I am an international student from China and currently pursuing undergraduate degree in Canada, majoring in computer sicence. My academic experience is very tortuous and I want to tell my story and ask my chance to be considered for the phd study.

This is my second undergraduate study. I got my first honor degree in ECE at University of Windsor, Canada with distinction in 2015, standing at the top 15% of graduated students with a GPA of 83/100 (It doesn't look amazing but the university gave low grade to students). Afterwards I worked for 2 years in related industry. During the work, I found what I was more interested about is computer science. However, without a single computer science course taken, I find myself lack appropriate academic training. I planned myself to pursue a master degree in US. After getting a GRE score of 324 with 4.0 in analytical writing, I fortunately got admitted by Columbia University in 2017. This turned out to be a horribly overwhelming experience possibly because I lacked the foundations of computer science, I got academically dismissed 1 year after for not being able to maintain a gpa higher than 3.0. After a thorough retrospection, I made my decision to get a second bachelor degree in computer science in Canada. Right now, I'm 1 year to graduation with a GPA of 89/100 (not sure about the rank but should be close to top 1st or 2nd). I do get involved in some research projects with professors during summer, though I got no publications. However, the experience in Columbia seems to haunt me. So here I have some questions regarding the application:

  1. I acknowledge that I have to include the dismissal experience in my application. The question is when calculating GPA, does the grades in Columbia take into account for the overall GPA or the GPA's are seperated for each institution I've attended?

  2. How much will admission committee care about the dismissal experience? I did perform poorly in academics during some period of my life, but I think I have recovered from that not only in terms of mentality and maturity but also improvement in my ability of study. Will this experience kill my chance to get considered?

Thanks for any comment

  • Do you want to study in Canada? The US? Other? And for what degree?
    – Buffy
    Apr 9, 2021 at 19:40
  • I could answer for US study, but probably not elsewhere. It might also depend on what degree you seek?
    – Buffy
    Apr 9, 2021 at 20:16

2 Answers 2


without a single computer science course taken, I ... got admitted by Columbia University

If Columbia admitted someone who had never taken a course in CS to their masters degree in CS, I'd say they probably made a mistake. A surprising one. It's clear to me that the problem was

  • You did not know you were enrolling in a degree that is not for CS beginners
  • Columbia did not realize you were a CS beginner. You are not a CS beginner any more, so this whole situation is no longer relevant.

does the grades in Columbia take into account for the overall GPA or the GPA's are seperated for each institution I've attended?

Each institution will compute its own GPA. It would be unreasonable to combine them, as each university has its own grading system.

How much will admission committee care about the dismissal experience?

If you explain the circumstances (not prepared for the degree program) and what you did about them (second bachelors degree with good grades) then I think most admissions committees will consider your more recent grades to be more important.

You should seriously consider if you have any use for more degrees. You might have enough already.


Can you provide more information about where you would like to apply for a PhD? Is it in Canada you want to apply? Having this information will make it easier to answer more specifically.

A lot will depend on where you are applying. It is unfortunately true that many institutes that receive a high volume of PhD applicants will dismiss applications with rough patches in educational history. However, you might be able to circumvent this in two ways:

  1. Add a cover letter explaining 'extenuating circumstances' and explain the rough patch in your history. Then go on to stress the impressive industry and academic track record including a switching of subject.

  2. Correspond directly with supervisors. If you can apply for a specific PhD project or a specific research group they will often help with the application process via the university. Start by reaching out to professors and meet with them to discuss your interest in their work/research group and take the time to explain 'face-to-face'/over zoom what happened in your past. This kind of personal interaction tends to lead to less callous responses than CV review procedures. Additionally, talking to a specific supervisor is generally a good idea before applying to a PhD as finding an understanding and supportive advisor is key to a successful and satisfying PhD experience.

  • I think that 2 would be unusual and ineffective in the US. I don't know about Canada. Admission is by committee not like in Europe where a PI hires people. I don't really see any of this as being effective for US graduate study. Sorry. Welcome to the site, anyway.
    – Buffy
    Apr 9, 2021 at 19:44
  • 1
    Thank you for your clarification. I don't know how usual it is but from my own experience applying for a PhD in the US I found this relatively common among Universities. The PI can't hire you directly but if they do agree to pay you the admissions committee can sometimes be persuaded to relax admission requirements. Apr 9, 2021 at 19:49
  • I think that your field may be different from most, if your username here is an indication. Some lab sciences are more like the European model, especially if most of the grad student funding is from grants. But CS, math, etc. aren't like that.
    – Buffy
    Apr 9, 2021 at 20:00
  • I actually am a computational biologist so work in the computer science department. However, I my work was grant funded so that might be the important difference. Apr 9, 2021 at 20:12

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