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I had a bit of an unfortunate experience with an academic institution where I completed the coursework for a theology Ph.D. without high enough grades to continue. There were other things that were unfortunate about that experience, but the best advice I have been given is that if I try to return to studies, I need to explain why I don't have a reference from my previous Ph.D. programs, and if I document things that were wrong, that comes across as "I am a negative person who will publicly backstab a university by criticizing it after exhausting his appeal options" rather than "XYZ happened and if you can document it, we will make accommodations." (Additionally, I've tried to document the talent I have, but documenting that I am talented, no matter what talent I document, doesn't seem to trip any light bulbs of recognizing I may be a promising student.)

In graduate school admissions, what is a convincing non-negative way of explaining "I don't have references from my prior program?" And is there any way to get connections made between "gifted" and "promising student"?

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what is a convincing non-negative way of explaining "I don't have references from my prior program?"

If you dwell on it, it will sound like you're making excuses. It's not really worth spending more than a sentence describing unfavorable circumstances that made you leave this place or that place. It might even be better to not mention at all. Just make sure you have favorable references from somewhere to go with your application.

is there any way to get connections made between "gifted" and "promising student"?

Through achievements. If you say "I am good at X," no one cares, or really believes you. If you say "I did A, B, and C," it's good if you can say "I received award Y," by pointing to things that demonstrate that you are good at X, then you will look good. Talents only count to other people if you use them to achieve results.

  • +1 for "Talents only count to other people if you use them to achieve results" – Alexandros Feb 17 '14 at 12:36

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