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To explain 2 C's in SOP?

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I have read a lot of advice about the SOP on this forum (among other places), which includes explaining a low GRE marks, a semester with poor marks, etc.


However, my question is: what if I have poor marks in just 2 classes? I have an otherwise outstanding record - mostly A+'s, some A's and some A-'s with a challenging courseload.


The 2 courses were technically "electives" - not required for my degree but still in my general field of study.


I got a C in 2nd-year microbiology in summer school after first year, because I didn't pay attention in class and didn't study (huge regret....). This was such a long time ago though I don't think it's a huge deal.


I also got a C in 3rd year in an "importance of chemistry in society" course, because I didn't hand in the final paper. This one was somewhat due to outside circumstances of a very personal nature (domestic abuse), so I'm not sure if it's appropriate to bring up anywhere on my application.


A run-down of my courses if you need them (3 credits for a regular course):

First year - 33 credits

Summer school - 9 credits

Second year - 30 credits

Third year - 33 credits

Fourth year (co-op year) - 3 credits

Fifth year - 26 credits in progress


I am applying to 7 top-ranked schools in California for PhD in chemical biology/chemistry programs.


Has anyone else been faced with a situation like this? How have you dealt with it?


Thank you in advance!!

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Your instinct to not mention these grades is probably the right one. I don't think there is anything you can say that would make a difference anyways -- it's clear from the rest of your transcript that you normally do well in courses. If you really feel the need to explain that you didn't hand in the final paper in that second course, I would probably just say you were not able to complete the final paper due to personal reasons but not go further than that.


It sounds like you are at a Canadian school too. If you are Canadian, then it might be helpful to know that international students like us will, in general, have a harder time getting into the University of California schools. Public schools like the UCs have to pay a lot more for international students (unless you have American citizenship, your tuition will always be super high) so the acceptance rate across the campus for international students is about 10% at the UC schools. Maybe your field has a higher number of international students though. However, at private schools, the tuition tend to be the same for all students, so it's not disadvantageous for a department to admit international students. So, I would encourage you to make sure your 7 California schools include places like Stanford and Caltech -- you might actually have a higher chance of getting into a private school than a public school because of funding! Since you said "top ranked" schools, you probably included private schools as well anyways. But just FYI :)

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Thanks for the advice!


Yes, I'm currently at UBC, and I've heard from many people how difficult it is for Canadians/internationals to get accepted to UCs. In terms of private schools, I am applying for Stanford, Caltech and Scripps. However, I do know a bunch of Canadians from my school in my field who have been accepted to Berkeley which gives me some (tentative) hope!!

Edited by Westcoastchemist
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It's definitely not impossible to get into UC schools as a Canadian, of course. I think this would also depend on size of the incoming class! In astronomy, UC Berkeley takes about 6 people per year, so 10% of that isn't very much! Programs that take in cohorts of like 30-50 students would be able to admit more international students!


I just remember talking to a lot of Canadians at my BSc and MSc schools and that some of them didn't feel qualified enough to apply to the private schools, which might be higher ranked in some fields than the UC schools. So, I always try to remind international students to not be afraid of private schools because they might actually be easier to get into. Good to hear that you already heard that :) And good luck!!

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