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Breaking Barriers: Achieving Department Change with Low Grades

Changing departments despite low grades: tips, strategies and guidance

January 4, 2024

At CareerSky, we mentor students in navigating international education. One common scenario that many of our students face is the desire to change departments and pursue a career they are passionate about, but the constraint of low grades. This is particularly true for students who want to change from a department such as Civil Engineering to Computer Science (CS) with low grades.

Getting high grades is a function of the effort you put in during your undergraduate studies, but a lack of interest in your undergrad subject can lead to less enjoyment in studying the subject, which in turn leads to low grades. Low grades can lead to a lack of motivation, coupled with low passion and effort, resulting in a downward spiral in grades and belief in the undergraduate structure at the university.

So, if you're looking to change departments, such as from Civil Engineering to CS, and have low grades, is it possible? The answer is yes. We have worked with hundreds of students who have less than ideal grades and have successfully changed departments and pursued their passions. So, how do you navigate this conundrum? We have some tips for you:

  • Networking is key: Communicating with professors in your area of interest is key. A committee who has no idea who you are and hundreds of applications to sort through is more likely to toss your application without a second thought based on criteria such as GPA and undergrad subject. However, a professor who you want to work with wants to know these things and if they ask the committee to admit you, they probably will, even if your application would have otherwise been tossed. Reach out to professors in your area of interest and ask for volunteering opportunities. Start with professors you have access to (your own or lower-ranked universities) and work your way up. This will help add the evidence you need to convince the admissions committee about your success once you transition to a new field.
  • Pile up MOOCs/Certifications/Independent projects in your field of interest and build an attractive portfolio that compiles your efforts. If networking is difficult to get, this would be a great starting point.
  • Differentiate yourself and apply to low-competition programs: Learn new skills and technologies related to your field of interest. This will help you stand out from other applicants and show the admissions committee that you are taking initiative to improve yourself and your qualifications.
  • Your SOP is the most critical part of your application: Your SOP is the make or break in your case. So, craft a compelling SOP, explaining how you landed in your undergrad program, how early you were to understand the program was not for you, and all the efforts you have put in to identify what you like and doing MOOCs, work experience, internships, and projects in the field of interest. Couple that with some great letters of recommendation (LORs) and you are on track to a new beginning.

At CareerSky, we work with students like you to help them navigate through situations like this. Feel free to reach out to us for guidance. We're here to help you achieve your goals and make your dream of changing departments and pursuing your passion a reality, even with low grades.

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