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Personal Statement for PhD in Clinical Psych - Need Advice!


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Hi there! so I'm a senior in undergrad (sociology and psychology major) looking to apply to some clinical psychology PhD programs!

From what I know, it's pretty taboo to talk about your own psychopathology on a personal statement. However, I have not so great grades from freshman year (a C+ in biology and a C in physics 2 and then a couple of Bs in social science classes), transferred to a better school, maintained a 3.5 GPA, and then this summer had to withdraw from a summer term so now I have two Ws on my transcript as well for linear algebra and intro to programming. All of this was due to my C-PTSD and subsequent alcoholism (which I am working on now). I'm pretty frustrated because I don't to leave this unexplained but I also don't want to cross a taboo subject. How should I address this in my personal statement? 

If it helps, here's a short list of the stuff on my CV: 

- GPA: 3.5, major GPA 3.9
- worked in university's LGBT center for past year and continuing this year
- worked in neuroscience lab for one year, presented poster
- worked in clinical psychology lab for 21 months, presented poster
- worked in child neuropsychology lab for a summer
- worked with a professor at the school of social work for her poster and publications
- presented at MBGLTACC, an LGBT conference for college students/staff on the intersection of hinduism and being LGBT+
- presented at a LGBT POC conference on an independent research project
- currently working in a social psychology lab that is related to my honors thesis, which is related to both social and clinical psychology
- GRE scores: 162 verbal, 167 math, 5.0 on the essay. above the 90th percentile for all 3.

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3 hours ago, pshamu said:

Hi there! so I'm a senior in undergrad (sociology and psychology major) looking to apply to some clinical psychology PhD programs!

From what I know, it's pretty taboo to talk about your own psychopathology on a personal statement. However, I have not so great grades from freshman year (a C+ in biology and a C in physics 2 and then a couple of Bs in social science classes), transferred to a better school, maintained a 3.5 GPA, and then this summer had to withdraw from a summer term so now I have two Ws on my transcript as well for linear algebra and intro to programming. All of this was due to my C-PTSD and subsequent alcoholism (which I am working on now). I'm pretty frustrated because I don't to leave this unexplained but I also don't want to cross a taboo subject. How should I address this in my personal statement? 

If it helps, here's a short list of the stuff on my CV: 

- GPA: 3.5, major GPA 3.9
- worked in university's LGBT center for past year and continuing this year
- worked in neuroscience lab for one year, presented poster
- worked in clinical psychology lab for 21 months, presented poster
- worked in child neuropsychology lab for a summer
- worked with a professor at the school of social work for her poster and publications
- presented at MBGLTACC, an LGBT conference for college students/staff on the intersection of hinduism and being LGBT+
- presented at a LGBT POC conference on an independent research project
- currently working in a social psychology lab that is related to my honors thesis, which is related to both social and clinical psychology
- GRE scores: 162 verbal, 167 math, 5.0 on the essay. above the 90th percentile for all 3.

Personal mental illness can be crafted in a way that's not a kiss of death, but you don't need to worry about it unless you really want to. From what I see of your profile, you are the ideal candidate (as long as you fit really well with the program). You have strong grades, strong GRE scores, relevant experience (both work and research), and I would assume strong references. I don't see the two 'W's being a problem for you. If I was on the adcom, I would assume that you had time-management or personal life conflicts that took up your time so you withdrew. Additionally, freshman year B's & C's indicate normal freshman, so again nothing you really need to defend here. I see a lot of love for LGBT social and clinical psych on your profile, and I suggest crafting your statement around your current accomplishments.

However, if you insist on adding your personal history into the statement, ask yourself why it is so important to you. My assumption is that your experience has molded your research and professional perspectives. Maybe it's helped you see the field in a new way and consider questions that need to be explored. If you're going to talk about mental illness, talk about those perspectives and research ideas. 

And congratulations. It takes a lot to accomplish what you did both professionally and personally. Good luck!

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Absolutely NOT. You should never talk about any negative issues in your personal statement. Your personal statement should only come from a standpoint of strength. SOP's for PhD programs are pretty standard. Discuss your past goals, talk about your current research, then segway to future goals and close with details of the specific program you are applying to. You should absolutely never discuss or try to explain away bad grades. It never ever works. Now here is the touchy part, I would hesitate on recommending anyone who is considering applying to a graduate program in psychopathology to discuss these types of problems in an admissions essay unless the problem has long been treated and is behind the applicant. PhD programs can be long and very taxing and students and eventually practitioners need to be as healthy as possible. If you really must explain withdrawal for an entire semester, you should write a very short and benign email to the admissions committee and ask that they attach this to your file if an optional space is not provided in the application. - Admissions Track

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It's not true that you should NEVER talk about any negative issues in your personal statement - if there were a string of bad grades in through your junior year, or a gap in your studies due to time taken off, sometimes not addressing it will raise more questions. There's a finesse to these things.

However, I agree with the first comment that this is something you absolutely don't need to address. You have a very high GPA and are otherwise a strong candidate, and a few Bs and Cs in your freshman year are not the kind of thing you want to try to explain or even need to.

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