Should I Tell Colleges About My Special Circumstances?

Student applies to college with special circumstancesBy: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
 
If you are a Senior applying to college right now, you may have something extra that you want the colleges to know about, like a family situation or something that affected your grades.  Kids, though, are often not sure how to go about sharing this info, or even if this is the right time and place to share it.  I think that if something has had a significant impact on you that your colleges are going to be interested to know about it.
 
Here are some common examples of things a student might want to let their colleges know about:
I couldn’t take a certain AP class because of a schedule conflict:
 
My family moved
I had a health issue
A teacher at school passed away
I’m not a strong test taker
I worked to support a family while in high school
Why I changed schools
Why I studied abroad for a semester
I didn’t have proper prerequisites for a course
A certain course was not offered at my high school
 
These are just some ideas, and certainly, anything that you have struggled with, dealt with, worked on, managed or overcome is fair game in this category.  Basically, the colleges do want to know about you and your background and your upbringing–particularly if any of these things affected your grades or your academic performance.
 
Another consideration about sharing these circumstances is that you can tell your colleges how this will help you to relate to other students who might go through these same struggles.  Being able to support your peers is a very valuable offering as a friend and something that colleges would be glad to know about. You could even go on to be a peer mentor and help other students through similar difficulties.
 
These essays are typically a paragraph to a page long, and we have samples of them on the CollegeMapper Essays page. You want to make the piece positive in tone. Avoid blaming others for your struggles or getting personal to the point of making the reader uncomfortable. DO tell about your experience and the challenges you faced, but most importantly, focus on what you learned and let the reader hear that you are a positive, proactive person and that no matter what obstacles life throws your way you are going to learn from them, grow stronger, and move forward to achieve your goals.
 
Be sure to let your colleges know if there is something unique or tough about your life, but also be sure to let them know that nothing’s going to stop you from reaching your dreams!
Yay, college!

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