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I am applying to a Masters Program at a top university. I already have a Bachelors and a Masters degree, in addition to work experience. I have strong letters of recommendation and my Masters degree grades (both quant and social sciences) are excellent (all A's). Unfortunately, during my bachelors degree I had some serious personal issues with a parents health, which resulted in me not being able to handle the course load for a couple of semesters, resulting in some poor grades (few Cs and a D). My overall GPA still ended being well above average and majority of my grades were still A's.

Should I explain this in my application or simply focus on the strengths of my application? I will not be including this in my personal statement but there is an option to provide additional info. On the one hand, I feel like these poor grades are a blot on my record (some poor grades sprinkled among As) and not a good reflection of my potential. I basically went through a tough time where my life was so uncertain that I couldn't properly plan my course load or withdraw from courses on time. These courses were quantitative, which is relevant to the program I am applying to. At the same time, I feel like adding this info in my application might draw attention to the negatives or make it seem like I'm shirking responsibility.

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You should explain.

Unlike (say) mental health problems, there is no stigma attached to having a parent in ill health. If you don't explain, people will be wondering what the reason for the bad grades was, and whether it was mental health problems or some other cause that reflects poorly on you. If you explain, they they will know what caused them and will see these bad grades in a much less negative light.

  • Yes I think at this level, there is much to be said about fulfilment of potential that may not yet have happened, and so explaining things to some extent overcomes any naive assumption that this is the end of the road if you failed one/two courses at 21 years old. They want to see overall grades beyond some threshold requirement, and I suppose signs of commitment. The transcript is only going to affect admission in the absolute best courses (based really on oversubscription and competition). If you ask me the transcript submission is a bit of an unfair request. – Alexander Kartun-Giles Jul 31 at 20:07
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I would suggest that you focus on the strengths, not what you might think as a weakness. You have history since the poor grades. Show in your application that you are a good candidate for success.

But, be prepared to give a reasonable answer if you are asked about the past. But what you can say in the written materials is probably limited, so focus on the positive.

  • First, this strategy has the disadvantage of making it likely that you never will be asked about the past. Second, there is ample opportunity to explain a semester or two of poor grades in the written materials. The real question is whether this will help your application or not. I really don't see why it wouldn't help in this case. – Peter Shor Jul 31 at 9:47

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