How to Address Bad Grades and Other Unfavourable Circumstances in your Grad School Statement of Purpose (SOP)

For a variety of reasons, you might have “bad” grades, absences, and other unfavourable circumstances on your transcript and other parts of your graduate school application. Without good reasoning, these unhappy circumstances may hinder your chances of getting into grad school due to its extremely competitive nature. Addressing these issues in your graduate school statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes also known as a statement of intent, may understandably feel daunting, confusing, and embarrassing — even when your reasons are perfectly sound! For instance, maybe you had a close friend or family member pass away, or you were suffering from an untreated mental illness, or you were working full-time to support your family, and therefore couldn’t prioritize your schoolwork as a result. None of these circumstances are your fault, but the graduate admissions committee doesn’t know that unless you explain your situation.

That being said, you don’t need to write a short memoir about the less-than-spectacular aspects of your application. Instead, a few sentences, or maybe even a short paragraph, will do. The key components of your explanation should include:

  • a direct, explicit, and concise statement addressing your unfavourable circumstance
    • E.g., “In the fourth and final year of my undergraduate degree, some of my grades dropped from my usual A- down to a B-/C+, especially in the first semester.”
  •  a short and sincere explanation for said circumstance
    • E.g., “My grandmother, whom I was close with, died just as the school year was starting. As a result of my grief, I was unable to focus on my schoolwork to the extent that I had in the past.”
  • an explanation of how you overcame or are still coping with this issue
    • E.g., “In an effort to cope with my loss, I started attending grief counselling sessions that were available on campus. These sessions, and the support of my family and friends, helped me focus on my schoolwork and pull my grades back to an A- and B-level by the end of the second semester.”

If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll update my post (citing you, of course)!

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