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Articles / Applying to College / College essay on weakness, not strength?

July 31, 2008

College essay on weakness, not strength?

Question: I had a HUGE drop in GPA in the second semester of my sophomore year and first quarter of my junior year. The rest of my junior year was very good, and I expect my senior year (about to start) will be, too.

I have had no loss of life in my family or divorce of my parents, I simply didn't concentrate in school. The reason I didn't concentrate was because I was too busy trying to "strike it rich." I spent my time investing what little I had in stocks and internet marketing plans.


I'm going to write my college essay about how this mistake cost me my GPA, how I learned from it and bettered myself. Is this a good plan or is it a bad idea to use my essay to highlight a mistake I made rather than one of my achievements?

A college essay--whether it's an official, required one or an unsolicited, supplementary one--can be a good way to explain irregularities in your personal life, education, or transcript. So, yes, do take advantage of the chance to tell your target colleges about your drop in grades.

You explained it nicely to us ("I was too busy trying to 'strike it rich'") and you should certainly convey that information to colleges as well. The topic could even lend itself to some humor, which is usually much welcomed in admission offices, as long as you also show admission officials that you're serious about the lesson you learned from your mistakes. And this message should be credible because your GPA bounced back to what it was before you were off on your gold rush. Also make sure that your senior year gets off to a strong start as well. It's a prevalent myth that 11th grade is the one that "counts" with colleges and that 12th grade is almost irrelevant That's actually not true at all. Colleges will pay close attention to your first senior semester so do make sure it's a good one.

Meanwhile, save those get-rich-quick schemes for when you're out of school and have a steady paycheck coming in. :-)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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