Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

Explaining a Bad Grade in a College Application Essay

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I worked with a young woman who’d missed a good chunk of  her junior and senior years due to illness. Even though she tried to make up the work, her grades suffered. When I asked if she was going to explain her illness in her college application, she said no, she didn’t think an excuse would help her chances.

In fact, the opposite is true.

First, let’s be clear about the difference between an excuse and a reason.  Getting marked down because you did the work but couldn’t get out of bed early enough to show up for attendance is an excuse. But if you have a good reason – illness, family problems, etc., you owe it to yourself and to the college to let them know.

Here’s a real-life scenario from an article about admissions at Butler University:

The admissions committee received an application from a student who had gotten straight As freshman and sophomore year. Then his grades tanked.

“In his junior year, F,F,D,D,D,” said Chris Potts, Associate Director of Admissions… “No explanation anywhere, nothing – straight As, and then just bites it junior year.”

What happened? Turned out his dad died, and he was left without a father and having to support his mother.

Problem was, that information wasn’t in the application

Wendy Livingston, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at The College of William & Mary, says on their blog, “…everything about your application is considered in context (school, regional, experiential, personal…you name the context.) That’s what holistic review is all about. You’re not considered in a vacuum; you’re considered based on who you are, where you’ve been and what type of application you put forward.

So if your transcript has bumps and there’s a valid reason, let the admissions committee know. You can include it in your college application essay or elsewhere in your college application. But give them the whole picture. Your chances will be better for it.

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+.

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Author: Sharon Epstein

College consultant, teaching students how to write memorable college application essays, grad school and prep school essays, and succeed at job and college interviews.

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