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How can I better explain my extenuating circumstances for CommonApp?

mivy111 1 / -  
Jan 10, 2016   #1
I'm not really a good writer and I haven't been able to find much help/examples of other extenuating circumstances essays so any help would be greatly appreciated. My school system was extremely strange and I don't know how deep to go but here it is:

I would like to explain the circumstances which affected my performance in school and forced me to stop some of my extracurriculars.

For the first 3 years of my high school career, I attended Gambold Prep Magnet High School. It was the first full International Baccalaureate public high school in the state of Indiana and the one of the first to be offered to underrepresented inner city youth; I was apart of its first class. Unfortunately, none of the teachers had experience with the IB program. The teachers and students were unaware of the 1-7 grading scale that the school used instead of the traditional A,B,C scale. Also, instead of getting a final grade based on the averages of all of the assignments and tests, teachers gave students grades based off of the "highest sustained" score. This lead to an arbitrary grading system as the final grade in the class was made at the discretion of the teacher. The school also misinformed students and families about the classes that we were taking. We believed that the classes that I was taking were IB level and would be weighed accordingly. Upon leaving the school, I was informed that none of the classes in my first two years were at the IB level. This school also did not offer any AP classes. I began my senior year at a different school because my previous school was shut down.

In addition to problems at school, there were problems in my family. During the fall of my junior year, my sister had become a single mom with two newborn babies. She and the babies moved back home, but because she was unemployed, the move strained our family financially. I began working two jobs- about 40 hours a week- to help pay for groceries for the household and products for the babies. I was unable to allot enough time for my tennis and debate teams and was forced to resign.

After changing schools I believe that I am getting closer to reaching my potential. Although I still work two jobs, I have become more active with my extracurriculars and I have begun taking AP classes. The grades currently shown on my transcript have been converted from the 1-7 grading scale to the traditional A,B,C scale. I am extremely dedicated and I understand that GPA and extracurriculars are majors parts of the admissions process, but I hope this gives insight into the issues I have faced.

vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Jan 10, 2016   #2
Michael, I can understand how confusing it must have been for you in the IB school system. I am sure that since your batch was the satellite group, there was really a period of adjustment and misinformation going around. Your explanation of the way the grading system was implemented may or may not help in your application since the reviewer will most likely be familiar with the IB grading system. So I do not think that you need to be so detailed with regards to that portion of the essay. If anything, you should concentrate more on explaining how the confusing grading system and the misinformation adversely affected your grades. A confused school system always results in a confused student with not so good grades. So concentrate on explaining how that happened to you in the academic setting.

As for the story of your sister, that doesn't really affect your grade as much as you think. Most students are able to work 2 jobs and study while taking care of their own child in a single parent set up. Don't expect to get sympathy for that part of your life, specially since you are not the one who had the baby. Instead, concentrate all your efforts on explaining the extenuating circumstances of your academic life. Mention how the lack of continuity in your school attendance (the constant school changing) affected the way you learned and in effect, the kind of grades that you produced. That will definitely explain an extenuating circumstance.

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