Your Story Matters, But How Much Is Too Much Story?

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ADG 175: Your Story Matters, But How Much Is Too Much Story?

Session 175

This student overcame challenges during his first year and now has over 80 credit hours with a 4.0. How much should he discuss his early academic challenges?

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[00:26] Question of the Day

Q: “I’ve struggled with worrying about my GPA and whatnot. My freshman year, just four or five days after moving to college, my mom and dad’s house flooded during Harvey. So in the following months, I was driving back and forth for about two and a half hours every other day. I was helping my dad with redoing the house and stuff because he was doing it all on his own. This completely tanked my GPA. I’m not blaming it all on driving back and forth. I take complete responsibility for that. 

In my second semester, I found out that my girlfriend is pregnant. I got a full-time job and I moved back to a university at home. Ever since we moved back down here, I just focused on school. In my last 80 hours, I’ve had a 4.0.

I’m wondering, should I talk about the flooding, getting a full-time job, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) getting pregnant? Because I don’t want it to sound like an excuse. 

When I look at the whole picture, it’s because of my maturity level and I wasn’t focused. I went into college thinking it was just going to be like high school. That was a completely wrong assumption. 

How do I keep my last 80 hours of 4.0 from being overlooked if I don’t speak about it? Since my overall GPA is going to be 3.41.”

[02:34] You’ve Proven Academic Capability!

A 3.41 GPA is not terrible. You have a 4.0. over 80 credit hours and that’s phenomenal. Also, your struggles seemed like it’s mostly in the first year, which most students do so that’s not really a problem.

Schools that care about poor grades or any sort of academic discrepancy will be looking for explanations through their secondary essays. 

And so, you could potentially look at the schools you’re applying to, and see if these schools care about academic discrepancies. If they’re asking about it in secondary essays, great. Maybe the majority of schools are asking about it, but don’t focus on it in your personal statement or in your primary application. Just talk about it in the secondary essays.

You have the academic track record of 80 credit hours at a 4.0 that will squash any concerns. And your GPA is still good at 3.4. It’s not fantastic, but it’s not a 2.9 either.

[04:33] Where to Talk About Your Struggles

Q: Three months after moving out here, my wife got pregnant and we lost that baby. We have a second one now, but during this time, we also found out my wife had to have surgery. I’ve maintained those grades through what seems like way worse than me just having a job during my freshman year.

A: It seems that you’re looking for avenues, whether good or bad, to inject narrative somewhere.

“This is a very common problem that students have with applications because they are constantly trying to inject a narrative.”Click To Tweet

The primary application is structured the way it is, for whatever reasons, but it is what it is. You need a personal statement, and you need up to 15 activities with descriptions. Now, assuming you apply to TMDSAS since you’re a Texas resident, then you have the optional essay and required essay. That is the perfect opportunity to talk about all of the obstacles and stuff that you’ve overcome. That includes things that you’ve been through around bad grades, struggles, etc.

[07:17] Don’t Force Your Narrative!

It’s the baseball analogy of running outside of the baseline, and you’re out. And it just doesn’t work well because the reviewers are expecting something.

They’re expecting a personal statement, which is why do you want to be a doctor? Some people write about why they think they’re going to be great doctors. But schools are expecting the standard personal statement.

When you go in with your agenda and with the narrative that you want to push, and they don’t read what they want to read, then they’re turned off. So be careful with those agendas.

“When you try to force a narrative or your agenda, you’re skewing off the course.”Click To Tweet

There’s a reason schools ask secondary questions in their essay prompts for secondary essay applications. Schools will gather the admissions committee and discuss what questions they want to know from each of their potential students.

Now, if you’re trying to answer anything outside of those questions, then you’re trying to force a narrative. You’re trying to fit a square peg through a round hole when you don’t even need to do it. So just be careful.

In my personal statement book, I talk about potential red flags and writing about them. But if you really want to write about it, then it shouldn’t overpower a personal statement.

[09:36] Go to Where You Want to Go

Q: Texas favors its own residents. Is it worth even applying out of state as a Texas resident?

A: You need to apply where you want to apply. Building a school list is hard. Too many students pick schools without any intentionality. Instead, you and your wife need to sit down and have conversations about where you want to see yourselves in the next four years.

Remember, it’s temporary. Medical school is just four years, and then you can apply to residency wherever you want to go. So the question comes down to where do you want to be?

Don’t try to gamify the system where since you’re a Texas resident then you should only apply to Texas schools because it’s a waste of money to apply elsewhere. It’s not a waste of money if you truly want to go to those other schools. 

A lot of public schools want their own state residents. There are instances where, as a Texas resident, a school may look at you and think you’re really a good applicant. But they’re not going to bother interviewing you anyway because they know you will stay in Texas. It’s called yield protection.

However, that should not dictate the game that you play. You should be aware of it and understand that it may hinder your chances of getting into out-of-state schools. But it shouldn’t dictate what you do.


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