Sarah was finishing up a stellar undergrad career at a very selective university, and then she was raped. That changed things, but it didn’t derail her, and she needs some advice on how to continue righting the ship.
Hi Judge Josh,
I’m a longtime reader and fan of your Q&A section, just never thought I’d be emailing you myself. First time for everything, I suppose.
I’m a second-semester senior graduating a year early, and I’d like to go straight into grad school if at all possible. The issue that I have is with a dip in my GPA this semester.
OK. That doesn’t sound too bad…
I’ve pulled around a 3.8 all through college, which makes me a competitive applicant for my target grad schools, if not a surefire success (think big, British and outrageously selective).
Simon Cowell. Or Oxford. Got it. 🙂
The problem is this semester: I was sexually assaulted right after Halloween, and finishing the semester at all required a lot of emotional stamina and strength.
Good Lord. I am sorry to hear that. I’m also gonna spare you the platitudes and eggshell-walking that you’ve probably heard way too much of already (from strangers, no less) and say congrats on mustering the strength to keep going through all of it.
A received a few A’s, a few A-‘s, and then a few grades that I’m not sure about yet but I’m sure are not good at all.
I just don’t know how – or even if – this should be addressed in the application.
Well, it’s gonna depend on how bad the final grades are, and if they knock you down to the point where they become something you are going to need to explain in order to get what you want. Let’s just say Oxford, to spare me some typing. 🙂
There’s no spot for “what traumatic event happened to you that killed your GPA?” and even if there was, I find it a lot harder to talk about this than I would my parents’ divorce or being diagnosed with something.
True, there’s no spot for that, but there often is a more open-ended personal statement, etc., and that’s a place where you might want to consider discussing it: a) IF you think you need to, if the GPA drop is bad enough that you feel you have explain it away, and then, of course, b) if you can bring yourself to do so.
It was hard enough to discuss my assault with my university and my professors; I’m just not sure how I can bring it up without sounding like I’m begging for empathy or something.
I understand that completely.
I’m not sure if I made any sense. My foremost priority this semester after making sure I was physically okay was trying to salvage my GPA, especially because it IS such an important semester for me, grad school-wise. Everyone who tells me that my GPA doesn’t matter clearly doesn’t know the British system, and all I’ve wanted my whole life was to go to Oxford or Cambridge.
Well, even a guy like me who very often says “GPA doesn’t matter” always hedges that with “…unless you’re going to grad school.” So sure, it matters a lot, in the UK or the US or anywhere else.
I refuse to let the assault ruin my life more than it has… I’m just not sure how to talk about it without sounding like I’m trotting out a sob story for pity.
Well, here’s the thing about that. You’ve got two forces butting heads inside you, right? You want to put the assault behind you and move on, BUT, you want to go to Oxford. And they might need you to explain the GPA, and that might mean you need to rehash the assault.
So, when it all comes down, you have to choose which of those things you want more. You’re never gonna hear me tell a rape victim that she must tell a group of strangers about the whole ordeal. However, I get the sense from you that you’re pretty motivated to do this whole Oxford thing, and will probably gut out at least one more retelling of the incident if that’s what’s required to get what you want — and, as you say, to not let it derail your life any more than it already has.
Thanks for letting me vent, and thanks for any help you can provide.
Of course. Let me just add that, if you do decide to tell the story, then there are very few people who are going to read that essay and think you’re trying to heap pity on yourself, and then knock you for doing so. I mean, it’s rape — shy of getting killed, it’s the worst thing that can happen to someone. So even the most hardened among us are not going to read your story of rape and think about what a whiner you are.
Second, I think that if you tell the story, you may end up making yourself look like an even stronger candidate than you would’ve been without the dip in grades. I mean, as you know, it takes giant balls to talk about something like that with anyone, let alone a group of anonymous strangers.
Also, the rape and its aftermath and how you’re handling it does actually change your story a bit. In my opinion, it’s evidence that you’ll let nothing stop you, ever. And that, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this site from its very earliest days, is the no. 1 thing we (scholarship judges, but also admissions committees) look for when we’re handing out money: students who we know are going to make it. You know, ones who won’t fail out, drop out, or just start generally half-assing it when things get difficult.
If I’m reading your application and you tell me your story and, in whatever words you choose, tell me that you’ll be damned if the rape or anything else is going to stop you from achieving your goals, then you’ve won me over. And very quickly. LET HER IN. She will not disappoint us.
The fact that you’re plowing forward attests to all the good qualities that people see and have seen in you up to this point. I’m not going to be so insensitive as to say “turn it into a positive!” because that’s just messed up. But let’s strip away ALL the other bullshit details that are ever written about on these pages and ask the only question that ever matters: “What do you want out of life?”
For you, right now, I think that’s Oxford. And the followup question is: “Are you willing to do what it takes to get there?”
I sense that you’re willing to do a lot to get there, and if that means telling your story, you will. If you’re not willing to tell the story, then hey — you’ve still got my full support, because that’s a personal choice you have to make. But still, *that’s* really what the choice boils down to:
Thing I Really Want vs. Shitty and Uncomfortable Obstacle To Getting It.
Don’t worry about the committees — they’ll be fine with it. And please, let us know what you decide to do, if you’re OK with sharing it.
— Heavy topic today, lads and lasses. Should she talk about the assault, or should she keep it private? Let us know in the comments below.