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Admissions Grad School Statement of Purpose for non-major

  1. Dec 24, 2016 #1
    I'm here to get advice on my personal statement/statement of purpose for grad schools. However, my major is biology and I have a low overall GPA (but not physics GPA). In fact, I was academically dismissed earlier in college because of grades. However my previous two years were very good and I've obtained a lot of credit hours within physics.

    This leads me to my question: how should I address the A) choice of major and B) the academic dismissal in my statement? My advisors and professors have told me I should take ownership of all of this and not ignore it within the statement, but I'm a little confused on how to address it. I don't want to linger on it or bring more attention to my "failures" than I need to but I need to explain myself somehow. Can I get some advice on how to approach this?

    I also want to say that, if your response to this is that I shouldn't apply or that I should realize how the odds are stacked against me then I'm going to ask that you not respond to my prompt. I'm well aware of the odds and the competition so there's no point in me rehashing this conversation. Anyways, thanks in advance for the help!
     
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  3. Dec 24, 2016 #2
    The competition to get into a low ranked physics masters is not very high, if you pay for it yourself you will get in. I'm at a major state university and all the science departments will admit almost anyone if they pay the question is, why do it?

    So why are you doing it?
     
  4. Dec 24, 2016 #3
    Short answer? I like physics and I'm good at it, in that order.

    Long answer? I've discovered that I have a really deep passion for astrophysics. Cosmology, early universe evolution, and computational physics in general. I've always had a love for science but no real direction. Once I was in physics II and took some upper level physics courses I FINALLY realized what exactly I wanted to do. So...it took me a little while but I'm here.
     
  5. Dec 24, 2016 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    You see, here's the thing. When asking a question, you don't get to decide both the question and the answer. Furthermore, this sounds like you are coming in with a real big chip on your shoulder. This won't help you, either in this forum or in graduate school.

    It's important that you realize how and why the odds are stacked against you. Because of your dismissal, you have provided objective proof that you cannot handle a rigorous academic program. The committee is not going to be inclined to accept you over someone who has demonstrated that they can - or even someone they aren't sure of. Your essays have to address this, and they have to give specific, demonstrable reasons why things will be different. They will want to see more than a promise from you - they are going to want to see evidence.

    Even with such evidence, many will not be convinced. You are going to want to apply to many schools - as many as you can afford.
     
  6. Dec 24, 2016 #5
    The entire point of me adding that paragraph was to avoid you having to go on that rant. However, I am interested in this part. Can you elaborate? Would strong recommendation letters, a distinctive increase in grades, and good research experience count as clear, demonstratable evidence in your opinion? I have all of those on my side. Also, as I have asked, what is the best way to include that part of my academic history in the statement?
     
  7. Dec 24, 2016 #6

    symbolipoint

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    Your newer or more recent history, as long as it continues, may be stronger than your dismissal history and may become more important. Maybe putting less emphasis on the dismissal events is justified.
     
  8. Dec 24, 2016 #7

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    Let me then be more direct. You have a bad academic record. Coupling it with a great big chip on your shoulder cries out "more trouble than he's worth". You have to decide which you want - the chip on your shoulder, or admission to grad school. You can't have both.

    Maybe. Do the recommendation letters address this? Are they from physics faculty? Is the research experience well beyond what your peers have done? Is it in physics?
     
  9. Dec 24, 2016 #8
    One, perhaps two, of the four recommendation letters address this. Three of the four are from physics faculty. The fourth is from a biology professor that I worked under for 1.5 years, with whom I also did research. Which answers the last question. No, the research is not in physics. I wouldn't say that my research experience is beyond what my peers have done. However I have worked on two large computational astrophysics projects within my curriculum than I plan to highlight in my statement.

    Perhaps what I've been saying hasn't come off the right way. I don't have a "chip on my shoulder" and honestly I hate that you've inferred this from one post. But I guess I can see where you're coming from. Here is my dilemma...I'm getting different advice from different people and I don't know what to do. Should I really spend time and effort trying to explain myself? Should I completely ignore it? Or should I own up to it somehow, mention that things have changed, and focus on everything since then?
     
  10. Dec 24, 2016 #9
    That's what I'm leaning toward...not focusing on that too much. Mention it, say that I've learned and that things have changed, and move on to the work that I've done since then.
     
  11. Dec 24, 2016 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    People are different. And that includes people on the committee. Different people find different arguments more or less compelling. The best we can do is to clarify what the concern the committee will have. I will say that avoiding discussing your past is probably a mistake. The committee will know about it. Don't you want to be able to be able to present yor own point of view?
     
  12. Dec 25, 2016 #11

    Choppy

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    When people review the application of a non-major, one of the first questions that comes up is whether or not the person is adequately prepared for the graduate program. As a graduate student you're likely going to face a qualifying examination. What are the odds you'll be successful on this? As a general rule, students who haven't had the same kind of preparation as those who have majored in the subject tend not to do as well as those who have. The same question comes up for graduate courses and the candidacy examination. In some cases the department is willing to work with the student to fill in holes, but in my experience what's reasonable is allowing the graduate student to take a single senior undergraduate course. Much beyond this and the committee will simply see you as not yet ready for their program. The bottom line is that you pretty much need a degree in physics to go to graduate school in physics. The exceptions tend to apply to exceptional students who have degrees in tangential fields like physical chemistry or electrical engineering - students with whom there is no doubt that they will be successful if they pursue graduate studies in the program.

    When people review the application of someone who has had some kind of academic issues in the past - dismissal, academic probation etc., the question that tends to come up is whether the student is strong enough to be successful in the graduate program. If the student has "turned around" and reported a higher GPA in more recent years, that's great, but the question will still come up. Which student is going to show up to the program - the student with the higher GPA or the one that struggled? Remember that the pass-level is higher in graduate school - anything less than a B is bad news. This is usually in the context of many other applications for that same position, most of whom will have had reasonably consistent GPAs through their undergrad. So it's not just a case of getting over a bar, but the height you reach compared to the rest of the pack.

    Unfortunately I don't think there's a perfect formula for how to address these questions, but as others have already said it's important to address them to the best of your ability. This is not "shifting the focus" of your statement of purpose. It's giving the people assessing your application information that they will want to know.

    For the record, it's not completely unheard of for a student to discover what he or she really wants to do mid-way though university and experience a major change in motivation and study habits. This happens and people can recover and can get into graduate school when it does. But sometimes it takes another lap around the track.
     
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