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Writing about domestic violence in transfer essay to explain bad HS grades?

schmeebyschmeeby 0 replies1 threads New Member
To give quick context to my situation, I grew up in a home with domestic violence and an alcoholic father. My mom was finally able to leave with us right before my sophomore year. Things got better in some ways, but worse in others after this. I now had to work 2 jobs at a time on top of school since my mom was a single parent and I was more responsible for my siblings.

My grades were a roller coaster in high school. Some semesters were alright, some were horrible, some were a mixture of both.

I don't mean to blame my grades on this because I know that a lot of students come from unstable households, but I guess I wasn't strong enough to not let my family life get to me like that. There were some nights we had to leave very suddenly and find a place to go because we thought my dad might really hurt/kill us. Sometimes I had a huge paper or exam the next day, but when I spent the night before scared for my life, I didn't really care about that. Things like that just added up over time and caused some bad grades. Sorry if that was TMI, but I am really trying to convey just how this affected my grades.

Then when we did move out, my mom became depressed and worked all the time. Our house was filthy, smelt horrible, and I had to be the one to do the chores since I was the oldest and my mom worked 60 hours a week. When I came home from work at 11pm every night, having to do chores, being surrounded by trash, I really just wanted to eat, shower, and sleep, and homework was the last thing on my mind. As you may also imagine, I also wasn't exactly in the best place mentally either and it was hard to focus on school after being in a bad situation for the past 16 years. This added up too and led to more bad grades.

I graduated with a 3.2ish. One F, a couple of Ds, a couple of Cs, and mostly Bs and As. I only took 3 AP classes because that was all my school had. Applying to colleges my first time was hectic. I am a first generation student, so my mom had no clue how to even begin to help me. I really wanted to go to a small, LAC because I knew that'd fit me way better than a huge university, so I applied to a lot with good aid and a high acceptance rate, even though my favorite schools were extreme reaches which I applied to anyways because it was free (they have 30-40% acceptance rates.) Unsurprisingly, I did not get into any of my "dream schools" so I went to the next best one, happy that I even got into college at all.

Now that I am in a good environment and far away from home, I have a 4.0 from my first semester. This time around it's looking like I may get a couple B+s or A-s in classes that are not in my major, but still not bad. No Cs or Ds. The lowest I'll end up with this year is a 3.7 or 3.8.

My current college is not the best fit for me (for reasons irrelevant to this post, so I am not going to go into that here) and I really want to give my other top choice universities a shot again.

For the transfer essay, since colleges will still see my high school transcript, I wanted to center my essay around how I have always had the capability to succeed in school, I was just held back by my environment in high school and now I can prove that I could do it all along with my current college grades. I made sure to take and ace the classes in the subjects I failed or got Ds in when I took them in high school to further prove my point. Then I wanted to talk about how the university I'm currently at was like a stepping stone to where I want to be, and how transferring will allow me to reach my full potential.

The only thing is, I don't exactly know if it's appropriate to write about being from a domestic violence household in a college essay. But also, it's the reason I am where I am today and I didn't ask for such a sensitive topic like this to have such a huge impact on my education. I really don't want to share this, but I feel like explaining myself is the only way I have a shot at the places I'm trying to get into, which have 20% transfer acceptance rates (I know it's a long shot, but I still need to try.) However, I don't even know how to begin going about doing this. I know to focus on the positive (like emphasizing my growth in college) and to not be too detailed about my situation as to not make the reader uncomfortable or sound like a sob story, but with all of that taken into consideration, how DO I do this? On top of conveying my story, how do I write it in such a way that gets me a spot out of hundreds of applicants?

I have decent SAT scores (1410, 730 RW, 680M) and my extracurriculars are pretty good I would say. I still did a lot in high school and was even president of a club, which is why I often worked so late to make time for extracurriculars. I also had a really good internship in the summer. In college I have a high up campus job running the website, am a member of student government, play a club sport, am about to start writing for the newspaper, tutor elementary schoolers, and do a few other fun clubs. My college is also decently ranked, though I don't want to give the name because, as you can imagine, I would like to keep my anonymity as much as possible. It has a 50-60% acceptance rate, 50-60 top LAC in the country, in the top 3 best colleges in the state, so my GPA and involvement here has a decent amount of weight. I feel like with my test scores and ECs being pretty good, it'd make sense that I use my essay to explain the elephant in the room, my bad high school grades, right?

Any advice on how to write this or even how to make my application the best it can possibly be is much appreciated.
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Replies to: Writing about domestic violence in transfer essay to explain bad HS grades?

  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 7468 replies76 threads Senior Member
    edited March 4
    If you are applying right now, to transfer in September, the transfer schools will only have 1 semester of grades to judge by. If you apply next spring, for Junior year, your application will be much stronger (academically / ECs / LoRs), and your HS stats all but irrelevant. Given that you are "in a good environment" and it's a matter of going for the "dream", your best odds on making it are by waiting and building a strong track record.

    You probably don't want to hear that.

    So, if you are going to apply anyway:
    Then I wanted to talk about how the university I'm currently at was like a stepping stone to where I want to be, and how transferring will allow me to reach my full potential.

    Careful there. That can read as prestige shopping. You say that your current college is well enough regarded to have "a decent amount of weight" but that you can't reach your "full potential" there. The kind of student who transfers successfully to a more selective school is the kind of student who can bloom where they are planted. Focus on what *specifically* (not just the dream or the sweatshirt) you are looking for from each school. And don't forget that it's not just about what they can do for you: they want to have a sense of how you will add to the community: this is especially important at smaller schools.

    As for your actual question (!) you will find that you can tell your story in two sentences, the first stating the bald facts ([when- age/grade], these members of my family did this thing for this reason), and the second stating the consequences. You don't need to spell out any more than you want to: ad comms readers will understand the implications readily enough. Your current college has given you (stability/space/time/calm/whatever) to find your feet and discover something important to you (which is X) which in turn leads to (reason for this particular college). Move from past to present to future.
    edited March 4
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  • Sapphire GSapphire G 22 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Do not say anything negative about your current school, it's like bad mouthing an employer. Even with good reason, it's always held against you. Focus on some aspect the transfer school has that your current school doesn't and your contribution to your new school community.
    The school you attend now have you a chance when others wouldn't. Remember that.
    Waiting a semester might be a good idea.
    For the essay, I would keep it positive but reference what you have over come to show your growth.
    Just my 2 cents.
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3598 replies13 threads Senior Member
    I'm kind of a private person but I would write briefly about a chaotic and at times unsafe home life where I had to change homes and apartments many times and how that adversely affected my grades. And then say that your current good grades show how you are able to flourish when you were able to move away to college.
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  • oldlawoldlaw 188 replies9 threads Junior Member
    I agree with all the above advice, but to echo the first response-knowing you probably don't want this advice-it may be best to wait until next year to apply. You'd be able to submit three semesters of grades, making HS grades all but irrelevant.
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