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Any point in applying with F on transcript/academic dishonesty?

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This forum seems to be dedicated right now to people who are all weighing their various acceptances for fall 2012 (congrats!), but hopefully someone will have time to give advice to an anxiety-racked soul who is considering applying for an MPP or MIA for fall 2013.

So, I'll put it out there: I have one F on an otherwise decent transcript (I ended up with just below a 3.5). I reused something I had written for another class, was caught, got a zero on the assignment, and thusly failed the class. Obviously I effed up big time, but I'll spare you all my blathering on about how much I regret what I did/ashamed I feel, etc. To cut to the chase, I was specifically told that this incident would not go on my permanent record, and that if anyone ever called my college to ask if I had any kind of record, the answer would be no.

I want to apply for an MPP and or MIA, with my 'dream schools' so far being Harris, Ford, Georgetown, SIPA...but I know that the F sticks out like a sore thumb on a transcript that is otherwise populated by As and Bs. Since my reason is obviously not a good one, I was hoping to just not address the bad grade at all, and hope that the adcoms overlook it somehow. But then I looked through the Harris application, and it specifically asks for explanations for any Fs on your transcript...I skimmed through the online Ford app and couldn't find anything similar, but I assume Harris isn't going to be the only school to ask up front for an explanation for such a big black mark.

So here's the part where I solicit advice from the Internet masses:

1) What do you think my odds are of getting into a Top 10 or 20 program with an F on my transcript, assuming I don't have to explain the reason why? Is one F an automatic dealbreaker? Or could such a grade be outweighed by the fact that the rest of my applicant profile seems to match or exceed the requirements of most of these programs (foreign language fluency, substantial work abroad, 2+ years spent in the U.S. working in my proposed field fo study, good GRE)?

2) Should I completely give up on schools like Harris that specifically ask for an explanation? Is my academic crime in any way forgivable? I certainly have no interest in digging myself deeper by lying, so I guess I would just lay it all out there if I had to...And finally, the most paranoid question - is there any chance that Harris, upon reading my explanation of cheating, could/would share that info with any other schools? (I know that officially they probably aren't allowed do this, but I've been in the work world long enough to know that professionalism is often sacrificed at the altar of gossip).

I ask largely because I know that applying for fall 2013 would be a huge investment for me, both financially and emotionally (as I'm sure it is for most people). Before I take the plunge, I hope to get a better idea of whether or not the game is already over before it began. I also really fear having to provide my transcripts to my favorite professor to write a letter of rec. The aforementioned incident happened in a different department, so I assume that he never knew about it, and the idea of him seeing that F is nauseating...

Thanks in advance.

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I don't know how to address the academic dishonesty part. As for myself, I had a difficult early start to college--I ended up addressing it in my "essay 3/other comments" when I could, but not in my main SOP because it took too many words which could be used to address my strengths. However, I can tell you that I got into UCSD and wait-listed at SAIS with two Fs on the transcript from my freshman year. I ended up with a 3.5+ for my last two years, which I'm sure helped a lot. I was told by an admissions officer that they care less about low grades during the first two years than in the last two years of college because the last two years is when a lot of people buckle down and focus.

It sounds like your class you failed may have been related to your IR concentration, which is the part of the transcript schools will look at more closely. In that case, it's up to you how to address it, if at all; it'll definitely be noticed, but you can either address it in your "other comments" or hope they'll overlook it altogether. I wouldn't, however, call it a deal-breaker and not bother applying to graduate school.

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I can speak from personal experience and say that I had a very bad semester early in undergrad with two F's and a D-. Even better, two of those courses were in my major. I retook them under my school's course forgiveness program and got much better grades, but they do still show up on my transcript, it just indicates that I repeated them and the original grades have been excluded from my GPA. I didn't address it at all in my SOP, and I was admitted to every school I applied to, including GPPI, Ford, SAIS, etc. So to answer your first question, your chances are very good.

As for your second question, none of the schools I applied to asked for an explanation of a failing grade. However, there is a section on some school's applications where it asks "Have you ever been the subject of disciplinary or academic action at any college or university? If yes, what were the circumstances?" Obviously you are going to want to be 100% truthful. I believe you can be confident that your information would be kept confidential. Admissions Directors just don't have time to share dirt on 1000+ applicants with all their peers, and that's besides the professionalism/integrity issues. Whether your history will have a big impact on your chances, I can't predict. I will say that your specific case seems to be comparatively minor - it is not on the same level as sneaking answers into an exam room, plagiarizing other work, or paying someone else to write your papers. If I were in your shoes I would apply to all the programs you are interested in without hesitation. The cost of grad school is > $100k, do you really want to wonder years down the road if you could have gone to your dream school but didn't even try because you didn't want to spend $80 on the application fee?

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An F is in no way unforgivable (although it might make them curious since most people probably try to explain something like that). I would still apply to the programs that require an explanation - the worst thing that can happen is a rejection and you might be surprised.They might be so sick of canned excuses that they admire your honesty. I think most people have one or two questionable things on their application (I personally had 2 and I wasn't rejected). There is a zero percent chance that your explanation is going to become gossip fodder amongst admissions committees. Trust me. I'm a staff member at a university and your story is not so uncommon as to be particularly memorable.

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Thank you so much for your prompt replies. You've given me some much-needed reassurance.

I realize my question about it getting spread around between adcoms sounds more than a little paranoid and self-involved, but that F is one of my closest-guarded secrets in life (I've only told one person ever), so I think it scares me to reveal it and then potentially be denied admission because of it. I guess it's kind of like dating - if you take a risk and get rejected, you're no worse off than before, but sometimes a fragile ego prevents action. Maybe an F on one's transcript is the academic equivalent of a raging case of herpes.

And Oregongal - just to clarify, the class wasn't for my IR/PP-related major, but it was for my 2nd major in the humanities, which is not good...

Of course if anyone else has contradictory advice, or even more encouragement, please feel free to conitnue to comment. Good luck with all of your decisions, and thanks again.

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Something that I've heard is that many schools focus on your GPA for your last 60 credits, because they like to see how you were doing as your studies got more focused, you had adjusted to college, etc. If I recall correctly, Duke actually makes you figure that out for them. I didn't have any Fs, but I had a rough semester in which I only had a 2.5. Despite being on our Dean's List every subsequent semester, my overall never passed a 3.3. The worst grade happened to be in a foreign language class, and that obviously didn't stop me from getting some pretty good admits to MPA/MPP programs with an International Development focus. I also had a withdraw on my transcript, but in an unrelated class.

I'm not sure how to tackle the question of addressing it in your application, but my advice would be to keep it simple and honest. Don't try and BS them. They have seen it all a dozen times over. Good luck!

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For your additional encouragement, if it helps:

I had two Fs and an "incomplete" my freshman year. I ended up graduating with a 3.5, but I was paranoid like you when it came to applying. However, I knew I wanted to go to a top school and nothing less, so that's all I applied to, even with my apprehension about the Fs. I only briefly touched on this aspect of my application in one of my SOPs because everything I read about the SOPs advised against spending too much time on any negative aspect of your application. I was admitted to six top schools and it's not as if I worked for the White House or started my own NGO or anything terribly extraordinary like that.

So, I wouldn't stress too much about it. It sounds like you aren't the type of person to slack on the other aspects of the application (GRE, SOP, LORs), so I bet you'll do better than you expect. I know my results far exceeded my expectations - I was sooo sooo worried I'd get rejected by everyone. phew!

Edited by rebmaLS
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lol 1 F is nothing, especially since you have a pretty good overall GPA. I straight dogged it my last semester, racked up 1, maybe 2 Ds, and no As. Not pretty, but still got into Ford, Sanford, and Heinz with funding packages of some kind.

Also, I'm no expert on higher education, but that seems like overkill regarding how they punished you. It's one thing to plagiarize, but you submitted your own work. Seems a little stiff to me.

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Maybe an F on one's transcript is the academic equivalent of a raging case of herpes.

this made me lol

i don't really know anything about what you're applying for....but i say go for it

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  • 3 years later...

I will keep this short but I am in a similar situation.


Last year I finally finished my BSosc in Public Administration and I ended really strong in my last 2 years. 


In the winter of 2015 I took 4 classes to raise my GPA. As I had people tell me to do this as I applied to a couple grad programs and did not get in. 


So turns out I was caught for academic dishonesty on a term paper and they want to give me an F in the course. This is ironic because I get caught with something like this when the whole point of taking the course is to raise my average. This is one of those curve balls life throws at you. 


So I am going to have all these strong grades that I worked so hard for, followed by a big fat F at the end of the transcript.


I live in Canada and I would like to to a grad degree in public policy/admin or political science. I will also be applying to US schools - specifically Howard and LBJ School of Public Affairs.


Without the F I am sitting at a 3.4, with the F I am sitting at a 3.2


Will grad school count the F? Will they give me an opportunity to explain? 


This is disgustingly stressful.





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