Should I attempt a third undergrad degree?
March 19, 2011 12:26 PM   Subscribe

I’ve settled on a professional grad programme I’d like to attend. It’s fairly competitive. Like almost every other such programme in Canada, minimum entry criteria include a four-year BA with a B+ average or higher (likely, much higher) in the final two years of study. Most will not consider applicants with any other profile, e.g., a three-year BA + GRE + additional courses taken as a visiting student, as has been suggested in other questions. I’m writing because I suspect I’ve got the stinkiest background imaginable - two undergrad attempts, and more. I sincerely thank in advance anyone with the patience to read further.

I’ve got a decade-old three-year BA in a tangentially-related subject, in which I obtained wildly bipolar results. (As + Fs = Cs. If I didn’t feel I’d mastered an essay, I didn’t turn it in. Contributing factors: ADD, perfectionism, depression, highly unsettling and awful personal circumstances.) I'll call this is BA-1.

I later attempted another BA and obtained similar results, owing to more of the same, and poor decision-making – this time I was driven and deluded enough to think I could do well in full-time study while working a 60-hour week, and commuting 3 hours a day. This is BA-2. Abandoned it in the second year for a working holiday that wound up lasting five years.

While there, I eventually enrolled in a qualifying programme in the subject I’d like now to move into. This effort was compromised – and initiated – by more dumbass choices. I was in a nightmarish relationship with a(nother) troubled person, and thought school might save me. (I also neglected to read the fine print and turned in three essays 5 minutes after their [coincident] deadlines – at this uni, that meant an automatic fail. I appealed but lost.) (Dip-1.)

Some time after that – still in the crapulous relationship – I undertook a post-grad certificate (related to the job I was doing at the time, not the career I’m after) and achieved an A-. (Dip-2.) I finished it last September. (The rationale for this one reflects compromises made with the expectation of staying ‘abroad’ and working on aforementioned relationship. It blew up; I’m back home and facing my past and future. I’m determined to take up what I believe is what I ought to be doing.)

I’ve read this and this and this. Also this and this (plus this). Apologies for my arrogance, but I don’t think anyone’s made quite so many ill-fated attempts.

Would it serve me better to

- try to salvage BA-2 (would mean reapplying as I’ve engaged in study at another institution. I’d also have to take additional courses later in the discipline in which I actually want to work) or

- go for a third BA in my preferred subject?

I’ve rung up relevant grad admissions staff at the relevant universities; all confirm the need for a four-year BA, and wouldn't commit to suggesting one route over another.

FWIW – I’m managing my personal issues satisfactorily, and intend to take things as slowly as needs be this time.
posted by nelljie to Education (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's a bit hard to say without knowing more about the program in question. In spite of the shrinking job market, graduate student numbers are booming, and every university I'm aware of is interested in bringing in more of them. I think this is frankly insane, but since the market will bear it, what's to stop them, really. They may bring in people who meet the basic requirements but may or may not have the ability to finish the program, and offer them no financial support. (In other words: graduate cash cows.) No hard evidence there, but when you see a phd program grow from a handful of students to 30 more a year later, with no extra faculty in the department, you gotta wonder. I don't know if the area you're interested in is one of the fields in which this kind of thing is true, of course.

In any case, it's apparent that you understand that you're not currently a candidate for the program to which you're seeking entrance. If your goal is to get into this graduate program, and you're really committed to that goal above all others, then I think you already know the answer. If you need an honours BA, you need to go get an honours BA. I don't know if a school will let you "upgrade" a 3-year BA to an honours BA, but you could look into that. Maybe it's only a year or two of more courses (two years being preferable to one, to demonstrate a track record of ability). Rather than calling the graduate school you're interested in, I'd call your local undergraduate school and see whether it's possible to upgrade your BA.

You will have to submit all of your transcripts when you apply to graduate school though, and your past problems will be apparent there. If you have at least two years of success and you can manage to explain your past in a way that makes sense, you may have a shot, but I suspect you will always be an edge case. You will need to prove yourself to the faculty you meet as part of gaining a BA (hons) as well, let them get to know you really well, so that they can vouch for you and help explain away your past.

I'd say "bad relationship" and whatever else are really not going to go over well with the admissions folks. Your record shows a lot of poor decision-making, not just one mistake. I'd focus more on what you can do now, and demonstrate what you can do now, both to yourself and to any future admissions committee. It's entirely possible to overcome your background, but only with a record of demonstrated success and skill at time management, and strong endorsements from the faculty in your recommendation letters. So you'll need to spend a couple of years gaining both of those things.

Good luck!
posted by Hildegarde at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2011

It really depends on what the program is and what schools this is all from and what your background diplomas are, as well as when they all were -- if your BA 2 and Diploma 1 were 10 years ago, then Diploma 2 was 6 months ago, that looks better than if your BA was 2 years ago, Diploma 1 last year, and Diploma 2 6 months ago. I cannot really follow your time line, to be honest.

Mostly, you need to speak to the people in admissions at the school you are particularly interested in, because they will be the ones who know what things you can do that will make you a more appealing candidate given your background. (Work experience? Another, more related, diploma? A diploma from that school?)
posted by jeather at 1:01 PM on March 19, 2011

Are you living in the city where you want to attend school? If so, enroll as an independent student in a couple of courses, get to know the program and professors, prove that you're reliable, creative, interesting and bright and would be an asset to the school, and then apply.

Just a suggestion!
posted by TheGoodBlood at 8:32 AM on March 20, 2011

Response by poster: Hildegarde - thank you for your honest appraisal of my situation, and for so clearly laying out my purpose for the next while. (Your excellent advice is helpful in working out specifics, too... e.g, distance courses = not a great idea.)

I take your point on perceptions around the ongoing nature of my 'contributing factors', as I've called them. I'm actually relieved to learn that admissions staff won't necessarily want to hear about the lurid details. I'm much happier offering only as much information as is required to explain things, and starting off with a notion of myself as competent.

jeather - thank you for replying; I did speak to admissions at my schools of choice, but wasn't able to get much more information than was evident on their websites. I can see timelines being relevant. (And don't blame you for being confused; I can see I've used a sort of myth-inspired approach to my presentation of facts.)

Thanks for your advice, TheGoodBlood. It seems they're pretty firm on wanting candidates with a BA(Hons), though. But if I'm rejected at any/all my local undergrad options, I might take some degree-level courses through a continuing education department.

Your responses are much appreciated - cheers!
posted by nelljie at 6:15 PM on March 20, 2011

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