I have a pretty serious dilemma. I'm about to be a senior in high school, and for the past 5 years I've been dealing with a serious mental illness. As a result, my grades are terrible. We're talking, <2.0 terrible. I have good test scores (ACT 30, SAT 2020), and while I don't expect to be Harvard, Cornell, or even NYU-bound, I would like to get into a decent school. Is there any way I can explain myself to the colleges on my application or during my interview? I don't expect pity, or a get out of jail free card, just a little understanding. Or should I just suck it up, smile, and hope some college'll take a chance on me?
OMG. You guys, can we get some party music up in here? And a giant tray of mini hot dogs? And maybe a disco ball and some glitter cannons? Because for the first time in a long time, I'm about to respond to a letter with nothing but good news, and I think we need to celebrate.
Because letter-writer, not only will you get a chance—and maybe even multiple chances—to explain your situation to prospective colleges, but there's also a slew of resources out there designed specifically for applicants just like you.
So, let's start there. Sparkler, allow me to introduce you to NAMI, also known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. (NAMI, meet our Sparkler.) NAMI is an excellent resource for accessible info on all things mental health-related, and on the site, you'll find...
- Tips on choosing a college with good mental health services (an essential consideration for someone in your position.)
- What your rights are as a college student coping with mental illness.
- Which schools have an active NAMI chapter on campus.
- Forums in which you can find support, trade information, and gain insights on handling the application process from people who've been there, AND...
- A portal to scholarships designed specifically for mentally ill and/or disabled students.
Basically, mental illness is a health issue like any other—and just as for any student dealing with a disability, there are resources in place to provide you with support. You just have to do do your research, take some initiative, and take advantage of them. Get clicking. (And if you need help, this is what guidance counselors are for.)
Meanwhile, when it comes to explaining your poor grades to prospective schools, you've got a few different options. You can include a note in your transcript indicating that you've been coping with a chronic illness throughout high school. You can have your guidance counselor write a letter detailing your efforts, your successes, and your continued dedication to your education in spite of the setbacks caused by your condition. You can include your own letter, briefly explaining the situation and thanking the admissions staff for considering it as they review your application. Or, of course, you can turn your unfortunate circumstances into one hell of a unique, impactful, moving college essay.
And you'll do this not because you are your illness, or because you require pity or special treatment, but because the point of a college application is to provide the most complete possible picture of yourself to the schools you send it to. To tell them who you are, as a student and a human being. To show what you've accomplished, what you've attempted, and what you've overcome. And when you do this, not only will you likely find a school to take a chance on you, but one that'll feel lucky to have you.
Do you have mental health-related anecdotes, stories, or resources to share? Comment away! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Future You Can Handle Everything