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Optional Essay For Explaining Low Gpa

Hi there,

Firstly, I'm terribly sorry you had such a rough time during your undergraduate year. Each of those events in and of themselves is a lot to take and both, one after another, is terrible. I'm very sorry to hear that.

Now, I'm going to be as honest as possible because I feel that's what you're looking for in posting this.

You're going to have to be careful how you position each of these events.

1) The first event (your father) is definitely a difficult family situation but, from what you've written, may be difficult to utilize. The impacts, while significant, were primarily psychological, correct? And how could they not be - no one will question this. However, by saying you had to put your tuition on a credit card in and of itself isn't enough. Now, if that meant in the following years you had to work a full time job to sustain your education, then THAT is definitely a reason. Do you see the distinction? One has a tangible impact on your availability to study while the other, even though it is no less real, is more difficult to communicate. Thoughts?

2) I have an older sister and I can't imagine what you went through. That's an absolutely awful situation and I'm really sorry. This, however, is much more straight forward to explain. You were at home, you weren't physically present, and you had to be there for your mother. It makes perfect sense how this would have destroyed your semester.

A lot of people want to provide reasons for low GPAs in their optional essays and more often than not, they're generally just excuses. In your case, you have significant life events but you'll need to communicate their impacts precisely and honestly.

The other thing to include is to call attention to your other semesters. For example, your freshman year or your senior year if that GPA was also on its way up.

I hope that helps and let me know if you have any questions,


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The Optional Essay and why you should opt in

By Barbara Selmo | August 31, 2012

I have been blogging about how to embark on the MBA application process as a research project. But a recent conversation I had with a colleague (thanks, James) inspired me to jump right to an aspect of the application that many of you may not be ready for: the optional essay.

Like a lot of other business schools, Babson offers you the opportunity to submit an optional essay, that is, an essay in addition to the three required. Like other schools, we let you decide your topic. What is constantly surprising to me, though, is how few applicants really use this essay to their full advantage.  Here are five ways in which you can successfully use this option, plus: a stylistic tip and a few examples of how misusing the optional essay can diminish your prospects as well as potentially alienate a very busy Admissions Committee.

1.       Explain your undergraduate performance.

Don’t use this essay just to explain your low GPA, or why you did poorly in your major, or why in one semester you earned 3 D’s, an F, and a Withdrawal. Use it to explain what happened, how you overcame your performance. You can – and should – take time to address the bigger picture. The Committee would really like to read your answers, because they had these very questions after reviewing your transcript.

2.       Explain your scores.

Being a bad test taker may be your reason for low scores, but if you chose to use your optional essay to explain a GMAT or GRE score, I recommend you set some context for your poor test taking skills/ability and provide some hard evidence. For TOEFL/IELTS takers, this essay is a great place for giving examples of why your English skills are far better than your scores (case in point—the essay itself is an example of your English skills).

3.       Explaining your work history.

Serial temp? Travelled the world a little too long? Or, conversely, have some stupendous successes on the job? All these points can be masterfully addressed in a pithy, example-laden essay.

4.       Special circumstances

College, test taking, work settings—your performance in all of these settings can easily be affected by a major life crisis or personal challenge. If you experienced a crisis, use this essay to explain, in a succinct and sensitive way, what we should know about it and its effects on you.

5.       Successes, awards, special recognition

Although Babson, like many schools, has a section in the application in which you can enter awards and honors, you may like to describe in detail the honors and accolades you have received or the successes you have achieved. Please do.

STYLISTIC TIPS for the Optional Essay

  • Stick to the word limit, if given one.  If not, 250 words suffice.
  • Write an essay (lots of on-line and old school reference material on the structure of an essay are available). Three short sentences do not make an optional essay.

And finally, how NOT to use the Optional Essay:

  • For excuses
  • For complaints
  • For repeating the contents of our website in an effort to convince the Admissions Committee that you really, really love us.

Good luck.  Think big.



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