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trajanED

Weaker grades in my last 2 years of college due to working

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I'm about to finish college (Bachelor's in Computer Science) and I've been thinking about applying for a master's degree. I got really good grades in my first year of college, I was in the top 5% students, but during my second and third year I worked full time as a software developer so my grades dropped quite a bit (receiving mostly unremarkable and even some poor grades in my second year). That is in great part due to my attendance, since for most of the subjects that I've had, your activity throughout the year influenced the final grade. I've been thinking that I can offer an explanation regarding this in my motivation letter, but I'm not sure just how in depth should this explanation be.

Should I just mention this situation it and leave it at that or should I also give out the reasons I thought focusing on my job, rather than my college classes, was worthwhile? 

I know that I've screwed up my chances for getting a master's degree at a really good university, but just how bad will this look, after all, I did work into a field closely related to my my field of study, so it can't be all bad, right?

 

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My opinion is that you should not say anything to the effect of "I wanted to focus on my job, not my classes" when applying to academic programs such as the Masters programs.

What do you mean by "poor" grades? I am not sure if you mean Cs and Ds or Bs instead of As. If they were Bs, then you should say in your SOP that you were also working full time while in school and that you had to balance work and school. If you were getting Cs and Ds, then I would just say you were also working full time---I'd leave out the balance part since if you got Cs and Ds then I am not sure you can really say you were balanced. 

Is there a good reason why you stayed in full time classes while also working full time? Most students would be expected to drop to part time status if they are also working full time. Unless you have a good reason otherwise, I would not say that your lower grades were due to not attending classes---skipping large chunks of your coursework and/or overbooking yourself are not good traits for graduate students. 

Maybe someone from your specific field can provide more details, but in regards to your last question, there is a reason why Masters and PhD programs want you to have a Bachelor's degree for admission rather than requiring work experience. You can't completely substitute your education requirements with work because graduate programs are academic programs.

What are your long term goals? Is it academia or otherwise? You mention that you want to apply to Masters programs, but do you want to also do a PhD or get a Masters and work outside of academia? If you want to go into academia, you might be better off at a good university for your Masters so that you can get into a good PhD program. In this case, have you considered repeating the classes in which you did poorly to increase your GPA and then applying in a year? If you don't intend to stay in academia, then maybe this is not as much of an issue. 

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5 hours ago, trajanED said:

Right now, if I were to get accepted into a full time  master's programme I'd most definitely focus exclusively on it. Considering my past experience, do you think that this is worth briefly mentioning in my essay? I don't want to let the impression that I plan on continuing my work through my master's degree.

Disclaimer: I don't have experience with the education culture in the Netherlands or Sweden, so maybe this doesn't apply.

But I think your idea is a good one. In your shoes, I would mention that I worked full time during the second and third years, which impacted my coursework. Then, I would say that I plan on devoting my full effort and energy on my academic program in graduate school because I will not be continuing my employment. 

That's about the amount of detail and space I think you should use to address it, in my opinion. No need to say that you were skipping classes, and no need to directly mention your poor grades.

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Thanks for the sound advice! At my university switching to part time status was not possible. The thing is that I've been studying algorithms and taking part in computing competitions at a national level years before I joined college. Basically, I was eager to use my knowledge and solve real life problems as well as prove to myself that I can thrive in a different type of environment. At the time that I made my choice to focus on my job, it genuinely seemed that I had more to learn from it, but I can say from my personal experience that, as you said, you can't completely substitute your education with work. Right now, if I were to get accepted into a full time  master's programme I'd most definitely focus exclusively on it. Considering my past experience, do you think that this is worth briefly mentioning in my essay? I don't want to let the impression that I plan on continuing my work through my master's degree.

Yes I mean that my grades dropped to C's, pretty much. I've been thinking about applying to a university in the Netherlands or Sweden as I am an EU citizen and the tuition fees are really low in those countries. 

  

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My mentor suggested that I did not mention any of my negative aspects in my personal statement. She said that those were things that she would address in her letter of recommendation. It is better for your personal statement to reflect the positive experiences you've garnered, instead of your missteps. Do you have someone writing a recommendation for you that could address your grades and your work ethic?

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