Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Truth in Transcripts

Newbie in New York writes...

I went Ivy undergrad, and after school knew I wanted to write just didn't know how I could afford it. But then I got a grant to go to a crappy grad school with a bad reputation. I spent a year there in a teaching program, got all 4.0's and above, then felt it was not at all what I wanted to do and left the program.

My question is, how bad will this look and/or can I leave off that part of my life? I know teaching looks good for the assistantships, and I actually do teach adjunct at a local college (a nice little English/Academic Writing class) but will half a program at a non-ranked school look bad, or like I don't have follow-through or will it be fine? My resume is also littered with freelance/temp jobs with writing mixed in there, but the longest position I've held was one year as a medical manual writer at a hospital.

I don't see this as a huge downside, Newbie. But my two thoughts are:

1. If you include the transcript, I'd mention the experience in your personal statement. Be clear about why you discontinued the program, and don't badmouth. Be direct, be clear, and be brief.

2. For some reason, it sounds like you really don't want to include these transcripts. I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I am going to say: It's highly unlikely that one of your newer programs would be any the wiser if you didn't include them.


Anonymous said...

If you include the transcipt of your previous graduate work, it may affect your chance of getting into one of those competitive programs. Brown and UT say they don't want students who were in MFA programs before. So why include it if you really want to get into one of those top programs?

Anonymous said...

1) this person wasn't in an MFA program before, right? I really don't think an MFA program cares if you did a totally different graduate degree in the past. Why would they?
2) Why would someone want to omit information that was specifically asked for on an application? If this was ever determined, the university would have the right to revoke acceptance, correct? All applications that I filled out seemed very clear on this point: they wanted all transcripts of any class in which you were ever formally enrolled. While I don't think they particularly care what the transcripts say, I do think they would care if they ever found out that someone purposefully omitted info. Yes, they probably won't find out, but why make a choice that has a minimal potential for positive effect and is, in fact, going against the express request of the application?
Plus, why would anyone want to start a program aware that they were leading people to believe they hadn't had an experience that they'd had? It seems like an uncomfortable way to start a new program.

I've heard of people getting into MFA programs without even completing an undergrad degree; I seriously doubt that excellent grades at a grad program that you didn't end up liking would deter someone who was impressed by your writing sample.

Anonymous said...

I would include the info. Sounds like the writer did well in grad school. He dropped out. So what? He changed his mind.

I dropped out of grad school too. Then I went on to become a newspaper reporter. I plan to include that in my personal statement because I think it tells part of the story about who I am, and I think it will do the same for this writer. They're interesting and unique stories, and I can't see why it would hurt you.

Anonymous said...

If 1) is true, it's no big deal. Yes 2) is correct. But if you really want to increase your chance of getting into top programs... It doesn't look good that an Ivy school grad went to a crappy MFA program. It just gives the admission commmitte the wrong impression but they might not care and look the other way if you have some decent publications.

Anonymous said...

I genuinely think that MFA programs are just looking for interesting people who can write. The pedigree of previous degrees matters less for an MFA than academic grad programs--they want you if you can write; they don't want you if you can't write.

You got a 4.0 at an unrelated program you didn't like, and it was so frustrating to you that you then quit. That makes complete and total sense to me, as an outside observer. I can't imagine why anyone would hold that against you.

But I maintain that it's a bad idea to omit info that's specifically asked for on an application. Bad karma.

Anonymous said...

Include the transcripts because they want them, explain why you left, and don't worry about it. All that matters is your writing. I'm headed to one of Tom's top five, and I personally know several students there who had gone to other (creative writing and other things, like Anthro., and whatevre) grad programs and dropped out before hand. That history didn't hurt them, and I doubt it'll hurt you. The main thing is your writing, and your commitment to it. Some might say dropping out of a program shows a lack of commitment, but I doubt the admin committee that--especially as it wasn't a writing program (and even if it was, and there were reasons you left, it would probably be OK). Many writers are known for their complete inability to do anything else--to keep any kind of regular job, etc. Dropping out of a program was just part of your path. Any place that would reject you based solely on that, you probably wouldn't want to go to anyway.

Anonymous said...

I have worked as an admissions director in (an unrelated discipline) graduate program. Failure to provide complete transcripts is an automatic rejection at that (Ivy) school...across all disciplines. It's seen as a lie of omission and does affect financial aid reporting ---if someone had received money from another institution for a program--even if they didn't complete the degree, it affects the reporting to government financial aid agencies. Bottom line, omitting it can cause trouble for the grad school,trouble they pass on to you. We've had to expell students who we later discovered lied about other programs.

Perhaps it's not the same in MFA programs, but I'd highly discourage you from omitting a transcript if the application clearly says "submit all transcripts" which most do.

Anonymous said...

An unrelated transcript question--I studied abroad for a semester during undergrad and my program charges a bit for each official transcript. Were I applying to four or five schools, this wouldn't be a problem, but applying to 12-15 adds an additional $200 or more. If my courses and grades from this time are listed on my normal undergrad transcript, would I still need to send the one from study abroad? Also, the transcript is not in English. Does anyone have any advice or experience with this? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I got my undergrad degree 9 years ago. But I recently took a single undergrad class at another college and ended up withdrawing; there's a W for my grade. (no financial aid or anything) Do I seriously have to submit this? Is this in the same category as withholding info about having had full funding through half of a grad program??
It's really been gnawing at me as I will be applying in the fall.

Anonymous said...


I'm the noob from above.

It wasn't an MFA program, but teaching - non teaching fellow. I worry because while I was interviewing for places the college sent me too, every interviewer asked why the hell I would go to such a crap college, despite the interview being taken on the college campus sometimes!

I quit cause I realized it wasn't realizing any of my goals and really, I just wasn't learning anything. It was really just making students do paperwork for the money from the gov'ment and then granting degrees, and I don't have the capability to do that kind of program.

But I see the points and will include them, just gotta spin it - or be honest w/out badmouthing.

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