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Dropped out years ago


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Hello everyone,

I'm a graduate student in art history from France and I'm considering doing a PhD in the US.

I have very good grades - in a top ranked school, published articles, did some colloquium, and I'll spent some months in the UK to improve my english.

But... years ago, I started a first BA in an other subject, dropped out after three years with horrible marks. After that, I did another BA and now I'm finishing a MA.

Should I include the transcripts of this first college experience, or can I avoid it ?


Thanks in advance !

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Honestly, I would consider this a situation where you can reach out to the schools admissions staff and ask. You wouldn't want to not include it and have them consider it lying if they found it later, but they might not care/want the information. I wouldn't think it would hurt you as a candidate though if it was included because there would obviously be growth. 

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Take a close look at the application requirements.
If it states 'all schools' then send them all schools (including the one you would like to forget), if it states 'schools where a degree was granted', then only include that one, and your current one (since you are expecting a degree from them).


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Everywhere I applied required that all transcripts be sent. I was similarly stressed mostly because I started off somewhere, my grades were less than stellar, and then I transferred from a four year school to a two year school, earned an associates degree, and then transferred again to a different four year school to earn a BA in a field totally unrelated to the one I was studying when I first started school. When all was said and done, I had a transcript from two years spent at a state school with no degree awarded, two associates degrees from a community college, and a BA from another state school .

When I talked to my mentors about it and expressed my concern over the need to send all transcripts, they told me to just be upfront about it and address it in my personal statement. They said give a brief discussion of how I started working in one area, discovered it wasn't working, and then started down a new path. That way it wouldn't look like I was hiding anything and I had some control over the narrative rather than just sending the transcripts and letting the admissions committee draw their own conclusions. That strategy seems to have been successful. Maybe try talking to one of your letter writers to see if they think you could do something similar?

For what it's worth, I've been accepted to fully funded PhD programs and no one I've spoken to on visits so far has brought up my grades from the first two years. If transferring and all that jazz came up, it's been because they were curious about how I decided I wanted to be a historian after leaving my original field. It was more of a discussion about what experiences, choices, etc. finally sent me off in this direction. They never made me feel like I had to explain myself or justify why I'm still a worthwhile candidate despite my unorthodox path through undergrad. Honestly, I've been pleasantly surprised by how much of a non-issue it's been.

My advice would be to talk to a professor and see what they think about briefly discussing your situation in a personal statement.

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I'm in a similar situation. My gap between attempts was around thirteen. I originally went to school pursuing a B.Sc. in Genetics. After three semesters I dropped out. I made a lot of bad decisions in that time and had a lot of family issues going on. My performance reflected that. Fast forward to the present and I'm finishing up my B.Sc. in Computer Science with a 3.94/4.0 GPA, good GRE scores, etc.  

When it came time to apply to graduate schools I was worried about this as well. The advice I was given by most of my professors, especially my recommenders, was to check the requirements. If they wanted all transcripts then send them all and address that time period in my SoP. If for whatever reason they didn't specify all transcripts then don't send them. Most of the schools I was applying to wanted all past college transcripts. A couple just wanted transcripts for the school where I would be receiving my Bachelor's. I did what I was advised. 

In the end, I've interviewed with eight POIs from five schools. Only two of them mentioned my first attempt at college, and only one of them made any sort of big deal about it. Everyone else was more concerned with my performance in my current degree and my research experience. I have three admission offers, so I don't think it made a huge difference. That's just my experience in a single academic field though, so take it as you will. 

Edited by kurfew007
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