Overcoming Failure: What to do if you have failed subjects?

Personal Statement Tips

Overcoming Failure: What to do if you have failed subjects?

When applying to any top academic program, there is always a simple question that haunts most applicants: Are my grades high enough? So, what should a student do if you don't have a strong GPA? Or, if you have even failed a few subjects? 

I. Don't Panic

When you are ready to apply to either an undergraduate or postgraduate program, it is likely that your GPA and academic history is already set in stone. If there were some low grades or even an “F or two," don’t panic! Which is definitely harder to say than to do, but hear me out: That's history and you can’t do a thing to change it, especially if you've already graduated or are entering your final semesters. Focus on improving the other parts of your application.

II. How to Improve Your Grades

First, most undergrad or postgraduate programs require students to sit for a “standardized test,” i.e SAT, GMAT, LSAT, GRE, etc. This is an opportunity to shine and make up for those poor early years in high school or college where you just wanted to party, meet girls or boys, and maybe had a little too much fun.

Second, you can actually try to fix your grades, if there is time. If in your overall transcript, you have low grades in certain areas, i.e quantitative, literacy, etc., you can show the schools that you are keen to “improve.” For example, ULCA Extension offers great online courses in all areas which you can complete as a supplementary course and also submit as part of your application. This will show the school you are keen to improve, work on weaknesses and address concerns they might have. Be sure to use recognized programs/schools to supplement your grades and score well in these courses.

III. Give Reasons

In all applications, the schools will give candidates an explanation area to address any issues. If you had a few semesters of low grades due to illness, family issues, personal issues, etc, make sure you address them. Be sure to make your reasons “short and concise.” Admissions committees don’t want to listen to “excuses,” but will listen and make exceptions for legitimate “reasons.” So be sure to be genuine and not sound like you are making excuses. Present the facts quickly without cushion. 

IV. Address Your Weaknesses

A major weakness for international candidates especially in US, UK, Canadian programs is “English.” Not just can you read, write, and speak but can you participate in class discussions, work in groups, lead projects, and survive in an international environment. If you feel that you have this weakness, be sure to spend the last 6 months before applying to address this. For example, take a “Dale Carnegie” public speaking course. Warren Buffet has quoted, "it was the most valuable education to me," even more than his Columbia degree. Participate in public speaking, volunteer in groups, lead a project, take some courses in English. Do whatever you can to show you can tackle and address your weaknesses. This doesn't just apply to English, but any weakness you perceive in yourself and your application.

V. Be a Complete Candidate

Lastly, so many candidates just fulfill the application criteria these days. But what makes candidates “stand out” is not just a 4.0 GPA, or 1600 SAT, but rather their ability to be a well rounded person. This is what I mean when I say be a complete candidate. 

Strong GPA, strong SAT/GMAT, good at sports, speaks 2-3 languages, involved in student politics, volunteer, etc, those are the students that pose interesting questions in class and give their talents to a collegiate community. The more well-rounded a person, the less important your low GPA/GMAT scores become. The reason is that schools look for “intelligence.” And, thankfully, this is not just measured by your grades. Talent and potential are not just academic. They can be found in everything. 

The better you do in all other areas beyond your grades, the more potential you're showing in different aspects of your life. So, if you're looking at your transcript and seeing some roadblocks to your success in the application cycle, don't let these deter you from applying: just remember to show intelligence and potential in other parts of your application and you will still stand out. Good luck!