Using College Essays to Address Your Weaknesses

Bad grades, low test scores, tardiness, unexcused absences, disciplinary infractions—nobody’s perfect. Chances are your shortcomings can be explained. If you’re worried about how prospective colleges might perceive your academic record, it’s probably a wise idea to address your weaknesses in your college admission essay. This article will offer some guidance on how to do so.

Capture the Nuance and Complexity of the Issue at Hand

Our shortcomings and slip-ups often make us feel emotional, and it’s difficult to telegraph emotion via text, especially if you’re not an experienced writer. Look at your situation from every angle in an attempt to determine its causes, as well as what you learned and how you plan to improve. Have a trusted, intelligent teacher or friend read your essay and offer his or her advice. Did you capture the situation clearly? If not, you should revise your essay.

Should You Address the Weakness in an In-Person Interview?

If your situation takes too many words to explain or seems to be disrupting the rest of your personal statement, there’s always the option of addressing your issues during an in-person interview. Interacting face to face with somebody allows you the opportunity to be sincere, but it can also be a breeding ground for nerves—so use caution. Dialogue does, however, have its advantages over text, so if you opt for this course of action, practice having the conversation with one or two friends. Should you choose not to address your problem in detail in your application, you still ought to briefly note that you intend to do so during an in-person interview.

How to Properly Define the Problem

Many people focus solely on the surface, but when addressing a problem, it behooves you to get at its root. For example, say you’ve got a few random C’s and D’s one semester—atypical for you. You might sense the underlying factors—such as stress, anxiety, depression, external circumstances such as the death of a family member or close friend—but don’t assume such factors will be clear to your reviewers. Make certain to demonstrate a self-aware knowledge of not only the problem, but also its causes.

Own Up to the Problem and Accept Responsibility

Although it makes sense to describe the external and internal factors that may have contributed to your shortcoming, don’t attempt to shift the blame entirely away from you. Whether or not you believe it yourself, you are responsible for your own actions and should telegraph that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. If it seems as though you’re too quick to point the finger at others, you might strike the admissions committee as irresponsible, childish, and evasive, and you definitely don’t want that. Choose your language carefully and own up to the problem—doing so will highlight your maturity.

Make Clear That You’ve Learned from the Problem

It isn’t enough to simply define the problem, explain the factors at play, and accept responsibility for your actions. College admission officers want to be certain that you’re going to make a concerted effort not to repeat the problem. What that means for you is that you’ve got to explain how—specifically—you’re going to do better in the future. If tardiness is your problem, talk about cutting back on caffeine late at night and buying another alarm clock. If it’s stress or depression, talk about how your therapy’s helping. Don’t resort to platitudes like “I will work harder.” Rather, talk about joining a study group, working with a private tutor, or selling the TV or Xbox that keeps on distracting you.

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That’s it! For more college admission tips, as well as SAT and ACT prep tips, read the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 college counseling or SAT or ACT group classes or tutoring? Contact us today!

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