” Because divorce is commonplace these days, you might be inclined to think that writing about your parents’ separation will be viewed as making excuses or being overly dramatic.
In reality, divorce is like any other family issue that you might describe in the Additional Information section. If your academic record shows a clear change (e.g., a significant grade drop) clearly associated with the time during which your parents were divorcing, it’s worth providing this context. You shouldn’t write about a divorce that happened before you were in high school or which didn’t negatively affect your transcript. The key is to describe how specific aspects of the divorce challenged you. Don’t simply note that your parents split up and leave it at that. For instance, perhaps you were uprooted to a new city, which disrupted your academic and social experience. Or maybe the emotional distress left you unable to focus adequately on your schoolwork for a time. Whatever the circumstances, stay as factual as possible and keep the focus on how your academic performance was impacted, rather than on your parents.
Low test scores
High-stakes standardized tests are always stressful, and extenuating circumstances can further interrupt testing days. While you do not need to explain that you got a 4 on the AP Literature exam because of a cold, you might want to briefly explain that you received a 1 or 2 on your AP Chemistry exam the day after your grandmother died or the week you found out your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. You might also want to note a lower-than-expected test score if you were receiving high marks in the corresponding school course.
Keep in mind, however, that certain instructors make AP (and IB) courses too easy, and students with high grades in the course often receive a 1 or 2 on the actual exam. If this is the case for you, you should not use poor preparation as an excuse for a low score, as it may cause the adcom to wonder about the quality of your coursework or your effort outside of the classroom.
Even though I received an A in my AP Calculus BC class, I ended up only getting a 2 on the exam. My grandmother, who lived with our family, passed away from a stroke the day before the exam. The stress of her death made it difficult to sleep the night before the exam and to focus while taking it.
Major financial obstacles related to circumstances such as a parent’s unemployment, food insecurity, and homelessness can have a huge impact on your education, from access to extracurricular activities and test prep materials to the amount of time available to complete homework and study for exams.
If the financial difficulties were temporary, include the dates when they occurred, especially if they happen to line up with a semester where your grades dropped or during which you took a high-stakes exam like the SAT or ACT. Moreover, the Additional Information section would be a great place to explain how you had to pick up a part-time job to help your family pay rent, purchase food, and so on.
If your family has experienced long-term financial challenges, such as food insecurity or homelessness, take a moment to briefly describe those challenges and their impact on your education.
My mother lost her job in , the fall semester of my junior year. I took a part-time job as a hostess at Applebee’s to help pay rent. I still work there, as my mom remains unemployed. The work commitment meant that I needed to quit band and choir.