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SOP Advice: How to Address Changes of Major, Large Gap

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Hi all,

I'll be applying to graduate schools for oceanography and planetary sciences. I've got quite a few issues that might appear on my transcripts and I'd just like to get some suggestions on how to address them in my SOP.

To begin with, I started college in 2002 and performed spectacularly poorly: three Ds my first semester and a GPA of about 2.5 after four semesters. During those four semesters I changed majors four times and eventually dropped out. A few years later I landed at a community college and got an associates degree. I worked for several years and took a single class at another college to help with my job at the time, but ended up being laid off in 2011. I then took two semesters of courses at a different community college, before returning to the very first college I attended in fall of 2012. I changed majors again that semester, this time to physics, which I've been studying ever since.

So, I've got courses from four different colleges, as well as about five changes of major in total. The first few pages of my transcript are quite depressing. Just going over this history here makes me wonder if I should even try applying to graduate school.

Since I changed majors for the last time, I've been somewhat active with research, and my GPA at my school (excluding community college credits, which are all 4.0 GPA) is about 3.65. For a year now I've been working on an independent study project, where I presented what was essentially a book report at a major planetary science conference. I also have been earning some credit hours working in a professor's lab for the last two semesters, primarily automating processes to collect and graph data at two locations. Now that we've got data, I can maybe do some actual science. That resulted in a summer REU at a well-known observatory, which I just finished.

So, even though I had a rocky start to my collegiate career, I've at least made some progress. Up until I actually changed my major to physics, I hadn't taken any upper level courses at all.

Any advice would be appreciated on how to mention all of this in an SOP.


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Agree with rising_star: don't dwell on this in your SOP. 2002 is a really really really long time ago. I would summarize all of your experiences prior to your current school in 2-3 sentences. Focus your SOP to tell your story since 2012 and especially after your change of major to physics. Also, if you can choose the order of your transcripts (e.g. many schools ask you to scan all your transcripts into one PDF and upload that), order them so that the most recent transcript is on top. 

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Thanks for the advice.

Unfortunately, the school I attended in 2002 is the same one I started back at in 2012. As a result, the transcript will show the courses from 2002 first, with all the changes of majors at the very top. So, even if I put that one transcript first in the PDF, they won't see my recent results first.

Anyway, I have an idea where to go from here. Thanks again.

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In such cases (which are, as one might expect, common), we advise our clients to simply de-emphasize the negative aspect and emphasize the theme of progress, i.e. that since your rocky start, you underwent a dramatic turnaround and are a completely different student/person now, and that you have learned from your early mistakes. This is something professional editing can assist with, if you are so inclined.


Edited by TakeruK
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