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Low GPA Justification for Psych M.S.


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I am applying to a masters program in psychology, with the hopes of going on to a PhD afterward. I am not applying directly to PhD programs because I do not have the GPA or research experience required to get in. While the masters I am applying to is less rigorous, my GPA still falls below their average. From everything I have read/heard, you should briefly touch on the reasons for low grades in the SOP. However, all the psychology specific advice I have seen says to definitely avoid talking about any personal diagnoses in your application. How do I explain that I am capable of so much more than what you see on my transcript when the low grades were caused by untreated mental illness?? Now that I have been diagnosed and undergone treatment I am doing so much better, and my recent grades have all been very good, I just don't know what to say about it in my SOP... Help!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi there!  Reading this reminded me so much of myself two years ago and when I was in the same exact position. Low undergrad GPA and an O.K. GRE score (partly due to mental health issues), and wondering, can I even get in anywhere? I can't speak to your situation directly (I don't know your exact research background, GPA, GRE scores etc...), but I can tell you that despite my own similar issues, I did manage to get into an M.S. program in Psych, and a competitive program at that!   When I first wrote my SOP, I had mentioned in nuanced terms that I had struggled with mental health issues, leading to a lower GPA. However, my one professor immediately told me to remove it and to simply put instead, in brief terms, that though I had some difficulties in the past with adjusting to a vigorous undergrad institution, I had overcome those difficulties and continued to improve.  Since you mentioned that your recent grades were much better, this explanation will probably work well for you too.  It may not be completely honest to say that this is the reason for your past struggles, but you should, if you acknowledge your GPA being low, keep it positive and short. Basically, try not to draw too much attention to the issue, but don't totally ignore it either. Unfortunately, one of the greatest and cruelest ironies is that when applying to a psychology program, admitting to having a mental health issue is seen as a huge red flag, despite the fact that a good portion of psychology focuses on mental health (and you would think would be more understanding of people with these problems).  Ultimately, schools want to ensure a return on their investment of time/ funding, and want strong, stable candidates that can handle the stress of graduate school. 

From both my experience and the advice I've received, I would say that the best course of action is to focus on the things departments really look for, research/practical experience, strong letters of recommendation, relevant coursework, fit with the faculty, a defined idea of where your interests lie, and the direction you'd like to go with your work.  Don't stress yourself too much over one thing, after all, your application is made up of many parts and where one place may not be perfect, plenty of other areas may shine. 

Hope this helps, and good luck!  You can do it! :)

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