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Academic Guidance Academic Guidance - Academic guidance for those pursuing a college degree... what college? Grad school? PhD help?


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Old April 10th, 2016, 09:54 AM   #1

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Applying to Grad School with 2 B.A.s--One Great & One Bad


I'm a lifelong lover of history. I have not always been a lifelong good student. I earned straight As, had perfect attendance, joined National Honors Society, and graduated a year early from high school.

Then came college. At 17 years old, having come from a strict household, and suddenly given total independence and dorm living, I became a terrible student. I lived it up, skipped classes, flunked tests, and wasted a lot of time. I finished my college degree (BA in Liberal Studies), but limped to the finish line with a 2.3 GPA.

After spending a decade growing up, at the age of 29 I'm now a professional genealogist (ancestry/family history researcher) who would love to research, publish, and teach history for a living. I want to get a Master's followed by a PhD. My dream job is a tenure-track faculty position in a university, which is likely unrealistic given the job market there. I would also love to be a public historian or a researcher for a historical institute (and maybe teach some college classes on the side).

I'm going back for a second Bachelor's degree (from a different university than the one I earned my first degree from), this time a BA in History (with a concentration in European History). This time (now that I'm paying for my own tuition), I'm earning a 4.0 GPA.

Question:

After finishing my second BA, when I go to apply for grad school (most likely Iowa State University), how much will the terrible 2.3 GPA from my first degree trip me up in the admissions process, even if I have a 4.0 GPA in my second BA?

Do I even have to mention my first BA with the bad GPA, or should I just sweep that under the rug and list my second BA with the good GPA?

How will (and how should) this work?

Thanks in advance for your guidance, everyone!
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Old April 10th, 2016, 12:26 PM   #2
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I would not leave it out. You have improved considerably over the course of two degrees and this is something which makes an impression. Furthermore, even if your GPA was not optimal on the first degree, there's no way you didn't learn anything and a bit of interdisciplinary knowledge always comes in handy. As for the particulars, you would need to ask directly at the university you apply, or research their website, because only they know the application process and can tell you how they would rate your first degree. In the unlikely case they say they would only rate your first degree and ignore the second, you should leave it out. If you ask directly, of course, it might be better you ask someone to do the asking for you so they don't get suspicious later on. But honestly, I could only marvel at a (non ivy-league/oxbridge) university that would reject someone with a straight 4.0 and professional experience and on top of that cross disciplinary knowledge.

Last edited by Entreri; April 10th, 2016 at 12:28 PM.
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Old April 10th, 2016, 12:48 PM   #3

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Well, it strictly depends on what schools you attended. If your first one was from Yale, and the second from some state school (just instantly subtract 1.0 from 4.0 to get a real one because not all GPAs are created equal), the difference wouldn't really reflect much.

If the schools are about the same, or the second is better, it does show improvement. Whether people who read your transcripts would decide that improvement over the years is better than a single performance in your last school, I don't know, but I doubt it will harm you.

BTW, you are supposed to present all of your educational record anyway as a matter of an admission policy. Not everyone is doing it, but there is always a risk, whatever slight.

Also, 4.0 GPA may look pretty suspicious. Sure, things like this do happen, but from some not so distinguished school, and after not so stellar performance before, it may raise some eyebrows.

Last edited by Renegade; April 10th, 2016 at 12:52 PM.
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Old April 10th, 2016, 02:14 PM   #4

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Never leave anything out of your Vita. Double BA's are good, especially when the most recent is with honors and in the discipline of the Graduate School you are applying to. My guess, is you will have no problem being accepted to a good school. You have already demonstrated scholastic growth, and that is a huge thing for Grad. School admissions.

I loved Grad. School, and for series scholars there is a freedom and camaraderie between students and faculty almost unheard of in under gratuate programs. You're BA now qualifies you to focus completely on your interests within the discipline, but with the support of other Grad Students and faculty. Grad Students can often find TA positions to give them a taste of an Academic career. This is especially true if you are accepted into a Doctoral program directly. Given your post, I think you might get into a PhD History program, though you might have to go out of state. Have you thought of applying to one of the Colleges at Oxbridge? Doctorate from Cambridge would greatly increase your prospects for finding an Instructorship at most U.S. Colleges and Universities.

The downside, is that it will be years, decades probably before you get tenure and will no longer be at the mercy of the Department Head. Tenure is the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, and golden ring all rolled into one. Even then, don't count on living in the lap of luxury. Good luck, and good hunting.
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Old April 10th, 2016, 02:39 PM   #5

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Originally Posted by Asherman View Post
Given your post, I think you might get into a PhD History program, though you might have to go out of state. Have you thought of applying to one of the Colleges at Oxbridge? Doctorate from Cambridge would greatly increase your prospects for finding an Instructorship at most U.S. Colleges and Universities.
Sure, as well as a doctorate from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, or any our Ivy League school. But unless UK became very democratic in this respect, I wouldn't hold my breath about admission to the program. A friend of mine, an immigrant in the UK, wanted to go to Cambridge, but he was given a friendly sincere advise - "kid, one day, if you are really-really good, you may be teaching there, but you sure as hell won't be studying there. Find some other school". Though it was quite some time ago.

It all depends on a school where one gets his BA. And miracles happen only on TV.
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Old April 10th, 2016, 03:36 PM   #6

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To provide a little more information, I received my first degree (BA in Liberal Studies) from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Now, I'm living in northwest Iowa, and more specifically in the most backwater part of the state. I am literally 2 hours away (in any direction) from the nearest university that offers a BA in History. That fact, combined with the fact that I am working full time at the moment, results in the necessity of my pursuing my current (second) Bachelors degree online. My BA in History will be earned from Southern New Hampshire University.

SNHU is not prestigious, which I realize. It is fully accredited and affordable, and I have been impressed with the quality of education I have been receiving in their program.

I am hoping that the combination of my low GPA BA from Wright State and my high GPA BA from SNHU, along with my professional experience and cross-disciplinary knowledge (as Entreri mentioned), will give me the needed leg up to get into Iowa State University. Iowa State is not Ivy League, but it is a respected school.

I do realize that if I want to shoot for a tenure-track faculty position someday, I need to do my PhD at an Ivy League school. I'm hoping that a stellar performance in a Masters program at Iowa State would be good enough to allow me to go Ivy League for my doctorate.

Do any of you disagree or have other thoughts? Can one reasonably go from an Iowa State University Masters program to an Ivy League doctoral program? Should I aim for a more prestigious grad school than Iowa State? Could I even achieve a more prestigious grad school than Iowa State, given the bad GPA on my first BA?
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Old April 10th, 2016, 03:54 PM   #7

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Actually, you do not need to aim at a more prestigious school, but it would require a bit more work. It all depends who are on the faculty, and on your people skills. Another friend of mine got his PhD at UC Santa Barbara (a decent public school), but his dissertation adviser was young, energetic, and quite good (+ well connected to boot). So he directed him to take a year at MIT as a visiting grad student, and to do something useful in research for people he knew personally. So that guy, right after getting his PhD, got a three year appointment with one of the Universities in Australia, but in a year came back for a tenure-track position somewhere in the Midwest.

It is possible to get a tenure-track appointment with a PhD from a decent public school, but you'll have to work for it, do your research on faculty, be ready to do some quasi-servitude thing for established scholars, and to be very good with people.

You can get into a research state school for your PhD with MA from a teaching state school without any big problems if you have good record and references. Or you can go there directly, if they accept BAs into their PhD program as UC system does.
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Old April 10th, 2016, 07:37 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Renegade View Post
Sure, as well as a doctorate from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, or any our Ivy League school. But unless UK became very democratic in this respect, I wouldn't hold my breath about admission to the program. A friend of mine, an immigrant in the UK, wanted to go to Cambridge, but he was given a friendly sincere advise - "kid, one day, if you are really-really good, you may be teaching there, but you sure as hell won't be studying there. Find some other school". Though it was quite some time ago.

It all depends on a school where one gets his BA. And miracles happen only on TV.
Generally, my impression is that it's easier to get admission to a postgrad program in Oxbridge than it is to get an Ivy offer. I did a BA in history at a mid-tier Canadian public university and have been admitted to Oxbridge no less than three times now. I've just always turned them down because the funding was pathetic and the overseas fees are outrageous. When a funded PhD offer came through at my dream Ivy last year I immediately took it. That said, I get the impression that for MA programs at least, Oxbridge isn't all that discriminating when it comes to foreigners if they've got okay language skills and can demonstrate some competence in historical thinking. They really need the money these days. If you can afford an Oxbridge MA, I'd suggest that you apply. It's a great environment and you'll get important skills and contacts. But don't pay 20,000 pounds a year for a PhD from them. An Oxbridge MA is also a great step to getting into a top-tier program in the US or Canada.

I don't think the first BA will count against you at all. In fact, I think it'll count for you, in regards to showing dedication and a willingness to keep going. Doing history professionally is tedious and grueling, and I would think that showing some grit will help you out, actually. But don't panic about the grades, or about the GRE. It's the writing sample that will show your mettle, so put your heart and soul into that. The people on application committees know all about the problems of grade inflation: that 2.3 would hurt you if it's all you had, but a 4.0 isn't necessarily going to get you anywhere, either, since there's no shortage of people with 4.0s applying to Ivies.

You are, unfortunately, correct in your belief that a majority of tenure-track jobs go to the graduates of a tiny cluster of schools. Shoot for the top in your applications.
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Old April 11th, 2016, 05:13 AM   #9

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If you don't mind me asking, is there any particular reason why you want to do History at Iowa State University? Iowa State's specialty is in engineering, not history or social sciences. If you want to stay in state for the lower tuition, then the University of Iowa is far better for upper-level studies in History. Also, the UI has a top-notch writing program, one of the best in the world, and nothing is more important in History (or any graduate program in the Social Sciences or Humanities) than having excellent writing skills.
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Old April 11th, 2016, 09:21 AM   #10

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Originally Posted by civfanatic View Post
If you don't mind me asking, is there any particular reason why you want to do History at Iowa State University? Iowa State's specialty is in engineering, not history or social sciences. If you want to stay in state for the lower tuition, then the University of Iowa is far better for upper-level studies in History. Also, the UI has a top-notch writing program, one of the best in the world, and nothing is more important in History (or any graduate program in the Social Sciences or Humanities) than having excellent writing skills.
I'm not dead set on Iowa State University necessarily. I have been favoring it because I love spending time in the Des Moines/Ames area (my genealogy business requires a lot of visits to the State Historical Society Library in Des Moines, so it would be really convenient to live 20 minutes away), it would only be a couple hours away from family (as opposed to 4+ hours if I went to University of Iowa), and my family has a bit of loyalty to ISU as my grandpa was a prof there for many years.

That being said, University of Iowa is on my radar, and you make a good case for it. I will give it serious thought. Thanks!

Last edited by Hessian Historian; April 11th, 2016 at 09:25 AM.
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