Applying for a Masters degree - will my transcript let me down?
October 5, 2017 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering applying for a Master's course in the next couple of years. However, while I have the degree result that meets entry requirements, my transcript from my BA isn't particularly outstanding. Will this be an issue? Further details, excitingly, inside!

I haven't settled on a course yet as am still thinking about what I want to do and whether I can afford it - it would be evenings rather than full time as there are institutions which offer this where I live. (I still need to eat and stuff.)There are two arts based courses that greatly appeal to me, and one that is language/culture based. The former may not be so reliant on transcripts (entry is portfolio based, and they also admit talented people without an undergrad in some circumstances), but the second does ask specifically for them, and I imagine this will be the case for anything more traditionally academic. My job is not particularly related to any of these fields - I'm basically doing it for fun.

I got a 2:1 in my degree which is the minimum mark most courses require, but had to resit several modules as I struggled a lot financially and due to a then-undiagnosed severe mental illness. I also did not do a dissertation for the same reasons - it was not required for my specific (academic, respected institution) course which I am also concerned may count against me! graduated 14 years ago and part of the reason I am looking into this now is because I regret not being able to perform academically to the best of my ability. Is this something they may take into account, should it be mentioned, or would this give the impression I may struggle this time around. I couldn't afford to do an MA when I graduated (in the UK you don't get loans to cover living costs for MAs, and I didn't qualify for the loan scheme that covered the fees) and wanted to take a general break from various things, so it would be nice to take the option now to do it.

Due to the length of time since graduation I don't think I'd get an academic reference either - so that might also be an issue. I have considered whether an undergrad might be better if I'm doing something quite different to the degree I had, but the part time undergrad arts courses I'm looking at don't mesh well with a full-time job, and fees for undergrad now are likely to be beyond my budget! So advice very much welcome.
posted by anonymous to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'll be best off contacting the institutions and specific courses that you're interested in. I know for the MA I'm taking atm, a 14 year break from education would probably put you in a category where the specifics of your qualifications would be less important than your portfolio and/or how you presented the rest of your application, and how you interviewed. This is for an art degree where they don't really care what you did before as long as you have a degree or enough relevant experience. Other MAs may well be more stringent, so it is definitely a good idea to contact the courses and ask how they handle older students with gaps in education. You should also ask about whether non-academic references would be acceptable.

I definitely wouldn't do another BA in your shoes, you'd probably find it quite restrictive in that you wouldn't have the freedom to pursue the things you find fun and would be forced to study things just for the sake of it, which is not what it sounds like you want from your continuing education. Also those fees man, phewf.
posted by mymbleth at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2017

Before I did my masters, I did a post-baccalaureate program. This was very helpful in setting the foundation for my grad work. You might poke around to see if there are similar programs available to you- it can help get you back into "school mode" and maybe even introduce you to some instructors who could act as a reference for you when you apply for a masters program.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:41 AM on October 5, 2017

You've got good advice so far. I applied for a Master's program (and got in!) 7 years ago. It had been probably 15 years since I had gotten my BA with a not-so-great transcript. I transferred 3x! I also got some good grades (an A here and there) and some bad ones (a D here and there). My undergrad years were a mess of being a slacker and coming out and being anxious. It all affected my grades. I'm sure in my essay (which was optional), I wrote about how I was now ready to do what I hadn't done before (and, you know, actually work hard at school). I also had non-academic references - I had been out of school so long, I'm not sure anyone would've remembered me anyway from undergrad.

Good luck - I bet you'll do great. Also it's so exciting to get good grades when you put your mind to it. I was in my 30s and called my mother to tell her and she braced herself for bad news (old habits die hard)!
posted by jdl at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2017

I assume you will be paying fees. If so they will take you with a 2:1 from a prestigious university unless this is a really prestigious and competitive M-level course, which it doesn't sound like it is. You are overthinking it. They would likely look at you with a 2:2. The length of time since you were last in education might be your biggest hurdle in fact. Call and ask. Admissions departments aren't looking to find out your dirty secrets, they are looking to get you through the door and your bum on a seat.
posted by biffa at 10:16 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you email faculty you'd be interested in working with for your MA or the program staff and ask a few questions? Can you sit in on a class? I'd also look for grad students in the programs doing stuff you think is interesting and send them a brief note asking for advice. Not everyone may respond, but you should get some useful feedback. Can you get involved in the relevant community in your area? You want to collect information on what these programs are like / how they're regarded from a broad swath of people. Agreed that many of the uni staff / faculty want your warm, tuition-paying body in a seat, make them convince you that it's a good idea.

I took post-bac classes before grad school because I was switching fields - it was helpful to test my aptitude and a source of recent academic references / good grades. Not sure this would transfer to the arts, though.
posted by momus_window at 11:26 AM on October 5, 2017

I finally screwed up the courage to apply for grad school in a completely unrelated field after years of thinking I wasn't good enough because my undergraduate degree was pretty average. Not only did I get in, I got much much better grades than I ever managed in my Bachelor's degree.

I put this down to:
- I was really truly passionate about my grad school subject
- I had developed skills that I didn't have in undergraduate days, like knowing how to manage my time, how to write well, how to skim read and pull out the important points
- I wasn't juggling a full-time course load with discovering sex and drugs and rock'n'roll because I was 38, not 18.

The KPI I set myself was that I had to show up - I had to go to every lecture, every tutorial, and I had to show up for a minimum number of hours of solo study. In other words, I was much more disciplined than I was as an undergraduate, because I had the adult skills to pull that off.

If it costs you nothing to apply, just apply. If they let you in, hooray, you're in! If they don't then ask for feedback and see what you can do to increase your chances next year - as others have suggested, that might be a bridging course of some sort.
posted by Gwendoline Mary at 1:21 AM on October 6, 2017

I'd be surprised if they turned you down (providing you have a half-decent portfolio) - they need students. Having a 2:1 tells them you have the capacity to cope with Masters-level work.
(Also, it means they don't have to go through the hassle of doing RPEL- recognition of prior experiential learning- to prove to the quality assurance people that the work an applicant has done is equivalent to an undergrad degree.)
An undergraduate dissertation/final year project report is only about 6,000 words, so you could probably find examples from your work life where you've done similar sustained effort to put in your application if you want to.
Really though, phone the admissions people and have a chat- they can not only reassure you but give you the specifics of what they look for so you can provide it. You've got plenty of time to apply for next year's September start, so if you need to, you can polish up any skills you need to prove or create new things for your portfolio.
posted by Shark Hat at 2:08 AM on October 7, 2017

I work at a college, and Graduate Program Directors have specifically said a student's passion for a program and an interesting essay that spells that out goes a long way towards making up any deficiency in grades. Good luck!
posted by poppunkcat at 5:56 AM on October 7, 2017

« Older I seek punk rock compression socks!   |   Technology that is perfect despite being obsolete? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments