In my first few years of university I had very uneven grades because traditional classrooms just didn't work for me. My GPA was probably around a 2.8-2.9. I was able to turn my grades around by not attending lectures at all. My GPA for these last two years of undergrad was a 3.5, and my GPA in graduate coursework was a 3.8.

Most of my statement of purpose is forward looking, but I feel the need to elaborate on my transcripts a little bit, particularly because I am hoping to switch fields. I also want to also try to amplify the fact that the decision to not attend classes was positive and life-changing; it has benefits for functioning independently as a researcher.

So, my question is: Would it be perceived negatively if I stated in my SOP that I stopped attending classes?

I'm not asking for writing help, but I'll include a short snippet just to demonstrate what I have in mind:

I have always been naturally curious, but coming from a family where both parents did not graduate from high school I struggled with developing healthy academic habits and with finding success in traditional classroom environments. My poor habits persisted until the fall of 2015 when I made the decision to stop attending classes so that I could experiment with alternative ways of learning. This risky decision forced me to critically reflect on my weaknesses in a way I never had before, and while I did not realize it at the time, this decision was my first step towards becoming an independent researcher. By initially stepping away from the structured classroom environment I struggled finding success in, I was then able to enter and engage in my graduate classroom discussions with maturity and a recalibrated sense of purpose....

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    Despite the very specific-to-you nature of your question, it seems to me that it could be a suitable question here by asking something along the lines of how likely would graduate admissions committees view non-attendance as evidence of some of the desired skills for research success? Maybe revise along these lines if you get downvotes or someone says this is too specific for Academia. The only thing I can think of now about your (partial) statement is that "was my first step towards becoming an independent researcher" might sound like you think you're already there, which could backfire. Oct 23, 2020 at 18:52
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    I largely stopped going to class too, but I would never dream of baldly stating that -- it sounds confrontational at best. Why not focus more on the positive aspects? Instead of saying you didn't spend time in lecture, why not emphasize the "alternative" methods of learning you started using?
    – knzhou
    Oct 23, 2020 at 19:11
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    Yeah, I get the criticism. To me it doesn't sound confrontational at all so I'm thankful for the feedback and my bias check, it's nice to have input with a similar backstory. Perhaps you can try to formalize your comment as an answer? Oct 23, 2020 at 19:13
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    Interesting question. I suggested some clarifying edits; feel free to edit further if you disagree with any of them.
    – cag51
    Oct 23, 2020 at 20:22
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    It might be worth specifying the field also (or is this obvious from your username?). My experience is in physics, where the professor often uses the lecture to work through the derivations from the textbooks, but you mention "classroom discussions", so your field may have different considerations.
    – cag51
    Oct 23, 2020 at 20:26

3 Answers 3


I'd shorten and tone it down if I were you. Being a researcher involves a lot of sitting in other people's talks, so we all know that lectures are boring. But we still do it, because those are an excellent chance to socialize. We might just pack a paper to read in case it gets too boring. So your statement makes you look a bit like a loner. And being able to study something without being present in a lecture is a skill I'd assume anyone with a degree has. I don't think anyone ever finished a degree where all lecturers are perfect explainers and there is no need to study something on your own at some point.

So while I would not necessarily view your explanation negatively, I also don't see it as helping you much. So while you should explain your bad initial grades, I'd keep it short and simple. Something like "Coming from a non-academic family background I struggled initially, but then I changed my approach to studying" without going too much into detail.

Finally I think there is also a bit of an "I am very different"-undertone in what you write. It makes you seem aloof and possibly difficult to work with. This is again minor, but in direct comparison with a similar candidate it could tip the scales against you.

  • "And being able to study something without being present in a lecture is a skill I'd assume anyone with a degree has." Depending on what you mean by "study something without being present in a lecture". I've been doing miserably in my classes this year because I have a disability that impairs my ability to work/study from home; I can't learn effectively without having in-person lectures and tutorials/practicals.
    – nick012000
    Oct 24, 2020 at 3:22
  • Agreed with this: during my undergraduate studies, 80% of the reason I would attend a lecture was because it got me out of the house, seeing my friends, probably hanging around a bit afterwards. If nobody I knew would be there I invariably wouldn’t attend.
    – Tim
    Oct 24, 2020 at 10:43
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    @nick012000 so what do you do if a particular instructor's lecture isn't helpful? What will you do after you graduate when you need to keep your skills up-to-date on your own? I hope you figure out a way to learn independently, that sounds like a rough disability.
    – Kat
    Oct 24, 2020 at 17:12
  • @Kat Mostly I've just withdrawn from classes with the intention of giving them another go next year, once vaccines from Covid have hopefully been approved and things can go back to normal.
    – nick012000
    Oct 25, 2020 at 0:28
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    @nick012000 I think what Kat was suggesting is that there are plenty of things that cannot be learnt in a classroom (mainly, but not exclusively, because such classes do not exist), both in academia and in industry. You should have a plan to address this issue, if your disability is preventing you to learn them effectively in the traditional manner (I don't want to presume you don't have one, but the way you phrased your comment seem to imply that you only learn stuff in a classroom). Oct 26, 2020 at 13:33

First, I am sympathetic to your dislike of sitting in classrooms, at scheduled times, for artificially limited intervals, and too-often lecturers/teachers who add little to the textbook, or even to their own notes... and are possibly non-interactive as well. Or, as in k-12 in the U.S., often far more concerned with crowd control (not their own fault) than course content.

So, when I got to college, I rarely went to class, but/and read assiduously outside of class. My repeated experiments with class attendance mostly confirmed my skepticism of the value of such attendance, with a few notable exceptions. And, from a pragmatic viewpoint, some instructors are very offended if one does not attend...

Thinking of the latter point especially, it would be hugely unwise to make a blanket declaration about the worthlessness of classes. It would also be wildly premature to claim that your viewpoint on that somehow validates your "research skills".

So, as in @mlk's answer, I'd recommend just saying that, due to being a first-gen college student, it took you some time to figure out how to successfully navigate the system, but/and now you are indeed succeeding.

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    I will take up this advice, some of the criticisms mentioned in your response and mlk's response are ones I had in a blindspot. Particularly that sitting in lectures you might not be interested in is just part of the job - it's a viewpoint I never really considered fully. I am grateful for the insights. Oct 23, 2020 at 20:24

Did your GPA improve as a direct result of not attending class?

Or did it improve as a direct result of you using the time you would have spent in class to do more study by yourself?

If so, the fact you didn't go to class is irrelevant.

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