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I am currently working as a software engineer for two years, and recently I decides to apply for grad school.

One thing that I am worried about is that my transcript looks terrible in the last year of my undergraduate period. I received an overall GPA of 3.3/4.0 (which looks fine for grad school ). But during the last three quarters, I received a C- and D+; and the quarterly GPA is obviously lower compared with the previous two years and I know it will not go unnoticed by the admission committee.

During the last year in college, something happens in my family and I do not have enough money to go through the entire four years so I decided to take 5 classes each quarter to graduate early. I was overstressed with all that happened in my family, working on 5 core computer science classes, and worrying about job searching. I was depressed and start taking pills and counseling sessions. Eventually, I managed to graduate from the CS program and start my career as a software engineer, but now I have a flawed transcript, particularly for the last year. I finished counseling after getting out of school and fully recovered from the depression. I worked very well as a software engineer that my team leader is willing to write a strong recommendation letter for me.

So I was wondering if I should mention the health issue in SOP and if I need to mention it, to what extent? Should I just vaguely mention a health issue for a few sentences or just tell the admission committee plainly about the depression and the later recovery?

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Essentially what you are wondering is whether someone will read about your situation, sympathize with you, and cut you a break out of compassion. In my experience, people with this sort of compassion are rare enough in academia (and everywhere else) that you should not count on one reviewing your application. In public, many academics will announce how caring and supportive they are toward people with problems, but do not be deceived by this language. Most say this because they are expected to, not because they actually mean it.

Think about your situation in terms of incentives. University departments benefit from having high performing students. High performers raise a university's profile by scoring well on standardized tests, by succeeding after they graduate, etc. A mentally healthy mediocre student or an excellent student held back by depression will both fall into the category of "not high performing" to anyone evaluating you. Even if you claim to have conquered your depression, someone evaluating your application might wonder if that is truly the case.

Departments do make accommodations for applicants from disadvantaged groups---so long as university administrators insist on it. If you are part of a disadvantaged group singled out by university admin, then you can expect concessions. I believe depression typically does not fall into this category, but if I am wrong about that I would be grateful if someone corrects me.

Therefore, unless you are applying to a university that specifically accommodates people who suffer from depression, my feeling is that you will be on the hook for your lower grades whether or not you mention your problem. Furthermore, mentioning your depression might make you seem even weaker as a student.

I understand that this will surely feel very unfair to you, and indeed it is. You have had terrible luck, and there is no easy way out. The only thing you can do is try to get the best deal you can with the grades you have and live down this bad situation.

I hope things turn around for you.

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    Think you for your suggestion, I think I'll just use things like "family issue" or "health problem" to explain a specific bad semester.
    – Eric
    May 13 at 7:00

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