I am applying for a Master's in Computer Science for the program of artificial intelligence. I already took a class in A.I. but I got a "W" on it. I wasn't doing very well and wanted to drop the class, I was also taking 20 credits at the time and didn't had the time to put the extra effort.

How will this be evaluated during my application for a Masters? Should I mention it or defend it anywhere in my application?

Some more background: I am not really into excuses, but if it helps to better understand why I dropped it. About half the class, dropped the class because the professor was not very good. His grading was unfair, and also for me it felt he had a personal nemesis, because he was also my academic advisor and very often I would disagree in a respectful manner as to what I want to pursue in my degree. I didn't want my GPA to be affected by a C or even F. Also he was not a very effective teacher, but he seems to be very respected in the academia (he has some of his research cited 800+ times). Which I am sure he deserves.

EDIT: I already graduated and recently been working and had to use AI.

  • You have a W on AI. Now you want to pursue AI? Do you still have time to re-take it? – scaaahu Nov 29 '16 at 14:22
  • 1
    The reason I suggest you to re-take it is because I think it's better for you to make sure you'll like it. You need to at least take one semester class to find out what it is. – scaaahu Nov 29 '16 at 14:28
  • I already graduated – user2789433 Nov 29 '16 at 16:00
  • @user2789433: Does your institution allow one to take courses in post-baccalaureate status? Ask them! – Bob Brown Nov 30 '16 at 1:52

A withdrawal on a course that appears key to your masters' studies is probably a big deal. It would be one thing if your W was in something more tangential to your onward studies. But if you have withdrawn from a class in the exact same topic that you now want to study for your masters' degree, you really do need an explanation for it. And it may hurt your chances.

Unfortunately, you don't have a great story to tell. It may well be true that the professor was a poor teacher, unfair, and even biased against you. But you don't really have any way to provide evidence of that. The admissions committee will just be going on your word. And unfortunately for you, those are the exact sort of things that poor students tend to say as excuses. Saying such things is likely to reflect poorly on you rather than justify your W (especially if the professor is respected in the field). I would avoid saying these things. If you get asked about it, focus on the fact that you were taking too many credits at the time and needed to cut back.

So, what are your options?

  • You could always just go for it. This might be a negative on your record, but still you may get accepted into programs anyway--especially if the rest of your track record is excellent. It would be less worrisome if you have other classes or projects that demonstrate your ability/interest in AI.
  • Try to fill the gap somehow. Either by retaking the course, or doing some other research/work in the area to prepare for grad school.
  • sorry if it was not clear. I already graduated some years ago – user2789433 Nov 29 '16 at 16:04
  • @user2789433 oh. If you have been working in industry and have a good track record there, it's probably much less of a big deal. – user24098 Nov 29 '16 at 16:12

Apparently you are not currently enrolled in AI in fall semester. Bummer.

The options I see for you are:

1) Hold off with submitting your applications until after you have some documentation of spring enrollment or pre-enrollment in AI. Supplement your application by later (one or two months into the spring semester) submitting a letter from your AI professor to support your performance to date. Visit office hours so your professor can get to know you quicker.

2) Diversify. In your application(s), indicate a strong interest in some other branch of computer science as your primary subfield in your essay. You may speak of your interest in AI as well. Once you are admitted and enrolled, it should not be difficult to switch streams.

A letter explaining the W should not be necessary and would just come across as defensive.

I personally would lean toward option (2).


"I already graduated and recently been working and had to use AI."

If this work experience with AI is strong enough, and you can get this well documented through a strong letter of recommendation from a work supervisor, then you may just go ahead and apply. No explanation of the W would be needed in this case.

  • sorry if it was not clear. I already graduated some years ago. – user2789433 Nov 29 '16 at 16:04
  • @user2789433 - Thank you for the clarification. Please add an "update" or "edit" to the question. If you have any relevant work experience or self-study in AI please include that information. // Is there any particular reason for not enrolling in an AI class in your area ASAP? – aparente001 Nov 29 '16 at 16:10
  • Yes I have some experience in AI. But not formal education on it or something beyond the norm. – user2789433 Nov 29 '16 at 17:09

I would not worry about the 'W' if you have a strong transcript. Admission committees understand a 'W', even in a field of interest if your overall transcript shows you as a strong student.

Be sure to explain why you are interested in AI in your essay.

If someone brings it up, I would just say

I had too many credit hours, and dropping that class caused the fewest problems with my graduation plan.

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