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Old 8th May 2014, 3:17 AM   #1
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Grad school realistic possibility?

I realize no one is an admissions counsellor here, but many of you have gone to grad school, and I was hoping someone could offer advice in my situation.

I have a BA from a prestigious public university. However, I had major issues in college and was not engaged in academics/ university life in any meaningful way. My transcripts reveal I did poorly, graduating with a 2.0 overall, even tho I managed to do so in 3 years.

After a year "off" during which I was broke and minimally employed I was able to miraculously land a job. I got my s!ht together and have spent the last 6 years working towards a prestigious professional designation in my field.

Now, I have a good career, but I am frequently find myself unfulfilled. It's not that my work doesn't have the capacity to be challenging, but I wish I could get more excited about the ultimate impact I am making. Ensuring the financial viability of large financial institutions just seems like such a waste of time.

So, I want to go back to school for an MS (stats or Econ). Im not sure exactly what i want to do after that but i am sure it involves more technical knowledge and theory. i have spent the last 6 years studying and am confident I can handle the workload and material, but can i expect a reasonably prestigious program to accept me, overlooking my flunking undergraduate record?

Last edited by lucy_in_disguise; 8th May 2014 at 3:19 AM..
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Old 8th May 2014, 3:28 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by lucy_in_disguise View Post
I realize no one is an admissions counsellor here, but many of you have gone to grad school, and I was hoping someone could offer advice in my situation.

I have a BA from a prestigious public university. However, I had major issues in college and was not engaged in academics/ university life in any meaningful way. My transcripts reveal I did poorly, graduating with a 2.0 overall, even tho I managed to do so in 3 years.

After a year "off" during which I was broke and minimally employed I was able to miraculously land a job. I got my s!ht together and have spent the last 6 years working towards a prestigious professional designation in my field.

Now, I have a good career, but I am frequently find myself unfulfilled. It's not that my work doesn't have the capacity to be challenging, but I wish I could get more excited about the ultimate impact I am making. Ensuring the financial viability of large financial institutions just seems like such a waste of time.

So, I want to go back to school for an MS (stats or Econ). Im not sure exactly what i want to do after that but i am sure it involves more technical knowledge and theory. i have spent the last 6 years studying and am confident I can handle the workload and material, but can i expect a reasonably prestigious program to accept me, overlooking my flunking undergraduate record?
The school I went to generally requires a 3.0, but they look at the overall picture. They generally want 5 years professional experience for their graduate programs, but it depends. Other schools require a 2.5, but you aren't too marketable with only a 2.0. I would go back and take a few courses to try and improve your GPA. Also, what is it you want to do with an Econ or Stats degree? In this economy, you are really limited to things like teaching. If that's what you want to do, great, but unless you're sure of your direction, I wouldn't rush it.

Last edited by pink_sugar; 8th May 2014 at 3:30 AM..
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Old 8th May 2014, 3:43 AM   #3
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The school I went to generally requires a 3.0, but they look at the overall picture. They generally want 5 years professional experience for their graduate programs, but it depends. Other schools require a 2.5, but you aren't too marketable with only a 2.0. I would go back and take a few courses to try and improve your GPA. Also, what is it you want to do with an Econ or Stats degree? In this economy, you are really limited to things like teaching. If that's what you want to do, great, but unless you're sure of your direction, I wouldn't rush it.
Thanks for the response.

Stats is actually a very versatile degree. Econ may be more limiting depending on the program. I think I would enjoy research, not sure about the teaching component of academia.

Regarding going back to school for undergrad. It would take many classes to make a significant impact on my gpa and I am not interested in spending that much time jumping through hoops. My professional designation is very technical and is something that is also taught at the grad level (many people studying for the designation go to school for MS) so it just feels like quitting my job to go back to undergrad would be a waste.

Ugh, I am getting depressed thinking mistakes I made at 18 continue to haunt me.
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Old 8th May 2014, 4:01 AM   #4
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What really counts is what you are doing now. College for you was 6 years ago. Now you're a professional. It matters what your supervisor says. And write a good essay.
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Old 8th May 2014, 4:16 AM   #5
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I think the specifics will differ hugely depending on which universities you are applying to and where you live.

That being said, if you have 6 years of professional experience in that field, many admissions will overlook your transcript to an extent. Whether it will be enough to offset a 2.0 GPA, I honestly don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if you did find a few schools willing to accept you.

Maybe just try applying to a few and see how it turns out?
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Old 8th May 2014, 5:08 AM   #6
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I agree, professional and managerial letters of recommendation will really help and even required by some schools. With letters of recommendation and professional experience, you shouldn't have a hard time. I had to write a letter of intent and you usually are asked to explain your academics and pursuade the college in a sense that your grades will be an improvement once admitted.
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Old 8th May 2014, 5:35 AM   #7
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Just try applying here and there
and put yourself on the essay
and maybe one college or two will accept you...

Best of luck
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Old 8th May 2014, 10:21 AM   #8
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There's a plethora of things you can do with a stats degree? If your REALLY good at it?

Acturaries make six figures or more with a stats degree.

If your really good with the Qualitative Analysis part / aspect of it? The World is tour oyster!

But you've damn near have to be gifted at it? Oh there's those that study it, major in it? Understand it, some even can do it. But to be really GOOD at it? You've damn near have to literally be able to visually see it?

And if you're that Good at it? Get your ass to Vegas!
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Old 8th May 2014, 10:36 AM   #9
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There's a plethora of things you can do with a stats degree? If your REALLY good at it?

Acturaries make six figures or more with a stats degree.

If your really good with the Qualitative Analysis part / aspect of it? The World is tour oyster!

But you've damn near have to be gifted at it? Oh there's those that study it, major in it? Understand it, some even can do it. But to be really GOOD at it? You've damn near have to literally be able to visually see it?

And if you're that Good at it? Get your ass to Vegas!
As it happens, I am already an actuary. That is the professional designation that generally follows an MS that I was alluding to. So, I do have a background in statistics/ risk/ finance. Not sure if I am THAT good but I am good enough.

I want to get into quantitative journalism or research. In addition to having an interest in statistics/ econ, I feel that having a grad degree would enable me to more easily make a career change into that field.

Last edited by lucy_in_disguise; 8th May 2014 at 10:41 AM..
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Old 8th May 2014, 1:33 PM   #10
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I have served on departmental level admissions committees, and I can say that a low GPA, while not helpful, is certainly not a dealbreaker.

What matters most to us when we select students:

1) The project they propose for the thesis (I'm in the Humanities, so the thesis is everything);
2) The overall picture of the student that emerges, not only from GPA/test scores, but also what they've been doing since college in terms of relevant experience;
3) How convinced we are that this student has the drive and determination to complete the degree;
4) Student's skills, e.g. foreign languages, etc. How likely they are to satisfy our program's secondary requirements with little/no trouble.

You can address your GPA in your Personal Statement, if you find a way to 1) address it positively and 2) in one clause only. Something like "I improved on my college experience towards the end by increasing my GPA by X points" (if there's an upward trend, show it)... or maybe "Coming from college from X background proved difficult, but I gained so much valuable experience that I then employed in my industry in A, B, and C ways."

It's good to get ahead of red-flag issues like GPA by spinning them appropriately. It shows the applications committee that you understand where the problem was, and have taken steps to address it. It also gives the committee a way to "sell" you as an admit to the higher-up at a University.

But the most important thing, I think... is for you to consider how going to grad school will help you on the path you wish to take. Will it take you in a new career direction? How so? Will it improve your current situation? In exactly what way will it do so? Not only are these points you will need to make in your Statement; you should also use them to assess the true value of grad school, for you.

Finally. NEVER go into debt for a grad program. There are programs out there who use MA degrees as a means of increasing their liquidity. It's wrong but it is common, and a degree from a school like this won't be worth much.

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Old 12th May 2014, 12:56 PM   #11
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Nescafé, thanks a lot for the inside perspective.

I agree that it is essential to have a better idea of what I want to accomplish with a grad degree. Right now, I mostly feel burnt out at my current job and resentful of the fact that I did not really "pick" this career.

I am having a hard time finding enough time to pursue something else on the side that could turn into a full time venture. For example, as I mentioned, I am interested in analyzing data and writing about it, which is something I definitely have the background to begin to pursue on my own. But aside from attending a weeklong programming workshop, I haven't been able to find the time to do much with that in the last year. Ideally, I could find a job in my target field without going back to school, but this, too, has proved to be challenging.

It seems like grad school would be an excellent opportunity to take some time to develop the skills I am looking for, but I should probably attempt to be more specific about what that means.

I don't want to spend years perfecting my applications, but am thinking it would help to take a grad- level math class or two to demonstrate I can do well. It is a challenge to find something that works with my schedule, though.

What do you mean when you say don't go into debt? Do you literally mean avoid programs that I can't afford, or look for something totally funded? It seems the latter would be a challenge for an MS. Cost is definitely a big factor, but it seems like I will have to shell some money out to do this.
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Old 12th May 2014, 5:30 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by lucy_in_disguise View Post
What do you mean when you say don't go into debt? Do you literally mean avoid programs that I can't afford, or look for something totally funded? It seems the latter would be a challenge for an MS. Cost is definitely a big factor, but it seems like I will have to shell some money out to do this.
This is field specific, but in most social science fields post-grad programs come funded. If you do not receive a tuition waiver, funding (like a stipend in return for TAing or something), or any scholarship, chances are it's because either:
a) the school didn't want your admit THAT badly (and that bodes poorly for finding the level of mentoring essential to succeeding in graduate school); or
b) the school is admitting students for profit, which means the degree you wind up with might be worth nothing more than its pricetag.

I'm in the Humanities... in my field, they say that "an acceptance without funding is a rejection." But again, this is field specific and my words will not hold forth for "professional" degrees like Law School or Med School. Those students rack up debt like it's their passion... but then, they also have every reason to expect a great paycheck after to pay back the loans.

This is the crux of the matter: if you take on student debt to pursue a degree that (it sounds like) you're not certain will get you immediate returns, a higher salary, or a better job, you will finish the degree in worse shape than you are now. Or you may not finish at all... students who take post-grad debts are much more likely to drop out before completing the degree, in part because life happens, and so do unexpected costs.

Also, IDK if you're in the USA, but if you are: graduate student loans are no longer subsidized, and the interest rate they bear is TWICE what the undergrads pay. Something like 6-6.5 percent. So taking debt is a very big risk unless you can be sure you can pay significantly towards it very soon after graduating.

That said, if you find the right school for you, get a working relationship with a professor/mentor, and receive funding in return for some work as a TA or something, grad school is a great deal and the experience will be the springboard you want to jump into a new field, etc. It's a gamble, basically... so learning as much as you can before applying is the best way to manage the risk involved. It appears to me you're doing this background research right so far, so kudos! I've seen many students arrive in an MA or PhD program because they didn't know what to do after college than those who were clear-eyed about the job prospects they could expect after graduation... so I warn anyone who is considering more school to do a careful investigation of costs, benefits, and marketability of any degree they wish to pursue after the BA/BS.

The last bit I can offer is that you Google the Chronicle of Higher Education. They have news and a very helpful forum for issues facing grad students, professors, and really anyone involved in academic affairs. You might find their "Grad Student" forum particularly helpful as you weigh this opportunity.

Last edited by nescafe1982; 12th May 2014 at 5:34 PM..
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Old 12th May 2014, 5:42 PM   #13
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Sorry to double-post, but I noticed something in a previous post of yours about coming out of pocket to go to grad school.

If you can afford your tuition bill without going into debt/loans, than perhaps the factors I've outlined above are not as relevant to you. I was targeting my advice for someone who would depend either on 1) university funding or 2) student loans. If you've got some funds saved up and the bill is not a problem on your end, than that mitigates the risks significantly. And you may be more interested in staying in your current job while you attend grad school... rather than working for a pittance as a teaching assistant or something.

But the thrust of my post was that you want to manage/mitigate financial risk before jumping in. Hope that helps.
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Old 13th May 2014, 7:27 AM   #14
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Nescafé, thanks so much for your thoughtful advice. It is a lot to consider.

I had a day off yesterday and spent some time researching jobs. Pretty much all the jobs I am interested in in my target geographic require graduate degrees. There is a feeling amongst my fellow actuaries that our professional designation is as comprehensive and challenging as an MS, but I am not sure that belief is shared by employers, especially on the west coast, where I want to move. I feel like a masters degree would just make it so much easier to do what I want instead of feeling tied to a field and location I am not interested in.

I do have some savings and would be able to "afford" going to school for couple of years without taking on debt. I recognize how fortunate that makes me, but afford is a relative term. There are many other ways I can think of to spend my savings: travel, buy a house, bigger retirement fund, etc.

If my undergrad grades weren't such a **** show, I would just apply to a bunch of programs with a focus on my fields of interest and reasonable levels of funding. However, with my grades as they are, I feel like my application would be greatly improved with another semester (or at least a few classes) of grad level courses to demonstrate (to myself as much as an admissions committee) that I can succeed in an academic environment.

However, I am struggling to see how I can keep my current job and go back to school part time. The logistics just don't work out. So that feels like the biggest risk for me: deciding to take that leap to quit my (almost 6 figure) job to go back to college with no guarantee that it will even lead to grad school.

This seems like a crazy move to me when I think purely in terms of financials. If making money is my sole objective, there are many opportunities in my field (albeit most are in NYC where I have no interest in living) that would allow me to I dress my earnings without a taking a break for school that would drain my current resources.

But on the other hand my heart just isn't, and hasn't ever, been in it. I want to live in caliofmria and do quantitative analysis outside insurance. All I need is a measly MS, which should be easy enough to get, and can be mine within just a few years. I am not married, I have no kids- I'm a prime candidate for taking some risks for my life. From that perspective, it feels like I should plan it out really well and just do it.
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Old 13th May 2014, 8:41 AM   #15
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Nescafé, hoping you can answer another question. For schools/ programs with minimum GPAs, do you have any idea how stringent those requirements are? Would it be worth my time applying to programs whose requirements I don't meet, if I feel like I compensate for that in other areas?
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