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How to tactfully mention that I worked full time and paid my way through my MA

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Unless you have experience on admissions committees, I fail to see the significance. I've seen statements of purpose from successful applicants who mentioned their relatively unrelated work experiences and are now attending top programs. Your path to matriculation isn't the only one.

Correlation is not causation. Unless you have been debriefed on why you (or someone else) did or did not get into a program, or been privy to behind the scenes conversations on that and similar topics, it is merely an assumption that the disclosure advanced an applicant's candidacy.

In my view, the point Eigen is making--and that you are missing--is that within a program there are doors behind doors behind curtains behind mirrors. As a very accomplished undergraduate with unlimited potential, you have been allowed to see what is behind some of those doors. Once you get into a program, you'll be shown through others. After you pass various way points and as you grow as an academic and as a person, you will get ever closer the innermost doors. (If you're especially "lucky," you may be shown where the bodies are buried. You may even be handed a shovel, a leaking foul smelling burlap sack that is bursting at the seams, and instructions on where to dig.)

As more doors are opened for you, you may realize that you need to reexamine and reinterpret what you learned earlier in your journey, especially as an undergraduate.. Examples include, the importance of subtlety, the efficacy of staying within the specifications of a task, the utility of a well-turned phrase, the value of not saying something that need not be said, the ways a department can--and will--deal with graduate students and colleagues who are determined to have "chips on their shoulders," the extent to which academics will go to bat for graduate students they respect, and the deafening silence that surrounds grad students who have fallen out of favor.

I certainly see the overall point, but I think some of the arguments being deployed in its favor are a bit far-fetched--the risk, for instance, being that readers will assume the applicant will want to continue working as he or she pursues a PhD or has a chip on his or her shoulder and is difficult to get along with. Divorced from the context (and depending on the mindset of the reader), almost anything one writes in a SOP could be construed negatively. And slightly contradictorily, I think just about anything can be said tactfully.

With respect and at risk of belaboring a point, I think you are misjudging the utility of your experiences as an undergraduate against those of graduate students in the pipeline. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with this dynamic--you're a very intelligent person who is highly motivated with a bright future. (FWIW, I would be highly disappointed in you--given your field of study and your current institution--if you didn't have such a swagger.)

However, you and other members of this BB, in particular those who are going to study history, might well serve your own interests by considering the possibility that there are huge differences between being an undergraduate applying to grad school and being a person who has experienced the highs, lows, ups, downs, ins, and outs of graduate school.

As an example, I would direct your attention to a thread in this BB's history forum. In it, a graduate student is being told by his department that he has alienated a critical mass of his professors and that it is time for him to leave << In that thread (like in this one) there is a noticeable difference between the responses offered by graduate students who are in the pipeline and those in the process of getting into it. Are these differences the result of "far fetched" thinking on the part of graduate students or do they reflect insights gained through hard earned experiences?

Edited by Sigaba
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Forgive me for being unclear and a tad contentious. I wasn't arguing (or at least I wasn't trying to!) that the mention of work experience in the SOPs I've seen advanced these applicants' candidacies, merely pointing out that--regardless of the accumulated wisdom of the graduate students in this thread--it didn't harm their chances of admission beyond repair, if indeed it was seen in a negative light.

With that said, I do very much appreciate the aforementioned accumulated wisdom (especially its being made available in a public forum such as this) and the fact that given the relative paucity of my experience I will in some cases be helplessly blind to my own naivete. The discussion has thus far been both satisfying and edifying.

But I'm still not convinced!

Edited by iamincontrolhere-haig
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I was just point out an interesting relationship. Correlation doesn't imply causation, but strong correlation is always worth thinking about.

I think prospective graduate students underestimate just how much most grad students hear, directly or indirectly, about the application process. Whether it's casual comments about things from the current years crop of applicants or discussing what the program is targeting or looking for this year, you hear a lot. Professors start looping graduate students more into such matters as they progress, often, to help prepare them for academia. The PhD is a progression from student to a young colleague, and what you pick up along the way shows that.

You don't have to be the one sitting on your departments admissions committee making the decisions to hear why at least some of those decisions were made.

Back to the topic at hand:

I certainly wasn't meaning to imply that mentioning work experience would damage the SoP irreparably, but it's a risk/reward analysis. I see next to no chance of the mention of completely unrelated work experience helping, and there's a chance that it might hurt, however slightly. In the highly competitive applicant pools we're currently experiencing, why risk a potential negative, even if a slight one, for no real potential gain?

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