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How important are the first 2 years of college?

  1. Mar 30, 2010 #1
    Here's my situation: I'm a math student in their second term of their junior year. I didn't do so good in my first 2 years of college, and even failed a couple of classes (I did manage some good grades here and there though). This was mostly due to a poor work ethic and perhaps some other things (which I won't get into). Looking back, I think I now understand the material well, but my grades do not reflect it. However, last term (start of my junior year) I managed to get a 4.0 average and I am on my way to repeat this current one. I attribute this to making substantial changes to my work ethic and putting in more effort than before. Hopefully I can keep the momentum until I graduate.

    My question is: given those circumstances, to what extent will grad schools be willing to overlook my less than stellar first and sophomore years? I ask because I feel the material I've covered in those two years is not as demanding as the current one, and that a good performance with my current classes requires a good understanding of the former.

    So, in summary, am I already screwed? Or can I still put out a strong application?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2010 #2
    In my experience, most schools were only concerned with the last 2 years of my college studies. Both courses and GPA-wise. I failed half my courses during my first year and had a 2.4 GPA overall. But my core major GPA was well over 3.0. I still ended up going and finishing graduate school at a respectable university. But no where the level of places like Cornell, MIT, etc.
  4. Mar 30, 2010 #3
    It is true that most grad schools are only concerned with the last 2 years, but the first 2 years still have some weight, especially when they ask for your cumulative average. In my opinion, as long as ace the last 2 years by taking the upper year version of the courses that you didn't do well in junior years, and buff up on extra-curricular, you should be fine. Also, you can explain why you underperformed during your junior years in your grad essay.
  5. Mar 30, 2010 #4


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    I also believe the last years might have more weight than the first years. However I'm not 100% sure if for example you failed a classical mechanics course (due to the fact that without a strong background in it, it's hard to imagine that one can get a good understanding on QM for example). If you retook it and earned a decent grade, there might be no problem. I'm just guessing here. I'd like to know opinions on this.
  6. Mar 30, 2010 #5
    The first two years can be very useful for people who didn't come from an amazing high school, in that you can sharpen your analytical skills and find your way in a new environment. Or you can drink until you hear your neurons sizzle like hot fat, although I wouldn't recommend it.

    In other words, while grad schools may not look at the first 2 as much as the last 2, that doesn't mean your final 2 years are not influenced by the reputation you make (or don't) among faculty, and your mindset.

    In your situation, I think a 4.0 rising out of less-than-impressive is actually a rather strong statement. I would infer many good things about someone based on that arc, and while it may not be ideal, it's hardly odd. You can also look into retaking some of those failed courses to prove that the issue was never comprehension. Bottom line: your arc is one of maturation, not decline, and the latter is the big red flag, the former is normal.
  7. Mar 31, 2010 #6
    So I can already kiss those places goodbye, I suppose?
  8. Mar 31, 2010 #7
    I wouldn't say that, but rather that your chances are lower, and you need to work MUCH harder to explain yourself, and make some kind of impression. Never give up on a place, but the important point is that you don't have to go to Cornell (in fact, I'd avoid Cornell like rotting meat) "Far above Cayuga's water's, there's an awful smell! It's an old deserted outhouse, that they call Cornell!" No offense to any Cornell graduates, you of course are the exceptions. o:)
  9. Mar 31, 2010 #8
    From what I've read here and on other websites is that institutions accept individuals that are most likely to complete their programs and not crash and burn, other factors being similar. My guess is that as long as you show steady improvement and a steady work ethic, you will increase your chances of being accepted to the program of your choice. I think it would be unfair if an individual's past has more influence than the individual's recent actions; there should be a balance between the two, no?

    @Frame Dagger: just out of curiosity (I'm not connected to Cornell in anyway except being in the same state), what are the reasons why you would personally avoid Cornell?
  10. Mar 31, 2010 #9
    Oh, I really was just playing around, although I have to be honest and say I really DON'T love Cornell. It's... dreary. I realize that is a TERRIBLE reason to dislike a school, but there you have it. I should add, that a very good friend of mine went to Cornell and had a fantastic experience, which is partly why I tease Cornell at all times. You know how it is! :smile:
  11. Mar 31, 2010 #10
    Hahaha! Perfectly good reason, in my opinion. I don't have anything against Cornell except that it is in the middle of Nowhere, NY. I prefer my universities closer to civilization. Sorry for the side-conversation!
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