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I am halfway through my Honours at an Australian University and am wanting some advice about grad school admissions and acceptance.

Last year I got accepted into an honours program at one of the top universities in Australia, despite my unimpressive grades. I attained a WAM of 56% in my Undergrad and 70% in my grad-dip. I never finished high school due to hospitalisation and it has taken me a fair few years to catch up with everyone else. Despite this, my honours WAM has been significantly improved and is sitting at 91.5%. Additionally, I have been hired as research assistant for one of my Profs, presented my research at a post-grad conference, and will have (fingers crossed) my name on a published paper by the time I graduate.

My supervisor has told me to think about doing a PHD once I graduate. However, I am worried that my past performance will restrict my ability to get into a good program. I would love any thoughts as to whether my recent positive achievements could out way my poor previous mark. Also, would it be wise to explain why my past grades where so poor when applying to grad programs?

Any opinions or advice would be deeply appreciated!

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  • Congrats for your Honours WAM. You have already met the requirement for all PhD programs in Australia. For Higher Degree Research (HDR) application in Australia, basically, you need to get the approval from a potential supervisor before applying. Once you manage to do that, everything else is just for formality. I also assume that you are Australian.
    – Neuchâtel
    Jan 14, 2023 at 23:15
  • Really!! Thank you for letting me know that! That really helps to stop my worrying.
    – Samantha
    Jan 14, 2023 at 23:17
  • Yes, don't worry. the next step is to find a potential supervisor.
    – Neuchâtel
    Jan 15, 2023 at 0:35
  • I realize this question is tagged for the US, but I suspect it may still be useful. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/38237/…
    – user137975
    Jan 16, 2023 at 1:36

2 Answers 2

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Your WAM in your honours year is in the high-distinction range, and depending on the weighting used across the years in your degree, you might end up with First Class Honours. In the Australian system that is sufficient for entry to a PhD candidature and is usually also sufficient for a scholarship. Depending on the school you apply to, you might need to identify a supervisor willing to supervise you or you might be able to get entry prior to identifying a supervisor.

When schools review applicants for a PhD candidature they are trying to determine whether the applicant has the skills needed to start learning research work, including the relevant undergraduate background. High marks in the honours year usually means that the applicant has a good grasp of the undergraduate material and this is likely to be more important than earlier undergraduate grades. Having previous research experience on a conference paper and another publication is also much more valuable than higher grades in earlier undergraduate courses. Reviewers will probably look primarily at the honours class received in your degree (e.g., first class, upper second class, etc.), which is determined by the weightings used in your current university.

So long as your overall honours class is good, it is unlikely that lower marks in earlier undergraduate courses would cause concern. At most, your lower grades in earlier undergraduate courses might lead a reviewer to conclude that you may have some skill gaps in undergraduate material that need to be plugged. Your high grades in honours year show that you are able to overcome any such deficiencies and improve rapidly, so it is unlikely to be a big concern.

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    To confirm this, when I was doing honours and going into PhD the rule of thumb I remember we had was class 2A honours (upper second class) means you could do a PhD if you found a supervisor, class 1 honours (first class) meant you would definitely be able to get a funding scholarship from the government if you found a supervisor. This might have changed since then and may be field dependent (this was just under 10 years ago, and in physics). Jan 17, 2023 at 9:34
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I don't have a way to evaluate the Australian system, but my guess is that you are fine and you should relax. You've already demonstrated that you can succeed despite some serious issues and the implication is that some parts of your CV make you stand out.

The strong support of your supervisor is also something that points to success in moving to the next level.

Some places might put overmuch emphasis on the grades but not everywhere. Cast a wide net for places to do grad work and you should be fine. (View from across the pond. No, the other pond.)

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  • Thank you for the advice and reassurace Buffy! I will deffinetly cast a wide net.
    – Samantha
    Jan 14, 2023 at 23:27

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