should they be counted as much against you as compared to if you made them when you were at an older age? When I was finally college-aged, my GPA was much higher, but it will always be low due to the stupid mistakes I made at 16-18. (I'm also staying for longer than 4 years to compensate for that).

Edited by InquilineKea
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Honestly, this doesn't sound like a "horrible mistake" nor like that much of a risk-taking behavior. More like curiosity, intellect and drive at a young age. It's nothing to worry about, and I wouldn't even address it in the SOP, if I were you. No reasonable adcom will hold over your head a low grade from a class you took when you were 16, when your college career has been nothing but solid. At most, you could include a one-liner "I experimented with classes when I was younger, but have since matured and have been consistently successful throughout my college career". I really wouldn't even do that. Maybe just have a referee address your earlier experiences.

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Oh, so maybe ask a professor to address that in the LOR? It seems that the guys at some other place (http://physicsforums...ad.php?t=485872) told me that I shouldn't do that...

Do professors also address the average grade distributions of courses on your transcript? (if you let them look at your transcript)? Is that sometimes the role of professors who write LORs? Maybe you got a really high grade in a class where the average GPA was a 2.5, or maybe you got a low grade in a critical class where the average GPA was low.

Edited by InquilineKea
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I would not mention it in my SOP either, there's no reason to call attention to it. And in my experience, adcoms know that your late teens are a period of growth for students and that students make all kinds of decisions at that time which won't necessarily reflect who they are fundamentally as academics. If you take a grad-level course when you haven't completed even your first year of university studies, it's seems extremely understandable that you would struggle with it. (And frankly I'd be quite furious with any graduate school which allowed you to take the course when you were clearly unprepared for it. It looks like they stole your money as far as I'm concerned.)

So don't worry about this too much. What is important is that your grades demonstrate an upward trend and that you show consistent improvement. Making mistakes ("mistakes," since I agree it just looks like you were ambitious, which is not a bad thing) is fine, you just need to show them that you have the capacity for advanced research.

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Do professors also address the average grade distributions of courses on your transcript? (if you let them look at your transcript)? Is that sometimes the role of professors who write LORs? Maybe you got a really high grade in a class where the average GPA was a 2.5, or maybe you got a low grade in a critical class where the average GPA was low.

Your referees should have access to your transcripts anyway and they will usually make the call to decide whether to address your earlier low marks or not. In my experience, my referees addressed any and all extenuating circumstances without my even asking them to do so.

You should definitely give copies of your transcripts to your referees if they don't have access for some reason. It seems only fair to provide them with copies of your transcript, CV and SOP (if possible) so that they know who they are providing references for, because this will encourage a more honest relationship between the two of you. That will help will ensure that referees write letters that are detailed and unique to your situation. If they know as much as possible about you, then you can ask them these very questions that are plaguing you - Should they mention your lower grades? Should they emphasize your work experience instead? What do they think are your most compelling characteristics as a grad applicant?

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Oh, wow, I see. Thanks so much for all your replies! :) I really appreciated them! :)

Should I also disclose my ADD to my referees? I already did so to one of them. The thing is that my grades weren't that great until I got diagnosed and finally got medication for my ADD, after which my grades really shot up.

Your referees should have access to your transcripts anyway and they will usually make the call to decide whether to address your earlier low marks or not. In my experience, my referees addressed any and all extenuating circumstances without my even asking them to do so.

Oh okay. How did you know that they addressed your extenuating circumstances?

==

Do referees sometimes mention how good their program is? (like, do they mention if it's ranked in the top 5 in their field?) I might apply to astro grad programs, but get some of my recs from atmospheric science professors (the atmospheric science department here is top 3, and I've taken a number of grad lvl courses from that department)

Edited by InquilineKea
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It's enough that one referee mentions your grades in their letter, you don't need everyone to explain them. You may not to have them explained at all, in fact, but you seem to think that your grades could harm your application. Choose the referee you're closest to and explain your situation; you can't know what they write in the end, but if they are willing to help, they should agree to mention the upward trend in your grades once you started college compared to the classes you took in highschool, and especially the upward trend since you were diagnosed with ADD. Grades aren't all that important in an application to begin with, compared to research experience, fit, and the other written components (SOP, LORs, writing sample) but if you feel that there are legitimate reasons for lower grades that you want the adcom to know about, having the explanation come from an authoritative figure - a mentor - is better than just writing it in the SOP (or in an addendum, if one is allowed).

Do referees sometimes mention how good their program is? (like, do they mention if it's ranked in the top 5 in their field?) I might apply to astro grad programs, but get some of my recs from atmospheric science professors (the atmospheric science department here is top 3, and I've taken a number of grad lvl courses from that department)

A helpful LOR will include information about the writer - including where they teach, how much experience they've had placing students in graduate programs, and information about their department, if it's not well-known. Again, unless you get to see the letter you'll never be sure that they included all the information that they should, but experienced professors will have written and read enough rec letters to know what helpful information they should include in theirs.

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I went through an early entrance program. And it was a grad lvl applied math course.

[...]

But hm, if you made your horrible mistakes when you were 16-18, should they be counted as much against you as compared to if you made them when you were at an older age? When I was finally college-aged, my GPA was much higher, but it will always be low due to the stupid mistakes I made at 16-18. (I'm also staying for longer than 4 years to compensate for that).

I'll be brutally honest here (and I haven't read many of the previous posts so I apologize if I'm being redundant). If I were on an adcom, I wouldn't care whether you took Math 583 when you were 8 or 38. You came through an early entrance program (UW's, if I may ask?). Therefore, you were a college student, and a college-age student, and had all the responsibilities generally assigned to college students (not failing courses, understanding your limits, managing your time, etc.). So I think it's better to take responsibility for having flunked a course rather than trying to explain it away based on an "age" factor. Age really has little to do with intellectual ability, but there is something to be said about maturity (ADD may be a good reason, but it's hard to work into your application without sounding like you're trying to shirk responsibility--maybe get your most trusted recommender to mention it, instead of saying it yourself in your SOP?). If I were reviewing your transcript, I would question (whether justly or unjustly) whether you have since become wiser, and I'd need a good justification from you in your SOP to make sure that the Inquiline who failed MATH 583 at age 18 is not the Inquiline that will be working in my lab. After all, what PI would want to take a chance on a student who may decide on a whim to take 9 courses their first semester and flunk out of grad school? Maybe I'm being unfair, but it's always good to plan for the worst-case interpretation.

Good luck!

waddle

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Ah okay, thanks very much for all the replies! Yeah, my past 2 years show that I've developed a realistic sense of what I'm capable of, so I don't expect that I'd take more than I could handle. Maturity is one of those things where past mistakes don't necessarily imply future mistakes

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