Read James Holmes’ rejected grad school application letter

Dylan Stableford
August 30, 2012

James Holmes, the former Univ. of Colorado graduate student accused of killing 12 people during last month's theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., had applied to the Univ. of Iowa's neuroscience program in 2011, but was rejected.

"Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," Dan Tranel, neurology professor and director of psychology at the Univ. of Iowa, wrote in an email to the admissions committee published Thursday by the Denver Post.

The Jan. 30, 2011, email included Tranel's recommendations for seven applicants, including Holmes. Other candidates for the program were characterized by Tranel as "stellar," "solid," "solid, not spectacular" and "probably fine." Tranel advised the committee to offer admission to four, saying he was not sure about two others. Holmes, though, he was sure about.

Holmes applied to several other schools, including the Univ. of Illinois--which accepted him. But he chose to attend the Univ. of Colorado Denver.

[Complete coverage: Colorado theater shooting]

According to his application, Holmes--a graduate of the Univ. of California-Riverside--wanted to pursue a degree in neuroscience because of his "foremost passions, the science of learning, cognition and memory."

"I have always been fascinated by the complexities of a long lost thought seemingly arising out of nowhere into a stream of awareness," Holmes wrote in his application letter. "I have an unquenchable curiosity, a strong desire to know and explore the unknown, and a need to persist against the odds."

Holmes--who gave himself the title of "aspiring scientist"--also recounted his childhood in California and his experience as a camp counselor for underprivileged children:

Behind the cluster of houses, rows upon rows of strawberries grew in the Salinas valley. As a child I passed these strawberry fields everyday on my way to school into the town of Castroville, "The Artichoke Center of The World". At school everyone wore a mandatory uniform consisting of navy blue jeans for the boys and a navy blue skirt for the girls, while everyone donned a white shirt. I didn't know at the time why uniforms were necessary but later discovered the uniforms were issued to curb gang rivalry. Looking back, my life could have gone in a completely different direction had I not possessed the foresight to choose the path of knowledge. I chose to appreciate an education, cultivating my mind. Since then I have strived to find new and better ways to learn, to improve. This is why I aim to attend graduate school and why my primary aim is to explore learning and memory.

In the field of cognitive neuroscience, researchers come from many different backgrounds and bring part of who they are to their investigations. I too will bring my past, specifically my strong moral upbringing. In addition, I will also exemplify my resolution and clairvoyance in problem solving. These abilities and more are typified in a summer job I performed as a camp counselor for underprivileged children.

Assuming a leadership role was something I was previously unaccustomed to but I took on the task with fervor. For the next week, twelve boys ages ten to eleven would look up to me for guidance and direction in Cheyenne cabin. Following them, nine more weeks with nine more groups. Every day there were activities for the kids but one of the activities "create your own," tended to turn into chaos. At first I chose to let the kids decide what they wanted to do and put it to a vote. Democracy right? Bad idea. Some wanted to go to the game room, others wanted to rest, some wanted to go to the field but there was no way to manage everyone if they split up. The outcome resulted in twelve kids arguing with each other, name calling and pushing. To resolve these types of incidents from occurring again I changed my strategy. "Create your own" became game room on Monday, sports on Tuesday, drawing on Wednesday... and if the kids were really good I devised something special for them like lizard catching. In the middle of that week when the campers were writing letters to home about their camp experience one of the little guys asked me how to spell amazing.

When it was time for each cabin to go home there were always kids telling me they wanted the same cabin next summer and if I would be back again to be their cabin counselor. At those moments I felt a sense of unparalleled accomplishment.

Other times I felt that I could be doing more. On average, two of the kids per cabin were clinically diagnosed with ADHD. One of the weeks, I mentored a kid with Schizophrenia. At 3:30 a.m. he woke up and vacuumed the ceiling of our cabin. These kids were heavily medicated, but this did not solve their problems, only create new ones. The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn't. This is where neuroscience research becomes invaluable.

With a neuroscience doctorate there is even more to accomplish. Those most in need of an education including children and people with cognitive disabilities, can benefit from the results of research into the workings of learning, memory and brain-behavior relations. Indeed all aspects of society have the potential to gain from advancements in our understanding of learning and memory because we are all connected. We all share one brain, the human brain.

Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others during the July 20 massacre at a midnight screening of "A Dark Knight Rises"--several weeks after failing an oral exam at University of Colorado Denver. According to the Arapahoe County District Attorney's office, Holmes was barred from the school's Anschutz Medical Campus after he made threats in June.

Prosecutors also say Holmes told a classmate in March that he wanted to kill people.

Holmes' defense attorneys say he is mentally ill.