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What if you don't have an impressive ... anything (but a burning drive?)


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I know this is a strange question, but hear me out.

I attended a top 10 business school in my undergrad and just got out in May. Unfortunately, I was depressed, had an eating disorder, had to drop out for a semester, failed a class, got D's in other classes, hated my major, changed my major 4 TIMES, and as a result, graduated with a 3.0.

A stark contrast to high school, where I was a straight A student and got a 32 on my ACT.

I recently decided to go to graduate school after working a string of terrible jobs where I was under appreciated and treated poorly. My watershed came to me one day, and I realized I wanted - I NEEDED - to start over, do it right this time. I was writing copy for a (small) company (in addition to being a secretary, doing 5 people's jobs and being severely underpaid) and wanted to do it faster and better. I said to myself, if I only had the skills and training to do this on a professional level. It ties back into discovering my passion my senior year of college. I fed my love of writing and became deeply interested in marketing/advertising/PR aspects of companies, what grows them, what engages their audience. I started off as a staff writer of a local publication, was promoted to Editor in Chief within 2 weeks, and grew the readership by 200%. When I want to do something, I can, and will pour my whole heart into it.

But I wandered, floated, and walked around in a circle before I decided, enough is ENOUGH. The time to turn your life around is now.

The problems? 1) I decided to make this life changing decision a little late, and for certain schools I only have a month to pull it together, and 2) I am shooting for the stars. My top choices are Northwestern's IMC program at Medill and Columbia's Strategic Communications program. It's a long shot, but I figure I won't know if I don't try. I plan to ace the GRE, blow them away with my essay, and spin it as "the girl who has promise, found her passion, and will work her tail off" because frankly, there's no other way I can spin it. I have unimpressive credentials, a mostly flubbed up track record, and even my rec's aren't world famous Deans or CEOs or whatnot (but they're well respected in their fields).

I guess I'm poking around for an honest response. Do you think I HONESTLY have a shot at getting in somewhere good, or am I wasting my time? Should I forgo grad school and try to get a job related in my field, and work my way up somewhere? Easier said than done. I'm just tired of going nowhere with my life. I have back up schools in case the big ones don't work out, but I figure I've got nothing to lose, I'm hopeful (hence, the username) and plan to pour everything into trying, then pray, pray, PRAY it's enough. It's all I can do at this point.

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I think you would have a better shot if you took another year off and applied next year. You will have more time to prepare, including knowing what your actual GRE scores are. You will also separate yourself a bit from your poor grades as an undergrad, which I think would help tremendously. I have heard of several people who go back to grad school years later with low GPAs, so it can be done, but all of the people I've heard of had a few years out of school.

Your situation now might be looked at as just another change in direction and focus, but if you can reference next cycle in your statement that you decided now that this is what you wanted and worked on it for a year, I think you'd be much better situated to get into a good program.

Edited by Bearcat1
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Thanks for the input, bearcat. Not sure if you know, but do GPAs really matter? Even if you explain yourself and have an almost-impeccable GRE?

PS - I'll report back to ya'll when I get those scores in :)

Edited by hopeful80
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From what I've heard, GPA and GRE matter the least. If you have stellar GRE scores and amazing letters of recommendation, I think you could get by with the low GPA. In programs that fund all of their students, the numbers matter simply because the graduate division will have cutoffs for those. So if they fund everyone, but the GPA cutoff is 3.2, you won't make it. In that sense, they do matter. The problem is your explanation for the low GPA. I know what it's like to not be sure of your path and then figure it out sudddenly; that's how it happened for me, although I was in a much different place academically. But I do know how you are feeling and I don't mean in any way to seem like I don't take you seriously, but that's what I'd worry with your statement. You JUST graduated and now you suddenly know what it is you're meant to do? I think that might be a tough sell on paper. If you have unlimited funds, I say apply and see what happens. If you don't get in, you're no worse off than if you wait a year. (That might even demonstrate persereverance.) But I just spent a small fortune on my apps, so I can tell you it isn't cheap.

What might also help is making contact on the phone or in person with the POIs at the programs you're considering. If you speak with them so they know you are mature and you have a chance to articulate your desire to pursue grad school, maybe that will help? I wouldn't mention the GPA to them, but if you impress them in "real life" maybe they'll overlook the GPA?

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@bearcat ... Yes, I completely understand. Especially since Medill "prefers" students to have 2 years of work-related experience, to show emotional maturity (though they've said they have accepted students.)

Columbia, on the other hand, said they prefer students with no experience, and their cutoff is a 3.0 (literally squeezed by that one, yeah? Maybe there's a shot?)

I managed to reach the admissions coordinator in Medill via email (I tried calling and left a message, but she never returned it) but she doesn't seem too open to giving advice. I guess it can't hurt to try again, however, and clearly articulate why I want to do this.

All in all, I kind of feel iffy about the personal statement as well, especially since - if done wrong - it could look like "she hated working so decided to run away to grad school again." Which, honestly and truly, is not the case. But I'll probably have to rake my brain to portray what sets me apart as a special snowflake applicant.

Thanks again for being lovely in your response!

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Def. give yourself some time off. Show them that you have a clear sense of direction. AND the longer you stay out of school, the less your GPA seems to matter. However, if you meet Columbia's GPA requirement and they prefer inexperience, why not apply to that 1 school and see what happens? The worst thing they can say is "no".

P.S. Since your jobs suck, try to volunteer at a good place. No company/firm turns down "free work". Get your feet wet in a more positive circumstance (even if the awful secretarial jobs are paying the bills). This could give you some good material for you future SOP.

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@Chai_Latte ... thanks for the input. I think at this time, I may leave out applying to Medill, or i'll just see where the chips fall with them. Not really have high hopes, that is, because they seem to be looking for people who are a little more established in their careers (or have a spectacular undergraduate track record.) Though I really did want to go to Chicago, *sigh*

I think it's a little strange Columbia seems (operative word) to be accepting students with a lower GPA (although they're secretive on their GRE scores), but like you said, think I'm just going to go for it because well, why not?

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