14 years ago, I attended med school. After 6 years and chronic depression issue, I decided to withdraw from that program. This means I have an official transcript, but of course did not earn a degree. (In my country, you can start med school right after graduating high school, and I enrolled when I was 17 years old)

I am currently taking a bachelor's degree in Literature, and so far I have gotten straight As, and my GPA is 4.00 (The maximum grade I can get in my country). Since I feel very passionate about my current major, I plan to do a graduate degree (MA&PhD) in Literature/Linguistics in Europe or the US. After seeing the application requirements, I have noticed that most institutions require all college level transcripts to be submitted. That would mean, I have to submit my med school transcript as well.

My poor performance in med school experience and the transcript are haunting me. The med school grades certainly look terrible compared to my Literature grades.

Will this affect my chance to be admitted to good graduate school in Literature/Linguistics? I start to worry that they will see my past failure as inability to work in PhD research.

  • Literature and linguistics are two unrelated fields. Jul 2, 2018 at 18:44
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    @AzorAhai Not necessarily in the United States. The general norm here is that anyone who studies one is required to study some of the other, similar to how those in studio art are required to take some number of art history classes, and those in art history are required to take some number of studio art classes. Jul 12, 2018 at 18:37
  • @guifa That's funny, I wasn't required to study any literature to get my linguistics degree, because knowledge of literature doesn't inform linguistics as a science. Jul 12, 2018 at 18:39
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    @AzorAhai Were you general linguistics (from a self-standing Department of Linguistics) or were you specific to a particular language / language family (from a Department of Foreign Languages)? What I have always seen in, for example, Spanish departments is a literature track or a linguistics track, but each includes a handful of courses from the other. Given the OP's repeated mention of Literature/Linguistics, my guess is that is the type of program he is looking at. Jul 12, 2018 at 18:54
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    @guifa yes, I studied in a department of linguistics. Jul 12, 2018 at 19:01

3 Answers 3


Your past career as a medical student was so long ago that it might as well have been someone else. I doubt that a grad school in your current field will still hold you liable for problems you experienced much earlier in life, especially given your accomplishments since then.

If you are concerned enough to mention it as part of your application, then just make sure to comment about why you believe it’s not relevant to who you are today and why schools shouldn’t worry about a repeat episode. Of course, you can point to your current record as proof of the change!

  • Thank you for your reply, @aeismail . It's relieving to read your helpful comment, and I agree, I will mention it and comment about it. Hopefully the grad schools will not dwell too much on it, and if one of them does, then it's not the right school for me. Thank you again. Jul 1, 2018 at 2:19

Of course you can't determine how others would judge you. It may well be that some reviewers will see your past as an indicator. That is true for anyone and for any sort of failure, academic or otherwise.

You can't, and shouldn't, hide your past, and you shouldn't be overly fretful of it either. It is what it is. I wouldn't try to over-explain the past either. A short acknowledgement of your past problems is enough.

However, since the number of applicants to your desired program probably exceeds the number of available slots, you need to give the reviewers something positive - a reason to want you in the program. It seems to me like you are doing that now, so the other answers here seem good to me if a bit sanguine on how you might be viewed.

But since this is Literature you want to pursue, do something interesting in Literature that you can point to, even if it is in local publications. What can you add to Literature and its analysis that says to a reviewer "This is the candidate we want." The interesting thing you do, however, needs to have some visibility, though, as an undergraduate, not excessively so.

Note that everyone makes mistakes. Most people realize that. Most people also realize that people can change. Most people, in fact, do change over a lifetime.


Most language programs that I'm familiar with care little about your performance in non-language courses, so long as the grades aren't awful. As long as you have decent performance in them they will only care about the difference between an A or a C in, e.g., a math course if they're looking to distinguish between two near candidates.

If you want to pursue a particular subfield then they'd really just be concerned about mediocre grades in related courses (for example consistently getting Bs or Cs in computer science courses if you're looking to study digital humanities, or in statistics classes for linguistics).

The fact that you continued in the medical program for 6 years before dropping out, and currently have a perfect GPA tells me you would little problem being accepted into a program, especially if you explain why you dropped out. In fact, if you were interested in a translation/interpreting program, you'd probably have a solid advantage with the medical background you have.

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