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A peculiar history--opinions please?


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So I have a slightly quirky background--I went to the most selective and most difficult  tech school in my country for an undergrad in electrical engineering where I did miserably(including failures) in my engineering courses but took at least ten courses(introductory and graduate) in English and Philosophy as electives(in the US,it would amount to two minors,surely) ,all of which I aced and mostly had the best grades in the whole class. I then went ahead and did a masters in English from arguably the best liberal arts university in the same country and had excellent grades including a couple of international  conferences and two publications .I have decent GRE scores now and stellar recommendations---Have I done enough to negate the blips in my engineering undergrad transcript? I also think I have a strong writing sample...please let me know what you think.

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If you've gone ahead and completed a Master's in English and done very well, I don't see how your Engineering mishaps will affect you. You'll want to mention it on your SOP...but honestly, that sounds like a great entree into your statement! I could even envision a transition statement like "It occurred to me that I was far better at Engineering college papers than closed circuits..."

 

From what I've read (here and elsewhere), a Master's goes a long way toward eradicating blemishes in undergrad. And considering that your undergrad was in a completely different discipline, it should make you more of an interesting candidate to an adcomm than an unsavory one. But you do need to mention it in your SOP, I think. And in my completely subjective opinion, you should frame the start of your SOP around it.

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I have had a difficult day but Wyatt's Torch has lent some of its optimistic light to me-thanks... but you raise another issue that is nagging me as well---should one's academic biography be at the beginning of the SOP or later---you know,there is this general talk about your SOP centering heavily on your research interests---so I was cautious about describing my background in the very beginning---but seems like I can afford it ? thanks a lot,again.

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Your first question: There are always a few posts in here about the same topic, and my mind always boggles! You have a solid background in English, letters of rec speaking to your analytical abilities, and a writing sample. The engineering degree, then, isn't a blip but potentially an asset. If you happen to be studying science in literature or the digital humanities, your engineering undergrad degree could be a huge boost to your application. Even if you're not interested in those fields, most adcomms will focus on your most recent degree. Even those of us with both an BA and MA in English focused mostly on our MA experience in our applications. 

 

Your second question: my SOP reads like an intellectual biography, so after a few sentences defining myself as an applicant, I launch into my background. My academic bio provides the context for my current research interests. 

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Yep, as with Proflorax says, it's fine to have some biography, so long as it's relevant to your academic interests. Mine (as Proflorax can affirm first-hand!) starts off with how my background as a poet led directly to my interest in academia. The first draft of my SOP was a bit too heavy on the biography, but with the help of a few current grad students who recently went through the application process themselves (ahem), I managed to make the transition between personal/biographical and professional/academic interests far more natural, and perhaps even logical.

 

Just don't talk about how ever since you started reading at the age of two, you've had a passion for literature, and and how you have always been fascinated by the written word ever since your grandmother read you snippets of Tom Sawyer just months before she died.

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I would be surprised if your admittance really came down to that poor grade in undergraduate electrical engineering on your transcript. But how you are able to talk about that grade and experience? How you are able to represent that experience as one that has made you the scholar you rightly are now? That can make a HUGE difference. Like Proflorax said: Make it a strength, not a weakness.

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USA, here. I started out in computer science and collected F's to the point I was on academic probation when I switched majors to English with a soc minor (eventually switching to sociology with an English minor, and then getting a BA in English, too, 'cause I'm all why-quit-school that way). I'm in an English PhD program now. The only time I've ever had to explain what the heck happened during my freshman career was when they asked me why I was crazy enough to take calculus.

 

In the US, programs often look at your GPA in your major first, then overall GPA. If your in-major GPA is stellar and your overall GPA isn't as stunning, the transcript clearly shows that one's ability to fail at Object Oriented Programming is unrelated to one's ability to be a rock star in literature.

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So I have a slightly quirky background--I went to the most selective and most difficult  tech school in my country for an undergrad in electrical engineering where I did miserably(including failures) in my engineering courses but took at least ten courses(introductory and graduate) in English and Philosophy as electives(in the US,it would amount to two minors,surely) ,all of which I aced and mostly had the best grades in the whole class. I then went ahead and did a masters in English from arguably the best liberal arts university in the same country and had excellent grades including a couple of international  conferences and two publications .I have decent GRE scores now and stellar recommendations---Have I done enough to negate the blips in my engineering undergrad transcript? I also think I have a strong writing sample...please let me know what you think.

 

I'm in a similar situation - I started off in Biological Sciences and then transfered to an entirely different school and bounced around until settling on English. I emailed all the schools I'm applying to and they noted that they primarily look at your undergraduate English (or related Philosophy/Women's Studies/Sociology/etc) courses. I don't think it's something to bar you from applying; the sky is the limit! (If you have an MA in English despite that undergrad - you should be set to go.)

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