So you now realize that partying during college wasn’t such a wise move. And you need to tell the adcom what was the dealio with your grades.
Here’s what one Brave Supplicant put together as an optional essay around low GPA – names of specific things BSer was involved with have been changed to protect anonymity:
At [university name], I was heavily involved in student activities and leadership. In addition to founding Beat, I lead marketing efforts for Purple Emo, headed several debating clubs, and was selected by my class and faculty to head full-time recruitment for [university] as a representative for mechanical engineers. In my final year, I co-founded a startup, Green Chai Media, and served as its business development and marketing head. Seeing an invaluable market opportunity in the growing online space we worked to make Green Chai a success and put tremendous effort in partnering with [media outlets], looking for capital and developing the business plan, but were beaten out by a very well funded and dominant player.
Although the startup and my leadership experiences taught me many valuable lessons in teamwork, perseverance, and business intelligence, I learnt the very important lesson of maintaining balance. Through all my responsibilities, I lost academic focus and my grades suffered. Thus, I do not view my undergraduate performance as an accurate representation of my academic abilities. My recent GMAT score of 700 is a better reflection of my potential to succeed in an academic setting while working in a analytical and complex job and I hope to prove this by becoming a [scholar program] at [top bschool] while being active outside the classroom and engaging with the community. [Bschool] has been my dream destination and I’m sure that I can achieve my goals by benefiting from its enriching program.
Here’s what we think:
1. Explain in the first sentence why you’re writing this essay – what issue are you addressing? Don’t make the reader wonder what your point is.
2. What is Beat? What is Purple Emo? Your reader won’t have a clue – need to explain/briefly define else you risk not making any sense.
3. Watch for typos – it should be “led” not “lead”
4. If you’re using the argument “Hey I was involved in all these other cool things and that’s why my academic record sucks” then you might want to quantify exactly how much time you spent – particularly on the startup. Also, WHEN did the startup fail? And make sure that the facts you present here match up to reality – if your grades were equally weak throughout the entire undergrad experience, then this isn’t really that strong of an argument to make. If your grades were pretty good for the first year or so and then they went down after you began with Green Chai, then it is more legitimate. The adcom will match up the pieces of your story, so this is just a warning about making sure things line up!
5. This might be OK but… we have to point out that if you’re claiming that this experience taught you about balance, then the very best way to prove that is to have something else to point to. Have you gotten any difficult industry certifications where you had to study hard and pass a challenging test? Have you taken any classes while holding down a job? Have you done any community projects while working, and been able to succeed in both? If you’re claiming that you learned a lesson — this is true in any essay, not just this one about grades — then the best way to prove it is to offer a quick example of how you applied that learning somewhere else in your life, and were successful. That’s how to make a decent essay really great, and to convince the reader that you’re legit with where you’re coming from. (And obviously, you know we have to say it somewhere in this post, the best way to offset a low GPA is to take a class and do well in it.)
6. Finally – this sentence in paragraph 2:
Thus, I do not view my undergraduate performance as an accurate representation of my academic abilities
DUDE, HAVE YOU NOT READ THE ESSAYSNARK BLOG???? Read this. Don’t say that. 🙂
You do need to acknowledge the low academics in an optional essay, but you probably need to give the adcom a little more in order to believe in you.