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Tell Admissions Officers About Difficult Family Situations

a woman sits at her desk drinking coffee


Applicants who are dealing with difficult situations at home, such as a chronically ill parent or family hardship, should tell the admissions office about their circumstances. More colleges and universities are factoring that into admissions decisions.

Colleges and universities recognize that students who succeed academically despite these challenges are among the most talented applicants. They do not want to miss out on good students who would shine with a little extra support.

“Many children are unable to engage in community service or activities outside the home because they spend substantial time supporting their families. Tasks like assisting an elderly relative or working at a job to contribute to the family income are commonly unreported in the college admissions process,” says Harvard, which is pushing a Turning the Tide initiative to broaden college admissions to students facing family hardships.

Harvard recommends that applicants take time to explain strenuous home situations to admissions officers, especially if they’ve impacted a student’s ability to volunteer or participate in extracurricular activities.

At Purdue, the university is encouraging students who are dealing with the death of a parent or ones who are ill to share their situation. The university is working to implement policies to help students succeed in the face of adversity.

“Balancing the role as an academic-focused student and the child of someone who is very ill is not easy,” says Heather Servaty-Seib, a counseling psychologist and an associate professor of educational studies at Purdue. “Often, well-meaning parents don't communicate about the illness or daily problems to their children because they are protecting them.

“Sick family members often request that the student stay at school and focus on being a student. But then the student is at school worrying. And when the student is home, then they are worried about academic challenges.”

If a student is applying to college and is caring for a relative, has dealt with the death of a parent or other traumatic event, that information should be shared with admissions officers. By reaching out, applicants can provide the proper context for evaluating their application.

Explaining challenges at home demonstrates that an applicant has dealt with strenuous situations and thrived, something that will be impressive to admissions officers.

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