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Here's my situation. I am struggling with it for weeks. I am a math major applying to Ph.D. programs (pure math). I have a 3.94 major GPA, but in my sophomore year, I got an NP (no pass) in a math course of differential geometry. This is because I didn't make the final for personal reasons. I retook the course (in my junior year, because there is only one such course a year) and got an A, and actually I got full marks in all quizzes and exams.

Here is the thing. Do I need to explain in my "NP" grade in my statement of purpose? Since I am applying to good Ph.D. programs, my statement of purpose is like a research statement, and it shows my math background, research experience, and dedication - all good things. I feel it is very weird to write anything about my "NP" in such a statement. I also feel like professors don't like such things showing up in a statement of purpose.

If I don't write any explanation, I believe that professors will know the "NP" cannot reflect my academic ability. After all, I retook it and nearly all my math courses are "A". However, I am worried that they make some guesses about the "NP" like academic dishonesty (definitely not true), or I don't have the ability to handle the crisis (which is true). Besides, I think (only my guess) professors will be curious about it, so maybe they are expecting an explanation?

All in all, should I explain my "NP" grade in my statement of purpose?

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This sort of thing is always a strategic decision. While some readers will appreciate the clarification, for others it may serve to highlight something that would otherwise not have attracted attention. I suggest seeking advice from professors at your current institution, who can comment on how your overall application looks.

If you do decide to address it, some options include:

  1. Ask one of your letter-writers if they can deal with it in their letter;
  2. Add a standalone note at the end of your Statement of Purpose. Don't work it into the prose of your SoP, just put something at the end such as

N.B. The 'NP' grade shown on my transcript for ... arose because I was unable to attend the final exam for personal reasons. I retook this course in .... and received an 'A'.

  1. Include a cover note with the transcript.

Good luck!

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