My son Josh, to whose college application process I occasionally referred last year, is home from school.  It’s great to have him around, and it’s also great to see his friends, who tend to show up whenever he’s in the house.  There were fourteen 18-year-old boys hanging around my living room on Saturday, playing poker and video games, eating pizza, and generally enjoying their reunion.

I had a chance to ask a number of the boys how they enjoyed their first semester of college, and the early reviews are pretty positive.  But nearly all of them described a challenge they faced — first-year chemistry; a busy class schedule; keeping up with reading throughout the semester, rather than just before exams; dormitory living; uninspiring teachers for entry-level courses; etc.  Clearly, they’re all hoping that the fall was their stepping stone to greater success in the later years of their education.

And how about you, blog reader?  Do you cringe just a bit when you look at the grades from your first semester or two?  Depending on how much you cringe, you may want to provide a little explanation in your application.  A sentence or two (no whining, please!) in the “additional information” section of the application (not in one of the required essays) could be just what you need.  Acknowledge your challenge, and, if possible, point us toward information that redirects our focus away from the lower grades.  For example:  “Although I did not do well in calculus in my first semester at XYZ University, I would like to point to the A’s I received in micro and macro economics, as well as the strong score I received on the quantitative portion of the GRE.”  Or:  “I found the transition to university life to be difficult and my first-year grades were disappointing to me.  I hope the Committee on Admissions will note the strong grades I received in my last three years of study.”

With two simple sentences, you help the Committee to understand a shortcoming in your application, and move on.  Sometimes I have the feeling that the applicant is thinking, “If I just bury my head in the sand, no one will notice that I have a low GPA.”  Sorry…we notice.  That’s our job.  So help us out, and don’t make us guess what was going on.

Schedule notes: PhD applications are due January 1.  The regular deadline for all other programs is January 15.  Please note that the University (including our office) will be closed on December 24, December 25, December 26, January 1, and January 2.

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