Do I need to send a transcript from the grad school I dropped out of to the grad school I want to attend?
December 1, 2010 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Two years ago, I dropped out of a grad school program after only one semester. This winter, I want to apply to new grad school programs in an unrelated field. In my application, do I need to include an official transcript from my abandoned program?

I only ask because of the wording of each school’s application instructions, which request transcripts from “each institution attended.” All of my undergrad credits came from one university, and my brief, first foray into grad school was for something completely different (from both my undergrad and from this new grad school venture).

I’m assuming I don’t need to send documentation of my lost semester. I obviously don’t want to call attention to it. But I’m in neurotic application mode, and I’m worrying about shooting myself in the foot over some silly oversight.

Should I ask each school and risk revealing an unflattering bit of my past? Or just not send the irrelevant, second transcripts?
posted by sureshot to Education (13 answers total)
Yes you do. I'm not sure why you think this is unclear. Each institution attended means each institution attended, not each you deem relevant.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:17 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

And for the record, this would not be viewed as a "silly oversight," it would be viewed as hiding part of your record and could be grounds for either kicking you out once admitted or in the extreme case revoking your degree if it comes to that.

Just include in your application a note that you started grad school but could not continue because X, Y, z (The forms include a place for this kind of thing). That would not be a big deal. Omitting a transcript is a big deal.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:19 PM on December 1, 2010

Response by poster: Crap. So is my dropout going to put a big black mark on my application?
posted by sureshot at 2:25 PM on December 1, 2010

Institutions that say "include transcript from each institution attended" do so because they want a full picture of applicants' educational experiences, including "lost semesters." You absolutely do need to send it if you wish to be honest in your application--and if you're in the US and you got any Federal financial aid, including Federally subsidized loans, for your "lost semester", that will show up in your admissions record, and you'll most likely be rejected out of hand for not submitting an accurate application.

Because that's another reason US institutions need to know what every bit of your prior experience has been; there are limits on the amount of Federal aid people can get over a lifetime, and if the institution mistakenly awards over-limit aid, they face the consequences even if they were misled by an applicant.

(Former university administrator here, who worked at an institution that mostly served older learners who were continuing interrupted educational experiences.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:26 PM on December 1, 2010

If you left a program in an unrelated field, I don't see that it would be a big whoop. Presuming that you have other things on your resume to show your commitment to this new field.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:27 PM on December 1, 2010

I am applying to grad school programs this fall as well (MFA creative nonfiction). The answer varies from institution to institution, but in general, I need to send transcripts of all academic work, even if the work didn't contribute to a degree.

I'm in a similar boat as you, sureshot, because I completed my BA at one school, but have been taking community college classes at another since graduation. From my careful scrutiny of program websites, it looks like sending transcripts of all work is the rule, and there are only a handful of exceptions to this. In those cases, the application materials explicitly state that the program only requires transcripts of degree-related work. Usually, though, they want it all, and some programs even state that they may refuse/rescind admission if they find out you've left out a transcript.

If your grades from that one semester of grad school are poor, you can address that either in your statement of purpose/letter of intent, or in a separate supporting document. Most programs I've looked at (again, in creative writing, so you'll have to research this for your own programs) allow you to send a small amount of extra explanatory material.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 2:27 PM on December 1, 2010

And you can always make it part of the essay. "It took a failed attempt at getting my MFA in dance for me to realize how important microbiology really was to me. All the dance classes I took just felt like they were leading me away from my true love, the study of photosynthetic bacteria."
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:29 PM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Crap. So is my dropout going to put a big black mark on my application?

You were only there for one semester, it will look a lot less bad than if you dropped out after 4 years.
posted by fake at 2:33 PM on December 1, 2010

Response by poster: Well, at least now I know. And thank god I asked. Thanks for the advice, people.
posted by sureshot at 2:40 PM on December 1, 2010

FWIW, I dropped out of a grad program partway through my first semester and didn't include it on my two subsequent grad school applications. I was admitted to both and got federal loans for one, and nobody's ever brought up the "missing" school.
posted by epj at 3:12 PM on December 1, 2010

So is my dropout going to put a big black mark on my application?

That depends on the nature of the program and the particular school. But in general, no. It will almost certainly not be a "big" black mark, and it may not even constitute a black mark at all. Consider the other factors—degree of difference between the two fields of study; how old you were during the first foray; how long ago it was; what your grades were; etc. Also, if you have an abiding concern that it will weigh heavily against you, then you can submit a short (1–2 paragraph) addendum with your application explaining your "lost semester."

You could probably get away with it. But with respect to epj, it's a foolish risk to take. The likely downside to disclosure is very small compared to the potential downside if you were discovered. Put another way: If you had realized in hindsight that you neglected to disclose, then I wouldn't sweat it too much; but if you're planning ahead, then I would definitely disclose.

Good luck with your applications. Everybody stresses. I can't tell you that you'll do fine, because I don't know you and some people don't do fine. But generally speaking, those aren't the people who put this much worry and attention into their applications.
posted by cribcage at 4:44 PM on December 1, 2010

Crap. So is my dropout going to put a big black mark on my application?

Not really. Maybe for some programs, but in my case, I dropped out of law school at age 22, and then at 27 applied to masters programs in city planning. I got in. Now I go to Penn. They didn't seem to mind. I explained it in my essay.
posted by millipede at 6:37 PM on December 1, 2010

Along the lines of what others have said, think of the entirety of your application -- transcripts, rec. letters, GRE scores, essay -- as presenting a narrative of your educational background and interests. In your essay you should be able to explain why you moved on from a previous program and now want to enter a new one.

Does it look fishy? A little. If you're trying to get a scholarship and/or funding, if I was on the committee I'd ask myself "Is this person going to flake out again and take a spot from a more deserving person?"

Then again, if you try and "hide" your previous attempt at grad. school you run the risk of getting busted and booted.

You're going to need rec. letters from college, I assume. And those are probably from some of the same people who wrote them for your first program. And they are not under compulsion to lie for you. They could quite possibly mention that this is the second time they've written you a rec. letter.

So the short answer is: yes.
posted by bardic at 12:38 AM on December 2, 2010

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