We see statements like that quite a bit in optional essays about poor academic performance in college and we had thought we’d done a post explicitly discussing it, but it appears that we have not. This one on “My abilities did not match my performance” touches on it. However it deserves a post of its own.
When you’re writing an explanation to the adcom about any situation in your profile that they need more information about, then the most important objective is to explain the situation. Then, your second most important objective is to offer evidence to neutralize the negative.
Trying to show that, Hey! I’ve done so well in my career! This surely should matter and please please please you should let me in anyway even though I fumbled through college! is simply not doing either of those things.
Check it out, Brave Supplicant. If you did not perform well in your job, then you would not keep your job. Or at minimum, you would not get promoted. And you likely would not be able to find anyone to write good letters of recommendation for you.
Saying that your low academic performance from college should be overlooked because you’ve been such a top performer in your career just doesn’t hold water.
They PAY YOU at work.
You would GET FIRED if you didn’t perform.
Most people are highly motivated by at least one if not both of those two factors.
You get “paid” for performance in college only through getting good grades. Some people are intrinsically motivated by that – or, hey! they actually like learning! But others just phone it in and do the bare-minimum to get by, so that they can get on to the next thing in life.
In school, you have to motivate yourself. You have to get your lazy bones out of bed on time to make it to class. You have to do the homework, and wade through all that reading, even when you’d really rather be playing Nintendo. There is nobody following up with you to see if you’re taking care of your responsibilities. (Hopefully, at least not too much.)
Talking about your performance at work in an optional essay on grades is simply not compelling. It’s just another attempt to do the “my performance in college did not match my abilities” shtick, which is what everyone says, which is meaningless and not helpful.
When you write your optional essay explaining stuff, first you need to explain it and then you need to offer evidence that shows you are different today than the facts of your past would indicate. Work ≠ school.
There are sometimes cases where a discussion of work performance might be beneficial in an optional essay on grades, but those would be confined to direct examples of where you have displayed specific skills or abilities that your transcripts show as a weakness. As a global statement, the “I’m such a good worker!” thing is irrelevant.
The other very important point to make here: The ENTIRETY of your application should be demonstrating that you have been pushing yourself in your career. You should not need to make that claim in an optional essay; if it’s a true and accurate state of reality about your professional past, then it SHOULD BE COMMUNICATED LOUD AND CLEAR EVERYWHERE ELSE. The adcom shouldn’t have to get to the optional essay before seeing any such evidence of that — and that evidence needs to be DEMONSTRATED, not asserted with empty claims about your professional prowess.
This is the type of thing that sophisticated applicants handle carefully. It’s where you can really pinpoint your messaging, providing relevant and effective information in the right place at the right time.
When you’re thinking about what to say in your optional essay on grades (or for that matter, any other blemish), then make sure it meets one of those two standards:
1. Is it EXPLAINING the situation?
2. Is it GIVING EVIDENCE for how that situation does not reflect who you are today?
#2 needs to be apples to apples to the situation you’re explaining. When you’re trying to neutralize the issue of bad academics, then only information that’s directly related to who you are as a student is going to add value. You can say other stuff, but mostly it’ll be just filler.
And that’s what everyone does in these essays.
(ho hum turn the page maybe the next applicant will be more authentic and honest and take responsibility.)