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Applying after having dropped out


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I'm going to apply to a PhD program, but I'm quite nervous about how badly a dropout in my career will affect my prospects of getting into a good school.


My situation is the following: I started a MA, got very good grades, was a top student, but I had to abandon it in the last year... that's it, and that was complicated, so I feel there is no way to explain it in a few words without an awfully vague "personal problems". Two years later, this is 2014, I went back to school, got readmitted to the program and I am successfully writing my MA thesis. During the time I spent outside academia, I learned much more about myself, and it became more clear to me that doing research in my area is a crucial part of what makes me happy.


Other than that, my application is competitive, I guess. I have decent grades, decent GRE scores, probably awesome letters of recommendation (not from any very known professors, though, since I live in Latin America, but they know me very well), and I have plenty of research experience. My MA thesis will not be completed until January or so, but I will have a good written sample of my work to send with the application.


So, the question is: will my past dropout be a kiss of death or can it be overcome by other aspects of my application?

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I doubt it would be a kiss of death. The fact that you're returning to the same program and are continuing your thesis looks fine. So you had to take some time off, no big deal. Shit happens. It might be worthy mentioning you took some time off, but I wouldn't bother spending a paragraph or anything in your SOP accounting for it. If you had dropped out and then continued in a different program/institution that might look pretty bad, since the adcomms want to see that the candidate can finish a PhD. But you returned so clearly you're serious about your work.

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