Managing Missteps

How to Address Red Flag Issues and Mistakes on Your College Applications

If you have a record of getting excellent grades in your courses but then receive a bad grade, you may need to explain what happened.

Everybody makes mistakes. If you’re a good student who has not always been perfect, you might be anxious about whether or not it will prevent you from getting into the school of your dreams. Issues ranging from minor ones such as a single bad grade to major ones such as a suspension, minor in possession or long absences from school may cause concern. The most important thing to remember if you have a problematic record is that you must disclose it and be truthful about it. If you don’t, it may later return and end your chances of gaining admission.

Being Upfront

Admissions officers and committees want to see that applicants who have red flag issues in their pasts recognize their mistakes and have worked to correct them. At Going Ivy, our professional educational counselors have graduated from such universities as Harvard and other elite institutions. Some of our counselors and tutors are also former admissions officers and offer a unique perspective about how red flags are viewed. In the past, we have assisted students who have red flags and who have made mistakes with addressing those problems head on in their college applications. Some of them have gone on to gain admission into their top school choices. Our goal is to help you to clearly demonstrate that you are not defined by what occurred.

Common Red Flags and Mistakes

There are some common issues that we have seen. In all likelihood, you are probably not as bad off as you might think that you are. Here are some of the issues that we occasionally see and how you might handle them if they pertain to you.

  1. Exaggerating on Your Application

Some students create their own red flags by not being honest on their applications. They may claim to engage in more activities than they do, to hold positions that they don’t or have their parents write their essays, for example. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year, and they can easily spot problems in applications in which students have lied. Seth Green, the Dean of Admissions at Grinnell College, states that he has seen students who make outlandish claims about the hours that they spend performing extracurriculars. According to him, he has seen students attempting to claim enough extracurricular activities that it would require them to have more hours than there are in a week.

Mistakes that are more than just exaggerating include submitting an essay that is clearly not written by you. If your essay is extremely strong but your English grades and corresponding standardized test scores are low, you won’t make sense to a school, and your authenticity could be questioned. Don’t put yourself in this position. The key for this red flag is just to be honest on your applications about who you are and what you have done, and write all parts of your application yourself. Getting editing help is okay, but hiring someone to completely write your essay for you is never a good idea.

  1. Dropping Grades

Admissions committees do not like seeing applicants whose grades have fallen. For example, if you have a record of getting excellent grades in your courses but then receive a bad grade, you may need to explain what happened. You’ll also want to explain this to your high school counselor who will write a letter of recommendation for you. Don’t think that you can slack off after you receive an acceptance letter from your school, either. According to Richard Nesbitt, the director of admissions at Williams College, schools can and sometimes do revoke acceptances when they receive midterm grades for senior-year students who have been accepted but who have slacked off after receiving their letters. It is important for you to continue working hard all the way through school until you graduate.

  1. Disciplinary or Legal Problems

One trip to the principal’s office will not be fatal to your application, but serious problems such as expulsions or suspensions might be if they are not handled well. Similarly, if you have a juvenile record for such things as possessing drugs or alcohol, or your school has noted that you were disciplined for academic dishonesty, you will need to handle the matter well in order to gain acceptance even if you have a perfect standardized test score.

  1. Curricular Changes

If your academic record includes major curricular changes such as switching to regular classes instead of advanced placement courses, you will need to explain why. Don’t think that you can sign up for all easy classes during your senior year. Admissions committees may view this with suspicion.

  1. Lengthy Absences from School

If you had to take off a semester or longer from school, you will need to explain why. Similarly, if you have excessive absences from school that caused you to have falling grades, your absences may catch the admission committee’s attention.


How to Disclose and Deal with Problems

If you have any of these red flags in your past, preparing an explanation is vital. On the Common Application, you can do so in the additional information section. Disclose the mistakes that you have made and admit what your role was in them. Do not make excuses for what happened or blame others. Talk about what you have done since the event to correct the issue. Talk about what you should have done differently, and discuss what you have learned from it. This is a good place to also explain any extenuating circumstances. For instance, if you took a semester away from high school because you were recovering from injuries that you received in a car accident, disclose that. Don’t make up extenuating circumstances if there weren’t any, however. This type of information is easily verifiable.

The letters of recommendation that teachers and your high school counselor write can be a great source of explanation of drops in grades or academic red flags. If you had a low Spanish grade, for example, but that teacher was later let go, your counselor can and should address that.

If you have a juvenile record, it is important that you are able to demonstrate that you have learned from what happened and have turned over a new leaf. For instance, if you were charged with illegally possessing prescription narcotics, you may want to talk about your attendance at drug rehabilitation and how you now work as a volunteer counseling other teens who have similar problems. No matter what you say, however, you must be honest. Don’t try to make something up, believing that you won’t be caught. You might. Finally, you should know that admissions officers have hearts. They are willing to look past many issues as long as they can see that you have learned from them, are truly contrite and have grown as a person.

Get Help from the Experts at Going Ivy

One mistake will not destroy your future. It is important that you are able to show that you have matured and have taken steps to correct any issues that might have happened. The educational experts at Going Ivy can assist you with determining how best to frame what happened and how to talk about it on your application. Call us today to schedule your appointment.

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