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Statement of purpose and crummy senior year

  1. Aug 30, 2012 #1
    Hi, I'm applying to grad schools for physics for next fall after having a rather terrible senior year due to depression and anxiety. It definitely affected my grades (my overall gpa is still 3.5 though) and contributed to a bad and frankly useless experience at my REU. (I didn't really have a research project and my mentor gave me very little guidance and was gone most of the time, and the grad student I was supposed to be working with was kind of busy with his own stuff.) I feel like I need to address my emotional disorder thingy (which I am now getting treatment for) in my statement of purpose or else it will seem like I just got a bad case of senioritis and stopped giving a darn. I mean, I got a C+ in electronics my last semester; that can't look good. >_< Is there a way of explaining this in my SoP that doesn't a) sound like whiny excuse-making or b) indicate that I may not be ready for grad school? Or should I not mention it? I'll be so grateful for any help on this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2012 #2
  4. Sep 3, 2012 #3
    I don't think there is anybody who can help you directly. I was in a similar situation when I was in undergrad, still maintained about a 3.5 even though my mind wasn't always on my work. In my case I mentioned briefly how my life experiences shaped who I am and used those lessons as motivation. I would not advise using your anxiety as the primary theme of your statement of purpose, nor is it wise to say something like "I got a C because of anxiety/depression". That sound like an excuse. Be honest with yourself and the people you are writing too. A strategy might be to mention how you managed to succeed in school even though you were under more stress than the average student. Again, everybody's story is different- just be honest and sincere.
  5. Sep 4, 2012 #4

    Your statement of purpose is not a confession, and you are writing to an admissions committee and not a therapist. You need to keep the statement of purpose focused on positive things and focus mainly on the future rather than the past. If you need to dwell on the negative then write it all on another piece of paper which you don't send out.

    The admissions committee doesn't care about you. They just care if you will be a good academic serf for several years, and that's all the care about, and to them you are just one piece of paper in a stack of hundreds.

    The fact that the admissions committee doesn't care about you as a person can be a ***good*** thing, since it means that when you communicate with them, you don't need to mention (and shouldn't mention) personal stuff which is irrelevant to your role as a graduate student.

    If you got a 3.5 overall, and that's the only bad mark, then I wouldn't mention it at all. The trouble is that you want to focus on all of the reasons why they should admit you (i.e. if you have a 3.5 then presumably you have A's in a lot of your classes).

    Don't explain what doesn't need to be explained. You have a limited amount of space, and you need to talk about all the good things about you. If you are in a bad mood and you can't think of anything good to say about yourself, then you need to work on that.

    Also, I'm assuming here that you have everything under control, and this is merely a matter of presentation. If you have everything together, and you are ready and able to undertake the painful experience of graduate school, then there is no need to mention any of this. If you aren't (and you need to figure this out for yourself), then you need to take some off before applying.
  6. Sep 4, 2012 #5
    It's a bit more difficult than that.....

    The first problem is that its impossible to tell the whole truth about someone in one page. People are complex creatures and if you want to tell someone's life story in detail, this can come to hundreds of pages, and you still won't get to the end of it.

    The big problem with resumes and statements of purpose is that people think of them as autobiographies when they aren't. The admissions committee doesn't care about you, and they are looking for some precise pieces of information. It's important that you give them those pieces of information and nothing else. It's also important to remember that what is important to you can be totally irrelevant to someone else. The particular thing that the admission committee is looking for is information as to whether or not you can complete the program and bring honor and money to that school. If your mental state will not interfere with that, then it's irrelevant and not worth mentioning. If you think that your mental state *would* interfere with going into a graduate program, then that needs to get fixed before you apply.

    The second problem is that when someone is in a depressive mood, then everything good sounds fake. If you are in a bad mood, then you feel like you are lying anytime you say something good about yourself. One difficult part in resumes and statement of purposes is to get past this emotional block and realize that yes there's lots of good stuff that you've done. It's a bad idea to write a statement of purpose if you are an a bad mood, because what sounds "honest" when you are in a bad mood is probably a lot worse than the actual situation.

    Finally, one of the big mistakes that people make in writing statement of purposes is to talk too much about themselves. You need to focus on talking about the school that you are applying to. Why are you interested in that school? People tend to be narcissistic, and they will react more positively if you talk about them and if you put them in a good mood.
  7. Sep 6, 2012 #6
    Thank you so much, you each have fantastic advice. You've really helped me put the situation in perspective. :) I guess I was never clear on what exactly is expected in a statement of purpose, but what you've said makes a lot of sense and I'll definitely bear it in mind when writing my SoP.
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