Preparing for College

Explaining Drop in Grades Due to Internet Addiction

Question: In my sophomore year, I got 3 Cs in a subject that I am usually strong in: science. The reason for this particular grade drop across all my subjects was Internet addiction.I have not discussed this with my guidance counselor and have never been diagnosed by a professional. Now, I have dealt with the "addiction" (myself) and am back on track my junior year. Next year when I am applying, should I mention this in my college application or should I have my guidance counselor explain it? I do not want to have my grade drop to go unexplained.

Yes, this is definitely a situation that calls out for explanation at application time, and this should come from both you and your guidance counselor. (So it’s time for a sit-down with your counselor to come clean.) Your explanation is well suited for the “Additional Information” that you’ll find on most applications. It’s possible, too, that you might write your primary essay about this issue (more on that in a minute). However, by focusing instead on an unrelated topic and saving the Internet-addiction problem for elsewhere (e.g., a supplementary essay, letter, or “Additional Information”), you are sending a message to admission committees that suggests, “Yes, I did struggle with this problem, but it doesn’t define me.”

When you describe your addiction for admission folks, be sure to include specific information about what you did to successfully combat it. Of course, the most important aspect of this “success” will be your rise in grades. If the admission officials see that your GPA has bounced back, then this will certainly give you much more credibility than if you simply claim that you’ve overcome your addiction but the grades on your transcript don’t confirm it.

You also might want to consider turning this learning experience into an aid for others. Perhaps you can volunteer to speak at an assembly at your school or at nearby middle or even elementary schools to discuss the dangers of Internet addiction. If your school has a Parent/Teacher Organization, I bet you could get on the agenda there, if you have the guts to stand up in front of a crowd of mothers and fathers and discuss Internet-addiction warning signs and remedies.

You could even consider compiling your advice in a pamphlet or short book to distribute (or sell? :)) in your school or others. (I’m tempted to suggest that you could create an Internet-addiction Web site, but this may be too ironic … and counterproductive.)

If you do go this extra mile, then your entire ordeal … including the positive outcome … could make a strong application essay.

Whatever you decide, you can’t expect to get a complete “Get out of jail free” card for this. When it’s time to apply to colleges, your “competition” will include candidates who have earned top grades all along. But, even so, admission officials will appreciate your candor and will give you credit for surmounting this obstacle, if indeed your junior and senior grades show that you have.

(posted 12/9/2010)