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Career change, stay at home writer mom from 3rd world - What are my chances?


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I read the sticky post about "what are my chances". I've been thinking about getting a graduate degree, but I've been getting mixed opinions on what my chances are. Some people say I wouldn't be accepted in any "decent" school for a PhD program. Others say I have a chance at some "C or D schools". Then I've had people telling me they "know people" in similar situations that got into Harvard and MIT... So, I don't know where I stand and how to build the best possible application - or how long that would take.



I'll try to give you guys as much details as possible, so sorry if this ends up being a story of my life kind of post!


I went to college in a no name school in Brazil, got a business degree. We don't do GPA in Brazil, so I have no idea what it would be if there is a way to calculate, but my grades were very mediocre. I had a few good grades, most of them were what in US is B or C and I failed a few couses, some more than one.


At the time I didn't have any perspective of what I wanted to do with my life. I went to night school and none of my colegues had dreams about graduate school. People were just trying to get a college degree to get a better job.


Right after finishing school I moved to the US with my then American boyfriend (that had been working in Brazil), got married and started to build a family.


Living in US I realized the "world was much bigger"! I wanted to get more education, but I had small children and my english was horrible at the time, so I decided to stay at home with them.


I started to write self-help books (published in Portuguese by a publisher in Brazil) to complement the family income and found that I really like psychology and would like to teach and do research in the area.


Now, 11 years after getting my college degree, I don't know where to start to walk towards being acceptable at any decent enough school that would later allow me to get a research and teching position.


I am 36 now and probably don't qualify at all for acceptance anywhere, so I would have to dedicate the next few years rebuilding my resume in order to become competitive. Some people say that by then (I will be 40+) I will be too old to be considered for a good doctorate program, especially in US, is that true?


The first thing I thought, since I probably don't qualify for terminal masters programs too, was to enroll in Harvard Extension School's psychology masters (masters in liberal arts) that offer a different enrollment policy (pass 3 classes with B or higher and you're in).


However, from what I've heard these programs at HES are more like "vanity" degrees (despite being acredited) because no serious grad school would see it as a regular masters degree. I don't know if it's true or not, though.


I also thought that I could start all over and get a new college degree in psychology. What keeps me from thinking this is the best course of action is the time I would spend getting a new degree and then maybe having to get a masters degree afterwards to be eligible for a good doctorate. I've also heard that getting a new college degree is useless, since in US once you have one, that's all you need, from there you should only get advanced degrees...


I speak fluently English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German and Italian. Could that be an asset at all on my application?


I don't know if my writing experience would be an asset or the opposite, since the academy dreads self-help...


The people that say that I wouldn't qualify for anything say that the fact that I went to a no name school in another country, got mediocre grades, spend the last 11 years of my life raising kids (or doing nothing from the academy perspective), puts me in a place where I wouldn't be able to fix my path...


I would like some opinions, since you guys probably know a lot more about it than the people giving me advice!







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Just one thought for now : your multiple languages are a huge asset - especially if you can find a way to work multilingualism into your research interests and area of focus.

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I'm never a big fan of what are my chances posts, because to be quite honest you never know what could happen. I will say, however, that you have an amazing life story and you should give yourself credit for what you've accomplished. Like jujubea mentioned, your language skills alone are such an asset! It seems like you're focusing mentally on grades you received over 11 years ago, when you've demonstrated that you're an entirely different person now than you were then.

My advice would be, find an individual you may want to work with at a university, and send them a pretty simple email. Explain to them just a little bit about you; who you are, where your interests lie, and any part of your life story that feels appropriate. Ask them if they're taking on students next year, and if they would have any insight on the department's view of older or adult applicants. I apologize, I can't figure out the best phrasing right now as I'm on mobile, but I think you know what I mean.

To be quite honest, I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit for what you've accomplished and how driven of a person you seem to be. Furthermore, it took my mother 27 years to finish her bachelor's degree. Frankly, if somewhere isn't willing to help you, move on to the next place. There will be someone who will hear your story and want to help you and work with you to make your goals more reachable.

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I appreciate you guys taking the time to respond!


I feel better knowing that my "soft skills" can be valued, but still feel unsure that I could apply with what I've got now. From the admissions committee's perspective, they may not have enough information to judge my academic potential and I have zero research experience. Preferably I would just start over as if I had never gone to college…


After thinking about it these last few days, I don't feel as rushed as I when I wrote the post. I believe the best possible scenario to be "eligible" for a decent doctorate would be to get a new bachelor degree from a good college, get involved with research and (then) get good letters of recommendation. I think, besides the grades, that would give them an idea of how capable I am.


I'll be moving to the Cambridge area in August, that's why I thought about the Harvard Extension Program. Initially I thought about the master's program, but then did a little research and there's a lot of negative opinions about the open enrollment policy and the fact that it's not a full-time program.


So I thought a strategy could be starting at Harvard Extension bachelor program, as if I was taking community college classes, and then after a year or two, apply to transfer to a full-time college like Brandeis or Boston University, for a double major in psychology and neuroscience.


After that I think I would be at the same level as most applicants for good doctorate programs.


Do you guys think I'm complicating things too much or that could really be a good strategy?


Thanks again!

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