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Grad school after a sloppy start.

  1. Apr 21, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone. I am a EU national that did a large part of his education in the US. Upon graduating from a US high school, I got into a big IT school of my choice and had a good future ahead of of me. However, due number of reasons including a lack of emotional maturity, wrong choice of major, bad vibes at home and feeling pressured into working full-time, I ended up performing very poorly. My GPA dipped below 2.0 and was consequently suspended from the university for a year. I intended to follow the dean’s advice and attend a CC for a year before reapplying to pursue my desired major, but due to a sour and painful drama with a relative, I was forced to move back to my country and ended up defaulting on my student loans.

    During the past few years I’ve obtained a vocational degree while working on and off (as the economic climate permits…) in an unrelated field which ultimately granted me access to university in Spain, studying my choice of major and doing very well (top 5 in the class, in a class of 35) at a university where on average only 5-6 students manage to graduate physics every year. I get commended a lot by advisors who see my overall progress. I have also just recently been offered (and have accepted) to study my next and final year at a big UK university under an exchange program, where I’ll get to do a msc level thesis as part of my coursework on top of several graduate courses.

    I have the intention of taking the GRE+pGRE and applying to US grad schools this year. I’ve also managed to save up enough to return to the US and repay my federal loans in a lump sum, which I have learned is a necessity in order to attend graduate school on a stipend if one has defaulted on them.

    I would like to know if my past at a US university will hurt my chances of admission. I really don't know what to expect. I assume any admissions committee can simply take my SSN and look up my history at US institutions, so I'd have some explaining to do if they saw I was suspended due to poor performance. Do I stand a chance or should I not even bother taking the GREs?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 23, 2012 #2
    Bump, anyone?
  4. Apr 23, 2012 #3


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    Hey v0rtex and welcome to the forums.

    I am not a physics major, nor have I studied physics but I am in university and I am aware of people who have gone poorly in the past (myself included) just so you know where I am coming from.

    If you have graduated with good marks from a recognized institution and can fulfill any other requirements, and pay off any outstanding loans, then I see absolutely no reason financially or otherwise that you would not be considered (this does not mean accepted, but rather considered with other applicants that are considered just like yourself).

    The fact that you have been accepted by a UK program makes this comment even more stronger IMO.

    The thing is that a lot of people are willing to realize positive change when they see it and consider this. The reason I think many default to the idea that a failure is always a failure is that change is often a very hard thing to do and in the very dire of straits, it can be even harder.

    Personally if you meet the requirements for applying then I really can't see why not and you would probably want some kind of recommendation letters from youe exchange universities and your home one in spain.

    It's probably a good thing that you went through what you did because it helped you put things into perspective and I gaurantee there will be someone on the admissions board somewhere where you apply to that will realize this.

    I wish you the best of luck.
  5. Apr 23, 2012 #4
    Many thanks for the reply. Is my past history something that an admissions committee would know about (even if I don't apply to grad school at the same university)? Would it be a good idea to explain my episode at a US university in my personal statement? I'm afraid not doing so would come off as dishonest (if they found out) or excessively whiny/immature if I were to go into the details of why I did poorly.

    I'm confident I'll have no shortage of rec letters, including some from profs who are prominent in my field of interest (including one who spent a sabbatical year at a US institution as a matter of fact). I don't know if I could get a letter from my final year project adviser though, as application deadlines are around Winter and the project lasts for a year. Would it be appropriate to ask him/her for a letter when I'd still be a long way from completing the project?

    Again, many thanks for the reply.
  6. Apr 23, 2012 #5


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    To be honest, in my experience it depends on the university.

    I remember when I went to see one university for going back to do mathematics I spoke to the dean directly (I had really bad grades from doing one year with them), and the dean just said point blank to me that my grades were horrible and that I had a slim chance.

    Now I'm in a different uni and I find it a lot better than the one I went to before anyway and I'm just glad how things have turned out with regard to my education and I'm on my way to graduate this year.

    Now unlike your situation, when I went back to the uni, I didn't prove myself like you have with your uni in spain so I was in a slightly different situation.

    But I can tell you from listening to other people talk both privately and even out loud as in speaking to new potential first years, this kind of thing happens frequently in that people turn life around, get into great PhD programs blah blah you know the story (don't know if was a happy ending though).

    The thing is, I don't think you will need to explain anything if you have good grades and good recommendations: seriously.

    The time when you really have to beg is when you have nothing to barter: when you have something to barter, people will knock down on your door but just remember that you will need to keep having something to barter which means keeping a clear head and working just the same as you did before.

    In terms of the letter, I would wait until the final stages of the project. If there is something I have learned is that you don't promise something you can't keep. You have gone well, but just complete what you need to and when it's done, it's done.

    This is also why people don't like giving people a second chance because in many people's experience (especially people that have been affected by people wanting 'second', 'third' and 'twenty-first' chances), if a person gets a second chance they may be likely to blow it if they get it too easy. If a person has shown that they have really made an effort, then they will get a lot more respect.

    So personally I don't think they will ask you about it and if they do just be brief, honest, and say what happened, but personally I don't think that even if they do ask it will be much of an issue if what you have said about yourself is accurate.
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