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Personal narrative in SOP


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Hi all!


Drawing from the examples I've read, it appears that personal narrative is scant, if not entirely absent from most philosophy SOPs. I understand that SOPs should be rich in respect to your areas of interests and should demonstrate outstanding fit to the institution it will be submitted to. Additionally, I've gathered from past forum posts that good SOPs are concise and do not "wax philosophical".


My decision to apply to philosophy graduate programs has not been direct by any means, and there are some gaps in my transcript that I feel could be easily filled by brief explanations about my academic trajectory.


I planned to apply to medical school until a few weeks ago when I had a mini-crisis and decided that a graduate degree specializing in medical ethics would suit my interests far better than being a physician. While I will graduate with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, my upper-level coursework may not be as impressive as other applicants, since in past years I took prerequisites for med school. However, I have a fair amount of clinical experience, research experience, and leadership positions that I feel bolster the weaknesses in my application and make me a strong candidate for a philosophy program specializing in medical ethics. I can articulate this clearly, but I'm unsure if it is appropriate to weave the relevancy of those experiences in via personal narrative throughout my SOP. 


Anyone else in a similar situation? What are your thoughts about including narrative in the SOP? Do you think admissions committees scoff at it or do you think it can strengthen an application, if utilized carefully?


As a note, I'll certainly be having my professors review my SOP before I submit any applications. I just wanted to get some initial feedback from all of you!


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I second what zapster said. Also, if possible, see if your recommenders can explain the gaps in your transcript for you. It sounds way better coming from faculty than from the applicant. Just focus on your academic interests and how you fit with the institution you're applying for, and trust your recommenders to make up the difference in transcript strength. 

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A line mentioning your clinical experience and research experience would be good in your SOP. It's not that it's required of students, but professors I've met have enjoyed meeting philosophy students who do philosophy of science or philosophy of mathematics who also did science or mathematics in the past. There are benefits to a philosopher who is familiar with the actual practice.

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In my experience from my masters, the program I attended welcomed non-traditional interests. Because you wish to pursue medical ethics does not have to appear "academic uncertainty" so long as you write it as if this choice were purposeful rather than early-life crisis. If you're applying to programs in applied ethics, they will welcome your experience outside philosophy rather than shun it. If you're applying to programs that are sufficiently steeped in the history of philosophy, a simple explanation will show these courses were prudent rather than accidental.

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