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A gap in biography in application

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I am the second year Master student and I'm planning to apply for PhD this fall. My goal are top schools in the USA and my chances l seem to be pretty good overall (6 published articles, 4 of which are in decent international physics journals like PRB/APL; excellent pGRE and GRE scores, four+ years of research experience; two scientific internships abroad; also, we've recently submitted two articles in Nature-group journals where I'm the third author, and I really hope that they will be accepted before my application is considered).

However, there is one drawback: I fail to meet all the requirements for grad school applicants, namely "an official undergraduate transcript from each institution attended".

I finished school in 2010 and got accepted into physics department in university in my country. At that moment I was not quite sure what I want to become in future. I enjoyed studying physics but I didn't have any acquaintances who had to do with real physics (in the history of my school almost no one went this path) and my first undergrad institution was fairly weak (although there is almost no better option for physics education in my country) -- only 1 person in 20 pursues career in science after the university in physics department. I was still unsure about what to do with my life in my sophomore year that I started my second degree in Fine Arts simultaneously to the first one. These were fun times.

However, during my third year of study I understood that I have a serious passion for physics and I would like to become a scientist and learn all the amazing stuff in theoretical physics, and do research. But in my university everything seemed to be very bleak and I was recommended to switch to a much much better university from the neighboring country. I had an opportunity to go there in summer, where I was told about the procedure of switching... which seemed to be almost impossible to do. I was given an option to pass the entrance exams to this university and get admitted to the first grade from the beginning, which I ended up doing. So, in 2013 I started my physics undergrad anew in another country. The next year I found a scientific adviser and started doing research, then I graduated and started my Master's studies and now I'm here, preparing to apply for PhD.

Returning to the issue: I am unable to provide official documents to cover these three years of my life between 2010 and 2013. I contacted both institutions and it turned out that they destroy all the documents concerning a non-degree holding student (one needs 4 years for Bachelor's diploma and I left after third year) after three years have passed. All I have left is a plastic student's card from my arts university which confirms that I used to be a student and a hand-written transcript from the physics department (yay! this is the level!) which, I think, has no official power today.

Thank everyone who got this far. I would be thankful for any advice, because I'm really worried that my gapped biography will look bad in my application.


:eynman:
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
CrysPhys
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Is there at least a record of your enrollment? I would contact the Registrar at your previous university and ask for an official letter summarizing your scenario. Preferably along the lines of:

You were enrolled from Date A to Date B.
You did not complete the requirements for a degree.
Your course records were deleted on Date C according to university policy, and no transcript can be issued.

Keep the original for future use should the need arise, and submit a copy of the letter in lieu of a copy of your transcript.
 
  • #3
Choppy
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That seems pretty odd to destroy records of students who didn't complete the degree.

Something else you could try is to approach the universities that you're interested in applying too and ask them for help. There's probably someone in the department of graduate studies or admissions who has experience in tracking down the transcript information they need.
 
  • #4
Is there at least a record of your enrollment? I would contact the Registrar at your previous university and ask for an official letter summarizing your scenario.
Thank you for the advise! I will try to contact them and ask for such a letter.

That seems pretty odd to destroy records of students who didn't complete the degree.

Something else you could try is to approach the universities that you're interested in applying too and ask them for help. There's probably someone in the department of graduate studies or admissions who has experience in tracking down the transcript information they need.
I think, this is partly because they don't store the grades in computer in my previous university, and they probably don't want to store tons of paper. Before three years you have the right to enroll back on a competitive basis and continue your studies from the point you dropped. Then it's impossible.

Thank you! I will try to contact the grad admissions there.
 
  • #5
I am also worried that this part of my biography will negatively influence my odds of getting into PhD program now. Is there anyone with similar experience?
 
  • #6
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I am also worried that this part of my biography will negatively influence my odds of getting into PhD program now.
It might, but what are you going to do about it? The past is the past.
 
  • #7
CrysPhys
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I am also worried that this part of my biography will negatively influence my odds of getting into PhD program now. Is there anyone with similar experience?
I don't have similar experience. But my gut reaction is that your most recent performance and accomplishments (along with letters of recommendation from your most recent professors) will be weighted the most. The most important thing is do not attempt to lie about or hide past problems. You don't need to advertise them, of course; but if someone asks about the gap in your bio summary, have an appropriate answer ready ... as well as an official letter from your previous university. Sure, some may react, "Hey, he screwed up in the past; maybe he'll screw up in the future." But others may react, "Hey, he screwed up in the past, but he overcame those problems, and has done well since."
 
  • #8
It might, but what are you going to do about it? The past is the past.
The most important thing is do not attempt to lie about or hide past problems. You don't need to advertise them, of course; but if someone asks about the gap in your bio summary, have an appropriate answer ready ... as well as an official letter from your previous university.
Thank you for your answers! I gave a call to the university again and it turned out that they are able to provide another official transcript (now they issue appropriate transcripts; moreover, they have saved my data, yay!). I have been misinformed earlier.

Thank you for encouraging me to be honest and not to worry about the things I can't change. I totally agree with this. My concern now is how to put it into my application in a way that it doesn't make me seem worse than I am. For me it's a really long story of finding what I like to do and searching for an appropriate place for this. But there is no space in both my CV and Personal Statement for such long explanations. For other people this might look like I just dropped out of university while having perfect grades and started an identical degree for no evident reason..
 
  • #9
Choppy
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Lots of students bounce around a little bit as they figure out the path they want to be on. The fact that you did really well in whatever program you happened to be enrolled in will be seen positively. There's no bonus points for a linear path to a PhD that I'm, aware of.
 
  • #10
CrysPhys
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Thank you for your answers! I gave a call to the university again and it turned out that they are able to provide another official transcript (now they issue appropriate transcripts; moreover, they have saved my data, yay!). I have been misinformed earlier.

Thank you for encouraging me to be honest and not to worry about the things I can't change. I totally agree with this. My concern now is how to put it into my application in a way that it doesn't make me seem worse than I am. For me it's a really long story of finding what I like to do and searching for an appropriate place for this. But there is no space in both my CV and Personal Statement for such long explanations. For other people this might look like I just dropped out of university while having perfect grades and started an identical degree for no evident reason..
The simplest is to just list

U. of X, 2010 -- 2013
Major: Physics and Fine Arts <<If I understood your first post correctly>>
GPA: Y/Z <<If available from your transcript>>
Degree: Not Completed.

That's full disclosure. No one can accuse you of hiding anything. As I mentioned before, that's the important point; otherwise, no need to advertise or highlight this problematic period of your life, or to add an explanation or justification in advance. If someone on the grad admissions committee thinks it's important, he will ask; have an appropriate answer thought out in advance.
 
  • #11
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If you completed a masters degree I doubt anyone cares.
 

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