I began my undergrad at an ivy league university but decided to transfer after one year. It wasn't that the classes were too hard; I went through a bit of a mental health crisis w/ depression, which contributed to a mediocre average (81, if I recall correctly). It doesn't help that I also slept through one exam, earning me a 60 in a course in which I would have otherwise received a high-80. I began to see a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist; the former prescribed me antidepressants and the latter recommended I switch universities. The city in which I was studying did not suit my temperament whatever, and my therapist (rightly) thought that my condition would be ameliorated should I switch schools.

I took their advice, and now, two years down the road, after extensive CBT and adjustments to my medications, I am in excellent mental condition. My grades have improved dramatically (CGPA: 92, and the CGPA of accepted students at the Grad programs I am applying to range from 83-87). Additionally, I have been doing extensive research, I have been published in some undergrad journals (and am waiting to hear back from a more prestigious open access journal), have attended a few professional conferences, and am currently working on a thesis project with a professor, part of which includes (a) designing a course to be offered next term, and (b) assisting with lectures and workshops in that course (basically I'll be splitting the teaching workload with a full time prof for a second year course).

Soon, I will be applying to grad school. I am worried that my application will be thrown out because it looks like I failed at a hard school and so I decided to go to an 'easier one.' I only received 4.0(/20) credits from the first school, but still, I worry this will be a disqualifying factor. So what should I do? On the one hand, I would like to somehow indicate that my mental health was a significant contributor to my lacklustre grades and my choice to switch universities. On the other hand, I do not want to give the impression that I am trying to cover up my own blunders with some sob story. (Somewhat sadistically, part of me welcomes the possibility of not being accepted because of my earlier mediocre grades; part of me feels as if the fact that I'm the kind of person that CAN be so detrimentally impacted by depression is enough to prove that I'm not cut out for grad school). Ideally, I would love for the application departments to only consider my current transcript. That way I don't have to mention mental health nor do I have to worry about my application being thrown out for the reasons above cited. Is this a possibility? More importantly, is this ethical?? I have my reservations. Anyway I know mental health services at the undergrad level have dramatically improved in the last few years to the point that if you have a documented mental illness, some poor grades may be stricken from your record. Is there a similar process for grad applications?

Thanks for reading this. I haven't yet spoken to anyone about this particular worry, though it's been on my mind for the past few months. I am happy to have written it down, even if there is no satisfactory solution. I should mention this: even though grad school is a fundamental goal of mine (often I'll daydream about working on difficult problems at the graduate level), I am OK with the possibility that I just wont get into any grad program whatever. It's a strange thing to think about, but where I am now, I like my life. I did not like my life two years ago. Frankly, if I were offered a choice between (a) attending grad school but doing four years at my past university and (b) not attending grad school but getting to be where I am today, I'm pretty sure I'd choose (b). At any rate, the choice would at least be very, very difficult.

  • There are a lot of roughly similar questions on this site. You might like to browse for a while, starting with those that appear in the "related" pane on the right side (if using the desktop site). – Nate Eldredge Jan 19 at 19:50
  • I am worried that my application will be thrown out — This is incredibly unlikely, but even if it does happen, there is literally nothing you can do about it. Just apply. Save your worry for things you can do something about. – JeffE Jan 20 at 5:16

Just apply and see what happens. You can't change the past.

Typically a graduate application will explicitly say that you must submit transcripts from all universities you have attended (or "earned credits from"). So it is not appropriate to simply pretend that it never happened.

Grad school decisions would, in any case, be based mainly on your more recent work, so the first year of your studies will not carry much weight regardless. I'd ask the question: considering students at your current institution whose records in their later years are similar to yours, are they successful at getting into grad school? If yes, then I think you are in good shape.

There is no systematic procedure in graduate admissions for discarding grades that were affected by medical issues. You can, if you wish, discuss the issue in your statement of purpose (or other similar essay), and it would be up to the admission committee to decide how to take that into account in considering your application. However, my feeling is that you don't need to say much more than "I started at University X, it wasn't a good fit, I transferred to Y. Now here are all the fantastic things I've been doing at Y..."

As you get ready to apply to grad school, you will want to have serious conversations with your faculty mentors. This is definitely something you should discuss with them (though you don't necessarily need to go into as much detail as you did in this post), but I suspect they will agree that it isn't a big deal.

  1. Small school is fine. Some grad programs even prefer it because the mission of liberal arts is more teaching (thus better training, all equal) and the small school students are less disillusioned or aware of the issues at R1 schools.

  2. Nobody will care much about your few credits from somewhere else. I personally wouldn't even mention it, much. Think of yourself as a "Littleco" grad now, not an ex Harvard person. The few credits from somewhere else are kind of irrelevant. Everyone has differences in their background (took a year to walk the A trail, worked a campaign, enlisted, etc.).

  3. They are mostly just going to look at what you have done in grades, scores (important) and research/essays.

  4. I would avoid bringing up the medical issues. Like you say they are fixed. And the time at IvyU was minor. Don't open something that doesn't need to.

(Not meant as a slam but to help you, especially on essays and interactions):

  1. Try to be a little more positive. Life is hard enough. It goes better if you go at it, not doubt yourself.

  2. Your question was very long. Try to tighten up. People appreciate succinctness, it takes/shows work to be efficient in text). Even if you have to be so long, make the paragraphs shorter (people find long ones tedious).

[And for 5/6 I admit this is a do as I say, not as I do.]

Net, net: you'll be fine. 92 > 87 (grades)

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