If you’re a student with a less-than-perfect academic, extracurricular, or disciplinary history, filling out college applications can often be a nerve-wracking experience. As all colleges (not just elite private institutions) become increasingly competitive each year, having a rough patch or two on your academic record can be extremely discouraging. It’s easy to feel as if a below-average GPA for your dream school or a history of disciplinary action will totally disqualify you, but the truth is, they might not.
College Applications and Personal Circumstances
What students often forget is that the admissions committee at your top-choice school is made up of humans — actual, real human beings — who know that the people whose applications they’re reviewing are humans, too. The admissions process at most private schools and many public schools is claimed to be holistic — meaning they consider the candidate as a person, not as a set of numbers.
You can use this opportunity to demonstrate you’ve grown both academically and personally since you got that shaky GPA or suspension, and admissions boards will appreciate your honesty.
Most applications provide space of around 500 words for you to provide any additional information you may wish to add to your application. If you feel as though there is a weakness in your application you’d like to tell admissions officers more about, this space provides an excellent opportunity to do so.
It’s important, however, to keep in mind when choosing whether to write something in the additional information section that you should not simply be making excuses for a bad GPA or trying to downplay getting suspended for cheating; whatever you choose to include should substantially improve and develop your application, as well as offer a perspective on your record and you as a person that is not otherwise reflected in your essays.
Tips for writing about low GPA, disciplinary record, etc.
If you feel as though choosing to write a short essay for the additional information section would add significantly to your application, we have a few tips for how to make the most of this space and how to effectively describe exceptional personal circumstances on your college applications.
Firstly, it’s important to be candid and straightforward. For example, if you were subject to disciplinary action for cheating, it’s not in your best interest to try and downplay your own responsibility for your actions or divert the blame to someone else; likely, this will strike admissions committees as a transparent attempt to avoid taking responsibility, and they’re unlikely to be moved by your story.
Rather, tell the truth about what happened (honestly and objectively) and emphasize what you learned from the experience rather than the negative consequences. Take the opportunity to draw a contrast between who you were when you made that mistake and who you are now — this allows you to demonstrate maturity and growth.
If you had several semesters where your GPA dropped below average, you may be concerned about whether this dip in your cumulative GPA will adversely affect your chances at your top choices. While grades are obviously extremely important, a 4.0 is not necessary to gain admission to a great school. If you’re worried about your average, the additional information section may provide you with a space to assure admissions officers that you’re a strong candidate nonetheless.
If you know there’s a point where your grades dropped in high school, begin by trying to identify the reasons why. Did you have additional stressors at home that prevented you from doing your work or from doing it as well as you could have? Did you suffer from an illness (physical or mental) that impeded your ability to perform to your highest ability at home and in class? If you can reference a clear and legitimate reason why your grades dropped, admissions officers will take that into account when considering your academic record.
Although they are certainly not ideal, B’s and even C’s aren’t automatic disqualifiers from admissions, even at the most selective colleges, and grades’ role in admissions is not as black and white as some might assume. Your GPA, whether it is exceptional or less than stellar, is not the be-all and end-all of your application.
The holistic admissions process is personal and considers applicants in all the ways their present themselves in their applications, and not solely based on their academic performance. As in the aforementioned situation, if you have had poor grades in the past, attempting to absolve yourself of responsibility for them likely won’t add much to your application — provide explanations, not excuses.
10 Best Excuses for not Writing Your Essay
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