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Explaining weaknesses in SOP


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Hi guys,

 

I'm applying for poli sci PhD programs this fall, and I think my application is pretty good, except for one major issue.

 

Because of the way that my university education was funded, I had to get a degree in one of the natural sciences, rather than political science. Essentially, I got to campus my freshman year, realized that I wanted to do poli sci, but by that point, it was too late: I could either continue on my current campus (top 3 dept) and graduate without any debt as a science major, or transfer to my local state school, accumulate very significant amounts of debt (basically, pay for my education entirely out of pocket with no financial aid), and graduate as a poli sci major.

 

I ended up staying, and will be applying to poli sci grad programs with a middling GPA (about avg for my institution), and a science major. My poli sci grades are great - never gotten less than a solid A in any of the 5 classes that I've taken in my subfield (also have spent a significant amount of time investing in learning stats/methods, and gotten good grades in those classes as well). I've done lots of RA work, will have great recs from 3 or 4 people, and have good GRE scores (170V/165Q/5.5A).

 

My only problem is my major. My science grades are abysmal (somewhere in the B/B- range). I need to figure out how to address this in my SOP. I've heard that you shouldn't focus on your weaknesses in the SOP, but this one (major/overall GPA) seems to be too huge to leave out. At least one of my recommenders is going to discuss this in the letter, but I need to figure out how to address this (how much should I talk about this; should I mention it up front or towards the end?)

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I would say that the best place to address any low grades issues is in a LOR; I would completely avoid it in the SOP. However, it would be odd not to mention your science background in the SOP as part of the framework for your intellectual development/current interests. Don't spend too much space on this, but you could begin with what drew you to the social sciences (in contrast to the natural sciences?). Perhaps your scientific training has informed your research questions or given you a different perspective on topics and/or methods?

 

Good luck!

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Frame your science background as a strength, not a weakness. The SOP is where you write a (short!) paper with the thesis: I should be admitted to your program, I will produce excellent graduate work. (Or something like that, frame it how you want.) Do not include things that do not relate to the thesis.

 

There is a reason you want to do political science instead of science. Be honest with yourself about that reason, explore your motivations, explore the ways your thinking may have changed based on your diverse study, and then write about that.

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If you are sure this is being addressed in one LOR, you might want to consider not putting it in the SOP at all. If you do want to put it in the SOP, definitely do it towards the end, after you have highlighted your strengths, key research interests, why you are in interested in the articular program, POIs etc. Some applications even have the option to add "Any other points" in a separate section of the application. If this is possible, I would advise not putting it in the SOP at all, but in this separate section.

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Orlien, I was literally in the exact situation you're in. My advice is different from the other three posters here though, so obviously I'm not offering gospel. But it's noteworthy that my stats (both in PoliSci and overall) were far worse than yours: I graduated with a sub-3.0 GPA, got into a Top-30 program, and was offered a university fellowship at a 50-ish program. So it's not impossible, or maybe I was just lucky. 

What I can tell you is that it helped me to include it in my SOP, based on what I gathered from students/faculty at the school I accepted admission from. But I limited my mention of this to a single, tightly worded paragraph. I focused primarily on what I gained from Natural Science courses (e.g. scientific inquiry, research design, intellectual stimulation, work ethic, etc.), and framed it as "while I found myself drawn to the art of scientific inquiry, I learned the hard way that the natural sciences were not an area in which I could excel" (all of which is true!)... I also specifically referenced the grade discrepancy, and made mention of my motivation for taking natural science courses (to address concerns about my commitment to PoliSci). 

 

Again though, this was a single, small part of my SOP. I placed it within my SOP such that it wouldn't interfere with the main thrust of this document: in other words, I didn't harp on it, didn't try to explain it, just pointed it out and gave my brief thoughts on it, and moved on to focus on the rest of my experience/purpose. Basically, be honest, forthright, and concise about what you clearly (and rightfully) feel is an important anomaly to point out.

I did also talk to my LOR writers about including it; I haven't read the recommendations so I don't know what they did, but you can never go wrong with that. Feel free to PM me if you wanted some more specifics.

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