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Question

Should issues about past academic performance be addressed in the Statement of Purpose or a separate letter to the admissions committee.

Background

I had originally posted about my situation here: Should a dismissal from PhD in graduate application be listed as academic misconduct?

One of the answers to that question suggested that instead of using my statement of purpose to address academic concerns, I write a separate letter addressing the issue. However, others have suggested that colleges are unlikely to read such materials with the application. I have written a short (500 word) explaining the circumstances under which I received my bad grades and what I have done so this doesn't happen in the future. I have also written a short (500 word) statement of purpose that does not address my academic performance at all. Should I rework my SOP to incorporate the academic issue, and skip the additional letter?

  • 4
    I think the explanation of your bad grade should not exceed 200 words. The explanation needs to be brief, direct to the point. – scaaahu Dec 27 '13 at 10:06
  • 3
    Even 200 words seems a little excessive, a couple sentences should suffice as long as you are prepared to explain verbally if called back. – InterestedParty Jan 5 '14 at 13:45
  • SoP should be just your SoP. I'd use the diversity statement to address additional factors that the committee should evaluate. – RoboKaren May 20 '14 at 2:58
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Some web-based application forms have dedicated fields for comments on grades or academic hardships. I would first of all take advantage of these if possible, and second, read the fine print if not: some application guidelines will forbid submission of additional materials. This doesn't have to stop you, but I would contact the admissions staff either way if there isn't a dedicated field. It should be as simple as asking, "May I enclose a brief additional letter explaining an issue in my academic history?"

In my opinion, that's what you should do however you can, unless admissions expressly forbids it, or if the issue at hand somehow affected your academic purpose. The statement of purpose is a fairly important and somewhat haphazardly scrutinized document, so anything tangential that interrupts your flow or the optimism and enthusiasm you express for your present and future work is likely to detract from the cohesiveness your message, the consistency and positivity of your tone, and the room you have to go into detail and cover other important information. You never really know what your readers are going to pay attention to in your writing, so it's best not to take any chances and leave it as flawless as can be, while conveying important but unexpected information through other channels if possible.

  • Mysterious downvote! Anyone care to comment on points of disagreement? I'm listening... – Nick Stauner Jan 7 '14 at 1:07
  • will the explanation for the bad grade and the SOP will not be read by a same person? – Ooker Dec 12 '15 at 19:16
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You should definitely explain it--it is going to catch some attention, after all. Admissions committees recognize that people grow, develop, and change over time; they just need to know that you have. It doesn't need to be much, but it definitely deserves a paragraph just to acknowledge the issue and briefly outline why it's not necessarily reflective of your current self.

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