There is another answer sort of regarding this topic Academic dismissal from PhD program. What next? . but my situation is different.

I am currently completing applications for PhD programs in Economics and Statistics. I have a Masters degree in Economics from which I just graduated.

I absolutely love these two fields and want to continue with a career in research. When I was an undergrad though I had a lot of trouble and was put on academic probation. It was 3 years ago, and I feel that I have matured a lot since (I did very well in masters program GPA: 3.77), but I do not know how to explain it on my applications.

Some schools specifically ask for you to do so. Others do not. The later are the most challenging since I do not know whether or not to even mention it in other materials (such as the Statement of Purpose).

I can say that I managed to turn it around for two reasons

  1. I developed an incredible passion for econometrics that kept me motivated to perform.
  2. I learned how to work with others more productively. I developed specific areas in which I was very strong, like statistical programming, and because I was willing to help others with their work (mostly students but a few faculty too), I would receive help from them as well in areas I was weak.

It is a shame that I have this on my record, because I feel I would make a great fit for some of these programs, and believe I have a lot to offer. Any advice on how to approach this issue would be appreciated. Thank you

3 Answers 3


I think you know the answer to this: it's what you just told us. If I read that on an application, I'd nod and keep going, my concerns fully assuaged. (I've read similar, and still recommended admission of the applicants in question.)

If, however, I saw a bunch of lousy grades and a probation notation on an undergraduate transcript with no explanation of what happened and what's different now, that would be a huge red flag for me even considering the better graduate-school record. I would wonder whether the applicant would crash and burn again, and what else the applicant might be hiding from us.

Face it head-on, the way you just did here. I can't guarantee it'll be fine, but I think it's by far the best of your available alternatives. People aren't perfect and they grow over time; we know that, and a lot of us are not averse to second chances. If you learned from what went wrong and put it behind you, that's what we need to know.


Faculty are people too: they know that stuff happens, and they know that someone who has fallen once will not necessarily fall twice. What we look for in applications is evidence that they are motivated now. You may not know this, but a sizable fraction of successful applicants had a bad year on their transcript. If it was their last year, that's typically a killer; if it was the first or second year and they've demonstrated since then that they have overcome these difficulties, we typically don't care much about the bad year.


I'd look more at your last performance (master's) than what came before. And if you did OK in the later, I'd turn a blind eye (at least mostly) to previous performance.

Don't worry too much. just go ahead and complete the paperwork. But keep in mind that nothing is guaranteed, keep other options open. Just in case.

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