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Our university has the option where a student can withdraw from a course within the first month from the commencement of the course. This would lead to 'W' grade and is generally not equated with a 'Fail' grade. I took a course in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Course and had to withdraw from it as I could not manage the workload due to several other courses which were somewhat difficult. I later decided to take a Machine Learning (ML) course next semester and have cleared that course. I have later taken few MOOCs too in this field, but only after graduating.

Now I wish to apply for an MS in CS preferably in Canada or US as an International Student. I wish to pursue AI/ML specialization or at least mention in my SOP that I have a strong inclination towards this field. Should I be explaining the course withdrawal which can be noticed in my transcripts?

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No, it is not necessary to justify the W on your transcript; however, it could be useful to address it indirectly.

I took a course in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Course and had to withdraw from it as I could not manage the workload due to several other courses which were somewhat difficult.

Self-assessing your limits is a valuable skill. You withdrew from one course in order to meet your learning goals in others, which is a responsible response to a high workload.

I have later taken few MOOCs too in this field, but only after graduating.

This is the type of thing that you might consider emphasizing in your SoP, rather than dwelling on past negative experiences (especially if other areas of study are not present on a transcript).

In short, you should use your SoP to highlight your strengths and explain why shortcomings (or perceived shortcomings) of the past will not be an issue in your future studies.

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If this is the sort of thing you focus your SoP on you are making a big mistake - missing an opportunity. Your SoP should be about the future; your plans, goals, and how you intent to achieve them. Wasting words on 'splaining old stuff won't get you accepted. The CV and transcripts are about the past. The SoP is about the future. Only bring up the past for things that directly and emphatically support the future.

If asked about the W, be prepared to give an honest explanation, but things that sound like apologies for things you consider missteps needn't be brought up proactively. If you think you are qualified, say that somewhere, though the SoP has a different purpose.

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  • Regarding your point 'If asked about the W, be prepared to give an honest explanation' .. Does it mean that the university to which i have applied to might come back with questions instead of straightaway saying an accept or reject?
    – AksTester
    Jul 11, 2021 at 21:05
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No, you don't need to explain this as it's just a single course on your transcript. It's pretty common to have one W; it does not reflect badly on a student unless it's multiple courses over multiple semesters.

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