I’m a high school senior and I am applying to very competitive colleges including, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Northeastern, University of Rochester and the like. In my junior year my mental health affected my performance and my first semester I had 2 Cs, one D and 3 or 4 As and I want to explain why my grades were low. I was going to make my topic that I realized that sometimes you need to let people help you if you’re struggling and that I got over my eating disorder and depression-like symptoms by going to the therapist and working on getting better. I was also going to mention that I overworked myself a bit by taking 4 AP classes, a 3-hour program at a local 2 year college, working 2 jobs, helping my parents with my then 1-year old sister, helping my older sister with getting used to college and proofreading my mom’s college essays since my family is Russian and moved to the US 7 years ago. I have read that immigrant stories are overused so I decided to not base my essay on that but I have also heard that writing about mental issues is bad as well unless you need to explain your performance. Any advice would be appreciated.
Thank you in advance.
I personally would not mention mental illness for two reason a) they may think you are using it as an excuse for poor grades; and b) they might be worried that your mental illness might resurface again while you are in college, especially for the highly selective, most competitive colleges. Maybe your college counselor could say something on your behalf but I would not put it in your personal essay.
At the end of the day, the adcoms want to know who you are, what you want to do in life, and how are you going to make their college better. Keep your essay positive and uplifting and don’t dwell on the past.
I would be cautious about mentioning your mental health struggles. Eating disorders have a very high rate relapse, especially when young adults who are away from home and their familiar support structures for the first time and are facing many changes, adjustments in living situations, dealing w/ roommates and the increased level of academic difficulty that is college. ED relapses can be life-threatening.
Quite honestly, I think focussing your essay on your mental health issues is a bad idea.
If you decide to pursue this topic, perhaps you should not mention ED and depression specifically. Instead, use the more generic “health issues” without being more specific.
It’s Ok to mention a tough semester/year in passing in your essay and very briefly explain you had health issues, but don’t spend a lot of time trying to explain. No matter how well you try to explain, it will come off sounding like you’re making excuses for your poor grades.
Write up a blurb the way you’d like that period of time explained, and include it in the notes to your GC. It comes off a lot better from someone else.
Be aware that at highly selective schools, excelling while being under fire is considered. Not if you did not excell.
And unfortunately, elite adcoms can see lower grades as reflecting less mastery of subjects you may depend on in college. Think carefully whether the pressure cooker environment is right for you. You describe suffering when overloaded, but are looking to jump, as they say, “from the frying pan into the fire.”
You really caught my attention when you mentioned your one-year-old sister. There’s a story right there!
The other posters are all correct in their advice. I just want to point out that you have quite an interesting angle to your story without mentioning mental health or the everyone-has-heard-it immigration story.
Another vote against this topic. AOs are looking for what you bring to campus. This isn’t that.
It sounds like you have had a lot of life experiences that many of your peers have not. Perhaps you experienced the U.S. differently because of your perspective. Maybe your role in your family exposed you to views and situations most teenagers don’t have. It sounds like you have some great material to work with. Don’t waste the space on what will sound like an excuse.
DO ask your GC to explain your particularly rough year, but not simply in terms of mental health challenges but in the context of what you had taken on in addition to being a student.
Mental health topics
Explaining why your grades were low
You need to understand that they want reasons to say yes. Your stories of looking after baby sister and your job and helping family members are admirable, but those are just activities, as you describe them. Maybe you can find an interesting angle about one of those things?
I’m not getting any sense of what is interesting about you, other than you seem to be a hard worker. What do you care about? What makes you happy? Maybe that is your baby sister. Maybe it’s puzzles, looking through binoculars, giving a dog treat to the local dogs, mastering your fledgling cooking skills?
I agree with @lookingforward that you need to strongly consider if the pressure cooker environment is for you.
You know what I think can be a great essay? Your two jobs. What were they? What encounters have you had there? What have you learned there? I would encourage you to free write about this for five minutes every morning this week and see what comes out of this. High school kids don’t always have time for jobs. Those that do, may not have the same jobs that you did. This could be something to set you apart in a positive way, while at the same time a quick note about how you fumbled a bit trying to manage work, school and home responsibilities. Try it. I don’t know you, but from what you have told us so far, I believe in you. You are an overcomer.