How can one overcome past academic failures?

I’m wondering how long flunking out of university stays on ones records and how it might affect future admittance into graduate/doctoral programs.

Specifically, I’m 25 and starting school over. In the past, I flunked out of university twice :smack: at the ages of 18 and 20, due to very complex psychological reasons which I won’t go into. Since then I’ve grown up and discovered the passions I never knew I had.

Anyway, I’m starting a 2-year chemistry associate’s degree at community college. After that, I hope to transfer to 4-year university for physics.

Best case scenario, I would go on from there… hypothetically, I’m wondering if grad schools would look back into my previous failings (no matter how well I had done in university) and possibly not admit me into grad school. Would I be required to divulge the information, and would it still matter, if I had done consistently well after?

I get the sense there are lots of academic folk here. Please help!!

Moderator Action

This is more of an advice question than a factual question, so let’s move it over to IMHO.

Moving thread from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.

Grad schools are probably going to look at everything, but recent successes will very much outweigh past failures. The best policy (IMHO) is to be up-front and honest about everything. A lot of folks screw up when they are younger then get their act together as they age.

Don’t try to hide your past. Grad school will ask for a complete transcript of your past. Go ahead and give them the whole thing, the bad with the good. Successfully completing a 4 year physics degree will show them that you have matured and are ready for grad school and are capable of doing the work. A letter of explanation along with the transcripts would help as well. Do all that, and I wouldn’t expect the prior failures to matter much at all.

If you try to hide things, it shows that you haven’t fully matured and reflects poorly on you. It’s better to be honest about it all.

thanks for your quick response. yes, that seems to be the advice all around : be honest.

I concur: be honest, but emphasize the good. For grad school admission, research experience is also important. During your 4-year physics undergraduate work, you can look at joining research groups during a summer or three to get some research experience on your CV. If you do well academically and get good letters of recommendation from your research mentors, your earlier bumpy start will be overshadowed by these successes. Admissions reviewers will likely wonder what happened, but a simple clarifying statement somewhere in your grad school application can go a long way toward easing their curiosity.

Although you didn’t ask, I’ll throw another two-cents in. Think through (and talk with others about) your plans for after graduate school. Are you looking at grad school because it might be fun, because it’s a stepping stone along a certain career path, or …? You’ll be 27 or 28 years old entering your four-year program, 32 entering graduate school, and maybe 37 or 38 if you are looking to complete a physics Ph.D program. You’ll be a decade older than your peers throughout this time. Unless there is something unusual about your finances (which could be the case), you will likely go into debt (undergraduate) and then make a pittance() (graduate school), and you’ll also not be living in the same place for more than a handful of years. What’s next? A Ph.D opens a few doors, but not many more than were already open after your bachelors degree, and whatever door you take probably means another relocation as you are approaching 40…
) maybe $25k per year. When I was a grad student, I got denied access to nearby low-income housing because I didn’t make enough to qualify for it! :slight_smile:

One thing I did when I found myself in a similar situation (I was a terrible student my first two years of college and needed to compensate for it my last two) was to excel in more advanced versions of the classes I did poorly in. For example, if I got a D in an introductory American Lit. class, I would take an upper level class in the same genre and work my tail off to get an A. I managed to get accepted by several prestigious law schools, and while I don’t know for sure if this was a factor the pre-law advisors that I spoke with when preparing my law school applications were very impressed. Also, if anything, your five year hiatus from school should make it easier for you to reinvent yourself as a better student than it was for me.

It shouldn’t hold you back. I started college right after high school because everyone else was doing it. In my case, I wasn’t mature enough to work independently and had no educational goals whatsoever. I quit college (i.e. flunked out) and went into a para-professional medical field, then after I had worked for a few years and saved up some money, I went back to college. I started at a community college and transfered to a state university after two years. I didn’t go to grad school, but could have because I pretty much aced everything from community college on. There has never been an instance where my first stab at college mattered to anyone anywhere for anything.

I think it could be a problem for grad school admissions. Multiple failures would definitely give most academics pause, particularly in the sciences where they are less tolerant of non-traditional educational paths. In addition to the advice above, I suggest that you ensure that you will have excellent recommendations from professors who really know you. Getting a research position is the best way to do this. Once you have duly impressed your professor, ask them to address the past academic issues in their letter. A professional stating that you have overcome your past goes much further than you saying you’ve overcome it.

I was a stupid young’un myself a little over a decade ago; flunked out thrice because I was just lazy and entitled.

Once I got serious about getting my education, I re-took the courses I’d failed and did well in them, which replaced the F’s in terms of my GPA (although they did remain “there” on my transcript.)

Long story short, it took a little time and a lot of extra effort, but I graduated with honors from undergrad and had no trouble with graduate school admissions. I now teach college, so take it from me–if I can do it, anyone can.