I have a few challenges applying to grad school.
March 25, 2013 11:49 AM   Subscribe

I need to explain to a graduate school admissions committee why my undergrad grades suck and convince them I am a viable candidate as well even though I don't own the required psychology degree. And ff course, the one program requiring the degree is the one in which I am most interested.

I am applying to several work/Industrial/organizational psychology programs in the US and Europe. I have an undergrad degree in economics and business administration which is related to the field. Take a look at what I'm thinking of putting into my statement of purpose motivation letter. It's fairly rough draft and I know the grammar, punctuation and organization need work and will address that as I get closer to getting the message right. It;s the content I'm concerned about. It's a bit wordy and may be attracting too much attention to these topics. My original undergrad GPA was about 2.34, ouch! Take a look and let me know what you guys think and give me any criticism and suggestions you may have. If anybody has any interest in reviewing the entire letter feel free to Mefi mail me. Thanks all!

Grades and bachelors in psychology:

I have two concerns regarding the requirement to hold an undergraduate degree in psychology and my previous undergraduate grades. Regarding my less than outstanding undergraduate performance, I can say that my reasons attending university where wrong and I was not a serious student. My recent performance in both undergraduate and graduate level psychology courses demonstrate my ability to perform academically at a high level which I attribute to maturity, focus, and an intrinsic motivation in the subject matter. Over my last 60 North American credit hours or the equivalent of past two years of study or 120 ECTS hours I have achieved a GPA of 3.24, and raised my overall GPA to 3.03. My total credit hours in psychology will be 31 North American 62 ECTS (with sociology) with the completion of Statistics for Social Sciences and Workforce Training and Design of which my GPA has been almost perfect at 3.97. The requirements for a bachelors in psychology at The University of Colorado is 31 credits of which I have completed with 15 credits that will have been post-graduate level in Organizational Psychology nearly meeting all of the required classes for obtaining a bachelors degree in psychology. The requirements lacking are a class in social psychology and abnormal psychology classes which I have studied independently and feel comfortable with most of the concepts. I have received a professional certificate in organizational design and am in progress to receive another one in training and personnel development at a master degree level through Colorado State Universities Masters in Applied industrial/Organizational Psychology program. On the Graduate Record Exam psychology subject test I scored in the 93 percentile in social psychology which includes the previously mentioned topics. My performance on the general GRE was strong, scoring in the 89th percentile on the verbal section and 64th on the quantitative exam, bringing my total score to 317 on the new scoring system and approximately 1330-1350 according to the previous system. This year I was awarded a scholarship for independent learners for a class in Statistics for Social Sciences.
posted by Che boludo! to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
liketitanic has it; when you talk to your letter-writers, let them know the things you'd like to focus on. If you've chosen your letter-writers well, this should be no problem because they will know you.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:00 PM on March 25, 2013

The statement of purpose is the opportunity for you to tell them why you want to study in the field and why at their university. It is your opportunity to show them that you understand the field and what it means to do graduate work in it. It is not unheard of to include a sentence or two--a sentence or two--acknowledging a low GPA.
posted by Pineapplicious at 12:01 PM on March 25, 2013

You're getting a bit long-winded about your weaknesses. Try this:

In my last two years of study I have achieved a GPA of 3.24 and raised my overall GPA to 3.03. While my degree is not in Psychology, I have 31 credit hours in Psychology with a GPA of 3.97. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my readiness for the rigors of your program during the interview process.

Make it shorter and say what you want. You want an interview.
posted by 26.2 at 12:11 PM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Make it shorter and say what you want. You want an interview.

Not all fields & programs have interviews as part of the admissions process, of course. (None of the eight physics grad schools I applied to did, for example.) So before you put something like this in your statement, be sure that the process will actually involve an interview.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:17 PM on March 25, 2013

Response by poster: Johnny Assay - It does include an interview.
posted by Che boludo! at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2013

The folks telling you to prune are correct. Put yourself in the shoes of the reviewer - if they wanted to know your GPA or details of your transcript, they'd turn the page and look.

I also wouldn't focus on unmeasurable personal traits, like motivation and maturity. What can you tell them about why you are a good fit for their specific program? What do they specialize in? Show that you've done your research and are excited about and prepared for their program. Maybe you did a class project on their specialty? Tailor your letters.

Contact the program directly and ask if they'll consider you without a psych degree. Don't waste your time and application fee if there's no hope AND if it is possible, they'll probably at least hint at the appropriate way to address it in your app.

It's very field- and program- dependent, but it may also be appropriate to contact professors in the program that you'd particularly like to work with if you have questions for them.
posted by momus_window at 12:48 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I second the idea of contacting professors and others in the program to express your interest and concerns. I was in a similar situation when applying to grad school, but my extracurricular committee work and otherwise demonstrated commitment to the field (education and philosophy) came across via this specific outreach.
posted by Schielisque at 1:16 PM on March 25, 2013

In social science fields, the statement of purpose is a brief intellectual biography showing how your academic interests have evolved to a point that they speak implicitly to your 'fit' with researd occurring in the department you're applying to. If you have specific research interests or some familiarity with research happening in the department, play that up a lot. Skip this other stuff maximally. The people you're talking to want junior colleagues, and they hear excuses about undergrad performance daily from their students.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:18 PM on March 25, 2013

Yes, this is drawing too much attention to this stuff. These are largely things you should let your recommenders say for you. Otherwise--they'll have your transcripts. They can see your grades, your credits, and the requirements you've met.

I'm not in social sciences, but I am a prof in the Humanities who has actually done graduate admissions and I would strongly expect some kind of statement from the student about a notably poor stage in their undergraduate education. I agree that this draft gets into the weeds a little too much, but unless the process is very different in the social sciences than in the humanities I would advise you not to leave this to your referees (oh, and try to make sure you have at least one referee who can actually speak with first hand knowledge about this period of your academic career: "yes, he was a screw up then, but even then you could tell just how much better he could do if he would just put his mind to it. It has been wonderful to see him blossom yada yada yada.").

One thing to bear in mind is that you can be arming the admissions committee with an argument to make to their Associate Dean (or whoever) about why you should be accepted (or funded) despite not meeting some notional GPA cut-off. In my experience there were numerous ways we could slice and dice GPA ("last two years of major" or "looking only at courses in the major") to make such cases. And sometimes I'd have missed those possibilities if students hadn't pointed them out.
posted by yoink at 1:28 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I too had a not-so-stellar undergrad GPA, worked my behind off to get some pre-reqs done for my desired program with a 3.98 GPA, and did address my poor undergrad GPA directly in my essay. Yoink's comment jives with what professors in my program (professional degree in healthcare) told me when i was applying: I was told that if I did not address it, the committee would think it strange and they would reject me outright. Highlight the high psych GPA, address your low overall GPA directly and with a short explanation, and then move on. What you've written is a little over the top, but if you edit it down (e.g. you don't have to put your GRE scores in there, they'll see them, in fact, it's probably a first cut thing before they even read your essay), and instead focus on your great Psych gpa, how hard you've worked, your scholarship, and all the things that show that you are *committed*. (You can probably omit the "raising overall GPA to 3.03", because that number isn't impressive. A 3.97 IS impressive.)

That's what I did and it worked.

Do not have your recommenders do this talking for you! Have them sing your praises, because they know you NOW and hopefully in classes you've got good grades in, and not back when your GPA was not great. Own up and move on to talk about your amazing accomplishments, your dedication to the profession, your career and professional goals, and what you'll bring to the program.

Of course, I agree with suggestions to ask someone in the program directly.

Good luck!
posted by absquatulate at 2:48 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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