Grad school statement of purpose advice: should I try to explain a lousy grade?- long

Except it wasn’t a grade, exactly, there wasn’t enough space to write “narrative evaluation”.

Here’s the deal: I’m applying to do a Masters in Public Policy. I haven’t been in school for quite a while - I got my BA in Anthropology in 2000. A lot has changed since then, and my transcript doesn’t exactly reflect my current goals all that closely. No biggie, this is probably fairly common. The unfortunate thing is that I only took one politics class in four years as an undergrad and I received the absolute worst evaluation EVER in it. (I went to UC Santa Cruz, which didn’t give mandatory grades at the time; we got narrative evaluations describing our work in the class. I wish I’d just failed the class because failures don’t show up on official transcripts.) It is absolutely dreadful.

Knowledge of politics is pretty much a necessity for Public Policy. Uh oh.

The thing is, there is something of an explanation for my horrible evaluation. My professor absolutely loathed my writing style. HATED it. I talked with her a bunch of times, did everything I could to rewrite my papers to her liking, got politics majors to give me advice, no luck. The professor insisted that anthropology papers and politics papers were written in the same style, so I shouldn’t have a problem - the eight or ten evaluations from anthropology classes praising my well-written papers seem to prove otherwise.

Anyway, I’m undecided on whether or not I should slip in a little explanation on this terrible evaluation in my personal statement. Something like: “I feel like I should offer a reason for the dreadful evaluation I received in African Politics my senior year of college - it’s certainly not due to a lack of interest or effort in the subject. Rather, it seems I wasn’t able to shed four years as an anthropology major and learn to write a politics paper well enough to please my professor in a nine-week trimester. I hope that the several evaluations praising my well-written papers in other subjects show that I am not inherently a bad writer, and I will certainly make every effort to improve my writing skills as necessary as a graduate student”.

OTOH, I’m afraid of even drawing attention to this horrible eval. Given that this class was seven years ago, maybe they won’t care? (Seems unlikely.)

Don’t. Explanatio non petita, accusatio manifesta (and I’ve probably mangled the spelling)… defending yourself when nobody has explicitly asked for it comes out as self-accusation.

State what your current goals are. If they want to know more about that grade, they’ll ask.

Ditto to what Nava said. Stick to telling them about your research interests, your relevant experience, and why you’re a great fit for their program. The personal statement is short – you don’t want to waste any of it drawing attention to why they might NOT want to admit you.

If they want to know about that evaluation, they will ask, but most people have at least one lousy grade in their past, and most admissions officers know that (I had an F that most certainly did appear on my transcript, and nobody asked).

What they said. You went to banana slug school, who’s going to bother reading much less take seriously one eval, as long as you have good test scores, write a decent essay and have some credible real world experience. That was 15 years ago, admissions boards put practically zero weight on grades/evals from waaaaay back then. (UCD graduate chiming in)

I agree with the others, don’t mention it in the statement of purpose. Use that to, well, state your purpose. If it’s at all possible, I would suggest taking another political science class or two (by e-learning if necessary) ASAP. If you can get a nice, shiny A in that subject it will show that you do in fact have a grasp of politics. A class or two in economics will be helpful, also. And don’t consider these a waste, because most of your fellow students will have this background, and it will help you do well in graduate school not to be playing catchup.

Is your writing ability the only thing that she trashes in your evaluation? If so, I actually wouldn’t even worry about it, you have other evidence of your ability to write (ie, anthro grades and your statement of purpose). Everyone has one bad grade – focus on what makes you qualified. Its better to have a few impressive qualifications and ideas than to have perfect grades but nothing else to say about yourself.

As everyone so far has said, say nothing about your bad grade unless someone asks you about it specifically, which they won’t.

Use your statement of purpose to set yourself apart from applicants coming straight out of college. Highlight any interesting life and work experiences you’ve had that have led to you going back to get your Masters. Or, if you’ve worked at Starbucks for the past seven years and this Masters is a complete change of direction for you, focus mainly on your aspirations for the future. Above all else, try to project an air of enthusiasm and confidence.

I think writing that paragraph would be suicide. Don’t mention the evaluation at all. Don’t draw attention to anything negative in your SoP. It’s all about how awesome you are so that they realize they would be fools, utter fools, to turn you away. Emphasize your strengths.

If you are still unsure about this, ring up one of your old professors and ask if they will take a look at your Statement of Purpose. You can specifically ask regarding this negative evaluation. Within the next two months I’m going to have 5-7 professors poring over my SoP, giving me as much feedback as possible.

If your profs think that you MUST address your negative evaluation in some way, do it in such a way as to make it seems like a positive, and make sure you put it well into your SoP, not the first thing you mention. And no, I’m not sure how you would make that a positive right now–perhaps allude to what a fantastic learning experience it was, or something.

In my SoP I do have to address a series of medical withdrawals which led to over a year interruption in my education, but I do it in no more than two sentences, and the paragraph (about 3/4 of the way through) has more to do with the perseverance I demonstrated despite chronic illness and how impressive it is that I maintained my commitment to my education, blah blah. In other words, if you are going to put a negative out there, you have to transform it into a tremendous growth experience that’s relative to how you will succeed in grad school.

Good luck. This whole thing is really difficult and stressful, but it pays off at the end. (This is what I tell myself every day. It’s a mantra, really.)

I am a graduate admissions counselor (for an art school) and questions like this come up a lot.

Your statement of purpose is not the time to point out your faults and flaws and definitely not the time for self-depreciating humor (you’d never imagine how common this is). Talk about your goals for yourself as a student and an eventual professional, talk about what brought about your interest in politics, talk about why this program is your perfect match.

Believe me, if they want to know about the grade, they’ll ask.

Public policy, eh? I bet a wad of cash would get you pretty far. :wink:

Thanks for all of your advice, guys. I really appreciate it. This whole process is making me crazy and I’m losing my sense of perspective totally.