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Statement of Interest: Can you make a negative into a positive?


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Hey all,

 I have narrowed down my selection and I think I have found the best programs for me, and I have figured out my best fit as well, or at least the one I am gunning for. As some of you who have read my earlier posts may remember, in my Bachelor's of Theology, I had a very rock academic path, starting with some really high scores but completely dropping the ball towards the end of the degree, ruining my GPA. I went out and got some 'real world experience' (aka was sick of being a poor university student) but came back to turned it all around. I did my Bachelors of Arts in Religion and Philosophy with Honours (one year stand alone higher research degree with 15,000 word thesis and only permitted to students who the university allows... if you are wondering, my supervisor has to make a case for my admission into the program because he felt like my poor GPA didn't reflect my true colours, and he was right I like to think) and my Masters of Theological Studies, which I will receive "With Distinction" (with another 15,000 word thesis) and by my calculation on various international websites, my marks are equal about an American GPA of 3.7 ish. I am also in the process of having two articles being reviewed for peer reviewed  Australian biblical studies journals. 


When I arrive in America come August, I will start preparing for the GRE of course, but I had a question about my Statement of Interest/Purpose. Should I address the dodgy first undergraduate degree's poor GPA? I have been advised to, nip it in the bud in a line or two but then turn it around with "But I came back with vengeance and look how well I turned it around". My thesis supervisor has offered to address it as well and speak to my personal situation with my undergraduate experience as well. What is your advice? Can you make a negative look like a positive? Or should I just let the more recent work speak for its self and let the past be the past? What is your advice? 

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I had a similar deficit in my early undergrad. What I did was address it under a short answer section that said something like "anything else you would like to add or let the committee know."

I did not want to waste my personal statement explaining it and being on the defensive. The personal statement, in my opinion, should show what you have to offer and therefore be something positive not negative or defensive. Just my two cents.

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Let the recent work speak for itself. If your letter writer(s) can speak to your lackluster UG grades that would be best, I think. This would give an outside look at your past without looking like you're apologizing. You have good marks from your MTS, too, which should assuage most fears of your UG. 

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Part of the statement is to give your academic history, to explain how you ended up where you are. Your low undergrad GPA is part of that history, and you should address it there. Readers are going to spend more time reading it than they are the supplemental stuff on your app. While I understand what others have said and their reasons for it, it will be a much stronger statement if you are able to tie it in to your overall trajectory, and to show how you persevered. Doctoral programs are HARD, and a committee seeing that you have learned from past failure and have overcome are going to strengthen your application in terms of whether or not you can do the work, and get it done, and overcome the difficulties. A mention in the "what else should we know" will be a more defensive move, and will not necessarily give you space to talk about it within the overall trajectory.


But ultimately, there is a different problem with this post: If you were advised by a faculty advisor (someone who has been through and graduated from a doctoral program, has read hundreds if not thousands of applications) to do something on your application, DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU. There are no faculty members or admissions committee people reading and commenting on this forum, and you don't know us from Adam, or we, you. Your faculty know better than anyone on here is going to. We can help fill in the gaps when faculty don't advise, but never go directly against an advisor based on what someone here said.

Edited by theophany
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Basically the timeline is: 

2007-2012: F&*#ed up and around and resulted in a low GPA, personal hardships and tragedies, failing some classes, and just scraping by to get to a passing grade to get the fancy expensive piece of paper, but the end of it.

2013: Found my happiness in academic work, research, and education. Everyone told me I did not have good enough grades to get into an Honours Program, a higher research degree basically, but the University of Newcastle saw my earlier work and gave me a shot, and I did not disappoint getting First Class Honours.

2014: Doing my Masters of Theological Studies and doing really well there, 3.7 GPA roughly.

2015: The second Masters is because I want to get some grounding within the American academy, plus I do not have the language skills required for Christian Origins and I would be enrolling into a Masters Program that would allow me to pick that up during my study. Plus I have done the Masters of Theological Studies, whereas this would be the MA in Religious Studies with a concentration in Religions of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean, so even more grounding in my chosen field. Plus Australian universities don't really have TAs or GAs so that would be valuable work experience.

2017: PhD.


So basically its the 2009-2012 years that are the problems for me. So that is my problem, addressing or not addressing those years. And theopany, it has been friends and family offering that advice, I haven't spoken to my advisors and lecturers about that yet, but I will have to do so. My advisor has only said he will stress how turn around and my results from what looked like a poor GPA to top marks, so with him doing it, I don't know if I should.


It helps, the University of Kansas is my number one choice.

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