Bad Grades: How to Write Around Them

by Ben Frederick MD

on June 13, 2017

It happens: Your grades slid in college for one reason or another. Now you’re applying to the program of your dreams and those low GPAs are stressing you out. Do you mention your poor academic performance in your personal statement and provide an explanation for the dip? Or do you ignore the topic and hope the admissions team doesn’t worry about it?

Here’s our answer:

In many cases, it’s not worth bringing up poor academic performance if it was very brief (such as a single semester). It may draw a red flag to an area that the admissions team wasn’t previously concerned about.

If you do choose to bring up poor academic performance because it went on for an extended period of time (perhaps a year or two), here are our tips on doing it right:

  • DON’T MAKE EXCUSES: The last thing an admissions team wants to read are excuses from applicants on why bad grades weren’t their fault. A family member died. You were trying to work too many hours and juggle classes at the same time. You took classes that were too advanced for you. Whatever the reason, own it. Take responsibility and don’t place blame on outside forces.
  • FOCUS ON HOW YOU BOUNCED BACK: Rather than writing about what went wrong, focus on what went right. How did you dig yourself out and finally achieve the higher GPA you desired? Be as specific as you can here, as it will highlight your strengths rather than your weaknesses.
  • MAKE IT BRIEF: We’ve seen personal essays where entire paragraphs were dedicated to explaining away poor GPAs. Don’t do it. Spend no more than a couple sentences on the topic and then pivot to more important points about your background and goals.

Crafting language around this topic can be tricky. We always recommend submitting your essay to one of our experienced editors so they can give you advice on how to wordsmith your way out of a tough scenario.


About the author:

Ben Frederick MD

My name is Ben. I'm a resident physician and I help future medical professionals write great personal statements. If you need help, check out our eBooks and editing services. Let me know if you have any questions.

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