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10 Year "break" in academics


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Hey All,


The last time I was at a college was way back in 2002 - when I completed my 4 yr Bachelors in Comp. Sci. I've been working ever since and have 10+ yrs of experience in Programming. Unfortunately - it's on Legacy (Mainframe) applications - and the clients (business managers in companies like Morgan Stanley & Bank of America) are not named or renown individuals.


My current project (for more than 3 years now) is at an entertainment & media giant (don't want to name my current client) - and I know my business-manager & my immediate supervisor will definitely give me a very good LOR. I can get the 3rd one from a business-analyst (she has more than 30 yrs of work experience & has worked closely with me).


I want to know if it's okay to not have any academic LORs - because I have a difficult time contacting my college/university [i'm working at L.A. & my college/university is in India; needless to say I have no contacts there]


I also have this other question: Will my long-break (10 yrs) play a significant role in the admissions process - to my detriment?


Any tips or suggestions - or web-links - will be much appreciated.



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I would advise trying to get at least one (if not more) academic LORs - going in after a large academic break can seem daunting at first, but if you write to a large number of profs., there are profs. who are usually more than happy to assist. Of course, being away for so long means that the letters may not be as personal, but if you provide them enough fodder (especially any project/thesis/research done, apart from grades and transcripts etc.) you might be pleasantly surprised. Going in without any academic LORs is a bit risky. 


If you can link your work experiences into why you want to do a PhD and your future plans post PhD, the long break may not be an issue. The key is to convince the adcoms (through your SOP) that:

a. You are committed - that you are not opting for this to get away from a poor career trajectory but because this is really what interests you.

b. You are committed (again!) - that you will not land up leaving mid-way because grad life is "too hard" and you want to go back to earning a nice salary

c. Demonstrate how your experiences will work positively - leading up to new or specific research ideas etc. that a "traditional" student may not have access to

d. Demonstrate contemporary technical and academic skills, i.e. prove that your academic knowledge is not "obsolete"

e. That you are aware of what a PhD is all about, and you are familiar with contemporary research and publications in your chosen field (to some extent at least).


Best of Luck !

Edited by zapster
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Your post doesn't give us any real information we need to help you.

What are you planning to go back to school for? A Masters degree, a PhD? In what field?

What schools are you interested in - and more importantly - why?

Why are you motivated to go back to school? What do you hope to accomplish?

How was your work when you were in school? Were you a top student?

Do you have any idea what your GRE scores will look like? If you want to pursue a PhD in CS you will need high GRE quant scores.

Regarding LORs, the previous poster is correct - letters from business associates carry near zero weight in academia. Sometimes they do more harm than good.

You might want to consider taking some more coursework (a few undergrad courses for a semester, or maybe some Master's level courses) before applying to a PhD program. There's going to be a natural concern that after 10 years out of school your academic skills are rusty.

I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer - you just need to give us more info with your post, and to understand what the admissions folks are going to be thinking about.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi Latte & TheFez,


Firstly, thank you both so much for your responses. I am sorry it took me more than a year to respond to. Circumstances changed significantly at work & I had to drop the idea of applying for a Ph D. Instead, I pursued to get admission into a Master's program; and I got admissions to 3 of the top universities in Australia. I accepted the offer from Australian National University (College of Engineering & Computer Science) and will commence my M. Comp (Master of Computing) program from July 2014 (3 more months from now).



The school-system (especially at College-level) in India is not quite similar to the United States. There aren't "tenured professors" here - at least not to the best of my knowledge. I tried getting a reference, however, it doesn't seem like a possibility. Your points are all very true & many thanks for sharing those with me.




You have posed a lot of very important questions; and that set me thinking more. I have answered these questions below - not necessarily for you (or others) to respond; primarily to make a note. NOTE: It's a very lengthy read.


What are you planning to go back to school for? A Masters degree, a PhD? 
I was thinking (back in Feb 2013) of applying for PhD; however, I have revised my thinking and chose to apply for a Masters. Based on how academia likes me & how I like it/them, I can make a choice on whether to return to Industry or pursue PhD later.
In what field?
My 4 year Bachelor's in Computer Science & my 10-year experience in Programming, I hoped, would make it clear that my field of interest is Computer Science Engineering (Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Simulation, etc). In either case, I hope I have clarified it now.
What schools are you interested in - and more importantly - why?
I never had specific or particular schools in my mind (both back in 2013 & even now, after I've been admitted). I believe that every school has it's pros & cons; and some of these are subjective. 
Why are you motivated to go back to school? 
I took my GRE back in 2002; I was always motivated to pursue higher education. My family's financial situation (& the horror of 9/11) made it far more difficult to pursue it back in 2002-03.
What do you hope to accomplish?
I hope to learn & to contribute to the research of my chosen field. Personally, I hope to be a part of some of the leading research-projects & play my small role in the progress of scientific research. Job-wise, I hope to secure a steady-paying, low-risk employment.
How was your work when you were in school? Were you a top student?
I was among the top 20% of my class (we were around 40 or 50 students). At the University I was able to secure mroe than 75% marks - which is marked as a "Distinction" on my degree-certificate. Far more important than all these: I used to "LOVE" programming (especially in C, & especially systems or low-level/hard-ware related codes). Almost all class-projects that were assigned, I would be one among the first-students to complete - all this without owning a computer at home (meaning I would write the code by hand & then type it into the machine during lab-hours).
Do you have any idea what your GRE scores will look like? 
Back in 2002 I was rated at about the top 20-percentile on the GRE score-report. I know it's no longer valid. More than the GRE (which is not specific to Computer Science), I'm very proud of being rated in the top 11-percentile in GATE (a Computer-Science specific entrance examination conducted at the National-level in India). This is a moot point, now, though - since I have chosen to join Australian National University.



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