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Explain Low GPA in Essay?

Hello all,

I have a low GPA due to bad grades in a few hardcore electrical engineering classes (magnetism, computer architecture, labs, etc.) I have done much better in math heavy classes, and that is one of the reasons I want to switch to financial engineering. Therefore, I am debating if I should explain this issue in my personal essay. Do the schools look at the grades individually? In other words, do they value A's in linear algebra, differential equations, and C++ more than B's in some unrelated classes? If not, I'd think I should address the GPA issue in my essay. What do you think? Thanks in advance for your help!
 

SYau

Ting Ting
How low is low? If it is really low, I think it would be beneficial to explain it or take some related math/finance courses to demonstrate that you can succeed in a MFE program.
 
How low is low? If it is really low, I think it would be beneficial to explain it or take some related math/finance courses to demonstrate that you can succeed in a MFE program.
How low is a 3.3 from UIUC engineering? I have been taking related math/finance/C++ courses and have done well in them.
 
3.3 from UIUC is not terribly "low", but not high enough to get into top programs.

Many top programs admit people higher than 3.5. So I think 3.5 is a great measuring stick.
 

Lyosha

Psychic in Training
What about programs like CMU where they ask you to address your weakness or strength?
I am asking because I am more or less on the same boat.

Answer it like you would on an interview. Honestly, but avoid any obvious landmines from your past. Also, talk about how you overcome or control said weakness.
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
I addressed the low grades that I had directly in my essay without being asked.

Remember that this is not an interview, in the sense that any unanswered questions are going to remain unanswered. So the question is, are you comfortable with an admissions officer looking at your bad grades and rejecting you without you having a chance to explain yourself? To me, the number can be pretty glaring.

But if you do address it, it should be from the viewpoint of... "I recognize my mistakes and will not repeat them."
 
I addressed the low grades that I had directly in my essay without being asked.

Remember that this is not an interview, in the sense that any unanswered questions are going to remain unanswered. So the question is, are you comfortable with an admissions officer looking at your bad grades and rejecting you without you having a chance to explain yourself? To me, the number can be pretty glaring.

But if you do address it, it should be from the viewpoint of... "I recognize my mistakes and will not repeat them."

Did you addressed them specifically or in a more general manner? I assume that writing something more similar to what you wrote like "I'm aware that some of my courses doesn't represent my full potential , I have learned from my mistakes ..."

I'm sure that addressing specific bad grades will be catastrophic since the reader will stop and go take a look instead of just continue reading and making a note to himself.
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
I didn't address my poor grades. Keep in mind I had a whole lot more of them (I had that second degree in Biology after all... ;)) and I didn't come from Caltech.

Instead I focused on positives. I focused on my interests. I focused on my accomplishments. I focused on the things that excite me. There's no sense wasting any of your one page of statement making excuses for getting a D in organic chemistry, so to say (I got a C- TYVM.).

It might pain you to think that someone will judge you too harshly on your failures, but take a moment to visualize how someone who makes excuses for his failures looks in your eyes. In my opinion, yike, you were admitted despite making excuses for your grades, not because of it.
That's funny, remember what Jim said?

I can see your point, although I don't think you have a convincing general case. Everybody that writes an explanation will write it differently, and the reader will interpret it differently, although the interpretation is heavily influenced by the writing. So it could be written as "Oh, I have an excuse." or as "I am owning up to my mistakes."

I will say that the explanation is a high volatility move because of the issues of writing nuance, individual situation, and interpretation. Admissions offices will either love it or hate it. Even conditional on you writing it properly, the variance will be high (although as I argue, the expectation will be positive). Probably the safest advice is Alexei's, however my point of view is that you can't hide your grades anyways, so ignoring them in the essay is basically a zero-expectation, zero-variance move.

And that's perfectly fine. I posted my story as a contrasting point of view and to show my thought process, not as advice. My style of writing for my admissions essays was very high volatility; one of my friends kind of recoiled in fear when reading it.

The Caltech argument doesn't cut as much cloth with me, since I've first hand experience with other people's general recognition of the name. For example, in Dallas where I grew up, most people were more impressed with my Physics major than my university, in fact most people had not even heard of Caltech. Although this never happened to me, my fellow classmates repeatedly complained that Caltech was commonly mistaken for Cal Poly, and this is within California. What you say may be true, but the name recognition (or lack thereof) is too much of an unknown for me to say either way.
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
Did you addressed them specifically or in a more general manner? I assume that writing something more similar to what you wrote like "I'm aware that some of my courses doesn't represent my full potential , I have learned from my mistakes ..."

I'm sure that addressing specific bad grades will be catastrophic since the reader will stop and go take a look instead of just continue reading and making a note to himself.
I addressed them specifically, although looking back at the essay, I would have written part of it a little differently.
 
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