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Here are my circumstances and should I even bother to apply?


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I graduated HS in 2006 and attened a local Community College. Unfortunatly it took me 5 years to get it together and only my final 3 semesters did I start to improve my grades. So I finally graduated after 6 years of being at a CC, and was accepted at one my state's flagship schools (Summer '12) which has a decent undergrad History Department. I did well my first semester here and will continue the upward trend.

Overall my GPA at my CC was horrible as I was a huge slacker and had zero motivation in the beginning, the only thing that got me into the Uni I am currently attending is that I had a great upward trend as well as the fact that I was an in-state CC Transfer. Certain things happend and saw my real passion was in History.

I plan on getting a Honors in the Major, and learning a new language at my University. I want to focus on European History if I decide on Grad School.

What do Grad Schools look at? I know they will look at my overall GPA and not just my University GPA. My University GPA should be between 3.7-3.9 by the time I graduate depending on this semester. Of course that won't matter, as they will include all my other grades from my CC, and it will really drop that complete GPA drastically.

I know GRE scores will be important as well. How much will Teacher Rec's come into play, as well as my Honors Theses? Do I stand a chance?

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Sure you have a chance. Some schools have a GPA floor, but I've heard plenty of stories about great schools that are willing to accept students who have had a rough start. Your situation isn't entirely uncommon. In fact, it could make a compelling narrative in a personal statement (which students who have done well their entire careers and never had to struggle often lack). When it comes time to apply, I would suggest that you check the websites of your potential schools and possibly with the Directors of Graduate Study to find out if they have any firm policies on GPA. Usually they'll be more interested in your history GPA, and it sounds like that will be strong enough to avoid any cutoff issues.

I'm not sure when you're thinking of applying or where (MA? MA/Phd?) but it's very important that you build a strong research portfolio, and that you develop your language skills. Sounds like you're already doing those things to some extent, but keep your eyes open for opportunities.

The other things are important, but secondary. Oftentimes if you work hard, keep your grades up and take advantage of research opportunities, your Letters of Recommendation will come together seamlessly. As silly as this sounds, I'd also recommend (to you and any undergrad lurkers) that you take advantage of your classes as opportunities to grow as historians, readers, writers and researchers. Too often we (including myself) view classes as a hurdle, or as a game to be played in order to achieve a desired grade. But the better an historian you become, the better your overall application package will be. Good luck!

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So I'm about to give more information about myself than I would normally.

I failed out of college when I was 19, a GPA so bad you would be shocked that it could be that low. I worked out "in the real world" for eight years taking a course at a time at the local community college as I could pay for it. Roughly six years in I got motivation and started going through classes like gang busters.

I transferred into my state's flagship state university where I graduated with a double major, but when I applied for PhD programs I didn't get in. It was 2009 and the bottom of the world had fallen out. It was beyond a bad year to apply to graduate school and I didn't get in anywhere. It was probably for the best because I didn't really understand where I should be going anyway. I went out of state to get a masters specific to my studying interests at a state school, and applied to PhD programs after my masters. I got into more than I didn't, including a couple of Ivys.

My GPAs were

First college .7

Community College 3.9

Second college 3.5 (language and 400 level sciences are killers).

masters 4.0

The adcoms will see a change over time, and understand that people can change. You may have to get a masters first just to put a point on it. My other friends who have similar fail out -> success -> PhD program stories also had to do masters. You sound like you are making sound decisions and are motivated. Apply to the programs that are best for you. The ones that are more likely to give you a second chance in life are going to be the schools that don't feel like they have to prove themselves. I didn't get into schools with History departments ranked in the 30-40 range, and got into ones in the 1-20 range. It is what it is.

My advice: Be prepared to explain your history in no more than 1 paragraph in your statement of purpose. Own responsiblity for your failures, say what you learned and that you are no longer that person.

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Thank you both for the very helpful and informative advice.


I plan to get my Master's, and that last paragraph...spot on you are so right about that.


I appreciate you sharing your story. Glad you stuck with it and it's an encouraging story to share.


I should have also added I had to repeat a couple of History classes at my Community College do to either not attending classes or not doing the work. I was very unhappy during the first 5 years at my CC.

I repeated them during my last year and did very well, but it won't look great I know that.

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Just wanted to add that I've noticed on a few applications that schools ask you to recalculate your GPA, usually ignoring the first year or two of your undergraduate study. They can easily compare this number (besides looking at your transcript) and understand that you improved over time.

Your GPA over classes taken within history also matters, and it sounds like this would be pretty strong for you as well-- so you're just fine.

PS: Nat, thanks so much for sharing your story.

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^ Thanks.

I'm starting to feel much more hopeful now and will make sure I contiune doing well and take advantage of some of the opportunities my Uni has which will help me prepare for Grad School.


I do have one question though. I will have completed my major next year (Summer 2013) and wondering when's a good time to study for and take the GRE. I still want to take time after graduating and save up money and hopefully get an internship unpaid or paid as long as i have something related to what I ultimatly want to do, which is work in a museum.

Edited by neerahs
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I would plan on taking the GRE over the summer or at the beginning of your senior year in college. Many people find that they need to take the test several times to have a score they find represents their best efforts.

I think my point when I told the story was two part.

1) don't cut the reach schools off your list because you assume you wont get in there. The Princetons and the Yales of the world are looking to diversify their cohorts and they do consider your kind of experiance to add to that diversity. You do have to show them drastic change over time. But I can tell you I know of at least three people at Princeton and two at Yale that either failed out or dropped out before they failed out of college at that age. There are likely even more than that but it's not exactly something we shout from the rooftops.

Though I have been joking about framing that .7 GPA transcript and putting it next to all my diplomas in the end.

Conversely, you can expect not to get into a number of state schools and schools that are having to justify their existance within a tough economic climate. Those departments need to point to how brilliant their grad students are with all their shinny GPAs and GRE scores.

2) you will have to address this in your SOP, but don't make the entire document about it. If you were to look at mine the paragraph is at the end and is essentially disconnected from the rest of the document, "finally I'd like to explain something about my transcripts..." They will see the blotches in your transcripts and expect an explaination. Don't go over long. If you had a medical reason for it you could rely on that, but if as you describe it was about lack of motivation/not going to class than own the hell out of it. Claim personal responsibility for your history, and say (very briefly) what you learned.

Edited by New England Nat
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You've got time, just make sure that you do well in your courses. Also, don't forget to keep in touch with your professors. This is very important. Go to their office hours, always participate in class discussions, etc. They're the ones who are going to have to write you letters of recommendation to get into graduate school, which are generally more important than GPA. They can't write you a good letter if they don't know who you are.

BTW, I stumbled along miserably in a business undergraduate program before I started my master's in history. I had a 1.75 GPA my first semester, and I only went to school part-time for years while I was working. Not everyone takes the same path to graduate school. You're far from being the only one.

Edited by Notker the Stammerer
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Thanks for that info. I'm a transfer so it's been difficult trying to get to know my professors. I'm hoping to do a Thesis so I'll get to work closely w staff members from the department so that will help.

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