How negative events in your life impact college admissions


A while back I had a brief entry on the impact of natural disasters on the admissions process. I received several messages asking for a follow up on personal disasters, and how to handle them in the admissions process.

It’s important to know that admissions officers are (generally) people who like students and want to help them, so stories about terrible things happening to our propsective students does have a real emotional impact. At the same time, you should bear in mind that most of us receive dozens of these stories each year. Some are truly awful involving personal loss, terrible health challenges and disabilities, or horrific family situations. Others range from the inconvenient to the mildly amusing. One student asked that we overlook his poor performance because he’d obtained so many speeding tickets that they had taken away his liscence, and walking to school was really bumming him out (and yes, the word bumming was his).

If you do have the misfortunate to have a situation that impacts your grades, a few things to bear in mind. First, admissions offices will see the drop in your grades and expect some kind of explanation. Your explanation will be supported by having the situation also explained by your counselor and/or teacher. We realize there are many situations too personal to share, but it is to your advantage to offer some insight as to your grade shift. I have also had follow up letters from health care providers, officers of the court, and social workers, all of which are helpful, although not by any means necessary. It is important, however, that an explanation is included from you as the applicant, and not just from your parents, guardians, or these other sources.

Your explanation should make it clear that you understand that your grades have shifted. It is important that you provide an explanation that also offers a reasonable expectation of improvement. The best thing you can do, of course, is have a demonstrated improvement in your grades. In either case, a demonstrated improvement or an intended one, you should note what is causing that change. Are you getting more rest, more time to study, having successful therapy, moving to a better situation, etc. It may also be helpful to note how the change that is facilitating your grade improvement will continue in college. On student, for instance, noted that a long separation from her father was causing a downturn in grades. Our campus, however, was across the country from both parents . . .so there was every reason to believe the problem would get worse, not better, during her freshman year.

If you feel your situation is too personal to share, you may want to wait until you receive a decision, and then can decide with your family whether it is worth sharing as an appeal for reconsideration. If the college permits interviews, you can certainly raise it there, or you might ask for the counsellor who reads your region to contact you directly. Many schools are hesistant to do so, both for the sake of fairness and in consideration of staff time, so don’t take it personally if they encourage you to put your information in writing.

I’m sure there are many other situations I might not have covered. Please feel free to post here, or to continue the direct contacts for those more personal questions. Be seeing you.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi! I know this is an old blog, but it was really informative, as are all of your posts. I was just wondering if my story is one i should tell to help to explain my grades a little. Here goes: As is the case with many families, my parents were divorced right before high school started. What’s different, though, is that the divorce was not traumatic to me, I actually wanted them to split up! However, I have been affected, especcially in my junior year(I am still a junior), by the constant switching between houses. It’s sort of unstable, and I am sure that once I’m in college and living in one place, my grades will be much better(not that they’re tremendously horrible in the first place). Also, at the and of tenth grade, I had a bad period that’s sort of personal, that caused me to have really bad grades. My grades have improved and still are improving, and I learned a lot through the experience, but I am afraid that those poor scores will negatively affect how colleges look at me. Thanks for your time, and i hope you get this and respond!

  2. absolutely you should share, and you’re really on the right track with how to treat the issue – namely that you have already adjusted to the issue. As a result, you can safely show that you have learned to adapt to changing, and even negative, environments. As a result, you are likely to continue your stronger performance and can have confidence that your skill at handling change will help you perform well in the transition to college!

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