Question: Throughout my three (so far) years of high school, my grades have suffered because I have an anxiety disorder. My grades are not awful, and I’ve taken quite a few honors and AP classes–as many as i can manage–but I don’t know how to explain the erratic marks and absences. If I tell a college that I suffer from illness, they will most likely consider me a liability and reject me, but I feel that my transcript does require some explanation. How should I handle this?
We appreciate the bind that you feel you’re in, but rest assured that admission officials are very accustomed to seeing–and admitting–applicants with stories similar to yours. You are correct in believing that it’s important to explain irregularities in your transcript. You can do it succinctly, without going into excessive detail, much as you have done here. In a supplemental essay or letter (preferably not your MAIN essay) briefly discuss your diagnosis, treatment, and some of the obstacles you’ve hurdled. Be sure to balance that with the good news. That is, mention the tough classes you’ve handled successfully along with other endeavors with which you’ve fared well. It would also be useful to include a letter from a current or recent doctor or therapist that is also succinct and states clearly that you understand your condition and have a fruitful college career ahead of you.
Yes, it’s likely that some colleges may view you as a challenge they won’t want to take on, but you’re probably better off in the long run if you land on a campus where the administration is understanding of your situation. In fact, as you investigate target colleges, find out if the services you need will be readily available—preferably right on campus or at least conveniently located nearby.
In addition, ask your guidance counselor how he or she will deal with your disorder (and the absences and other academic problems it caused) in your recommendations. It will be helpful to know this as you decide what to reveal in your supplemental essay.
Above all, your goal is to be certain that you find a place that you feel is a good match for you. Once you do, make sure that your application, while revealing the struggles you’ve faced, puts the emphasis on what you’ve accomplished in spite of them.
You might also want to check out HEATH, the national clearinghouse on post-secondary education for people with disabilities. Go to www.heath.gwu.edu.
Other resources you should check out include these books: Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher and Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You’re Not a Straight-A Student , by Loren Pope .
Again, keep in mind that admission folks are aware that life isn’t a straight line for many of their applicants and most will be sensitive to your concerns and appreciative of the hurdles you’ve scaled.