I was traumatized by an abusive relationship. While in the relationship, my grades were affected. Out of the relationship, I chose to stay in school and struggle with my studies instead of medically withdrawing. I attended therapy and completed psychiatric care.

I'm back to being a straight A student, but what will graduate school say in reference to those 2 years on my transcript? Should I explain it to them? Will I be granted an interview even? My GRE scores are great, but my major is competitive. What can I do? Should I include a letter that certifies what occurred in those two years from a professional?

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    Have you talked to a graduate admissions advisor at your school? If not, is there a specific reason why? Also, "my grades were affected" may need to be elaborated on since that is subjective. Are we talking about a few Cs and Bs? Ds and Fs?
    – Compass
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 17:56
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    Graduate schools will likely ask about the events leading up to the change in grades during an interview. You should work with someone you are comfortable with in a practice interview regarding this specific question, in my very non-professional opinion, as it may be very difficult to answer. I'm sure someone with more background in graduate admissions will be able to cover more ground, but at the very least, I am pretty sure that the disparity will be queried.
    – Compass
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 18:32
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    One would typically use vague phrases like "medical issues" or "a difficult personal situation which is now resolved". You could likewise have your recommendation writers allude to the issue with similar phrases. Admissions committees do not really need or want to know the details. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 20:11
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    +1 for "now resolved." Admissions people will probably be more concerned about whether the same thing could happen again.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 20:35
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    You may actually be eligible for a additional scholarship. My university has a scholarship specifically for people who's grades were adversely affected by * during their undergraduate. Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 0:24

5 Answers 5


I'm going to make this an answer rather than a comment; I hope others will react to it, especially if I'm wrong. (I'm a teacher, not an admissions officer.)

From what I understand, you had good grades at the start of your college career. Your grades declined for external reasons. Your life is back under control and your grades are back up. You have a little more than a year to gather good grades on your transcript.

Go for it. Apply to the schools you'd like to attend, but apply to a couple of Plan B schools as well.

Here's the part that may be controversial: You might want to include in your cover letter something like "You may notice that there was a slump in my grades during my time as an undergraduate. That was due to a difficult personal situation, now resolved." (Thanks, Nate Eldridge, for the fine phrase.)

The other choice would be to mention the grade slump not at all. In any case, don't make a big deal of it.

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    I don't think your suggestion is controversial at all: I think it is very sound advice. If anyone is worried that they may be calling attention to a weak point the admissions committee would not otherwise notice: that is very unlikely. What they might miss on a quick reading is that the dip in grades is concentrated on a specific time. Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 3:47

If you have the opportunity, use the diversity statement to briefly allude to the medical / personal issue in your life at the time that is now resolved and that you don't think will reoccur.

I wouldn't not mention it. The admin committee will see a slump in your grades. But we're also interested in your overall trajectory. So as long as it doesn't represent something that will reoccur in grad school, we can be convinced to take a risk.

One other option if your discipline allows it is to do a Master's degree in the same field. That way we can see that you're capable of doing graduate work in the field.


This is from my own personal experience, so there's obviously no guarantee you will have the same experience, but I thought I would share...

I also had some difficulties with abuse during my undergraduate years, my grades suffered and I ended up withdrawing completely from the course, eventually completing my BA 7 years later from a different university. I'm now completing my PhD at one of the top universities in the US, and before this I did a masters at one of the top universities in the UK. So it certainly doesn't have to hold you back.

In my case, I chose to do a few things to try and maximize my chances of getting into the school and program I wanted:

1) I chose to do an masters before applying for the PhD - to show that I could do graduate level work, and, perhaps more importantly, that my grades really were back on track (that is, that the bad grades were the exception, not the good grades).

2) I referred explicitly to the problem years in my personal statement.I briefly explained why the drop in grades and eventual withdrawal occurred, but really focused on the fact that it was now resolved, and highlighted the consistently positive grades etc since.

3) I asked one of my referees (who knew what had happened), to directly address it in her letter of recommendation, again focusing primarily on the positive steps/grades etc since.

For me this worked really well. I was offered a place at each of the graduate schools I applied to, and although it may have taken me a little longer to get here than friends who didn't have similar problems during undergrad, I'm now exactly where I want to be, and couldn't be happier.

I hope this helps in some way, and good luck!


Your problem appears to be one of grade "blemish(es)," rather than a "pattern" of bad grades. It's a bit troubling that they are in your core courses.

You appear to be "admittable," to many programs, although there is also a chance that the bad grades will keep you out of some programs.

In this situation, your personal essay (and corroborating letters of recommendation from professors), take on heightened importance. Basically, you'll have to "explain away" your worst grades due to "extenuating circumstances," how you've risen above those circumstances, and why those bad grades aren't likely to be repeated. It would also help if there were sympathetic people, particularly women, on the admissions committees of the schools of your choice.

It's a long shot, but if you can get a letter of explanation/recommendation from the professor(s) that gave you the worst grade(s), it might help clear up matters. As an undergraduate, I once had a professor tell me, "If I had know what you were going through during that semester, I might have given you a better grade in my course."


I will say this from my personal experience, so don't take it as a definitive answer and be discouraged.

Graduate school admission is a competition. A fierce competition, especially if you're applying for a good program. So if there's someone with higher GPA than yours, he/she will be admitted. Graduate schools care about one thing only - how well will you perform in their program.

While you may want to tell it in your cover letter that you had relationship issues, the admission may or may not consider it. In my case none of the good programs I applied to cared about things I had to go through. One program did respond me telling that they discarded my application cause of my GPA.

Don't be discouraged however. I have noticed that sometimes they may prefer things like working experience, volunteering, etc. So while you cannot change your past, you can affect your present and future. Work hard, and show it to them.

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