So I subscribe to an advise for college applicants listserv back from the days when I WAS actually applying to college. It’s called Outlaw Students. I don’t know that it’s ever helped me, but it certainly presents interesting and often controversial issues, not just your average run-of-the-mill college advisor stuff.

This site’s biggest achievement is its use of sensationalism. I mean, they get ME to read their e-mails and even check their site on occasion. How do they do it, you ask? Well, they send out e-mails with subject lines like “I Was Raped. Should I Tell the Admissions Committee?”

After clicking on the link, I was brought to Judge Josh’s column, where he gives a thorough and in-depth advice column-style analysis of the person’s situation, and then answers his or her question. In this case, the story is about a college student who was raped. She reported it to the proper authorities et al, but saw a massive drop in her grades due to this traumatic event. Now she’s applying to grad schools and want to know whether or not she should mention the extenuating circumstances which impacted her grades.

Judge Josh’s take on it was that she should use it to her advantage; saying she was raped but still continued her schooling and managed to finish the semester just proves how strong she is and what a hardworker! He encourages her to reveal it to the admissions officers as long as she feels comfortable doing so. For him it comes down to a question of whether she feels brave enough to share her story with the admissions counselors, in which case he thinks she definitely should. “Don’t worry about the committees — they’ll be fine with it.” Underneath his analysis readers left their thoughts, many in support of his advice.

I don’t agree. I would definitely tell her to do what feels best, and maybe she needs to get this secret off her chest by writing about it in this public way, but from a professional standpoint, I don’t really see how revealing something so personal could be a good thing. Perhaps I feel that way because there’s still something in our culture which makes us want to blame the victim, or tells us that we should feel embarrassed if we’ve been assaulted. But we shouldn’t, and she shouldn’t.

That still doesn’t make it smart to tell someone who you want to impress, that you’ve suffered a terrible personal trauma and dealt with it; personal statements to schools are MEANT to be fluff. The schools want to see that you’re creative, thoughtful, intelligent, insightful, hard-working…all of that, plus a good writer. However, hearing about your worst trauma is not going to make them want to accept you, it’s going to make them feel bad for you.

Even if the question were phrased “I was raped and I coped with it. Should I tell the admissions committee?”, I still wouldn’t recommend that she write her essay on it, but perhaps I would be less resistant to the idea. If the girl wanted to make it about the way she was able to persevere in SPITE of this tragedy, that’s much more understandable than her revealing this episode to the school and then asking them to bear that in mind as they look at her application and her GPA, which it seems is her current plan of action.

Call me a conservative, but I just don’t think colleges really want to or need to know that much about a person’s inner struggles…writing about coping with prejudice? That’s one thing. With rape? That’s another.

One comment on ““I Was Raped. Should I tell the Admissions Committee?””

  1. Jessica Says:

    One thing I think is important to note here is that she wasn’t necessarily saying that SHE wanted this to be the topic of her personal statement (although I’m aware this is what Judge Josh explicitly suggests). Her question was “should I tell the Admissions Committee?” Should the admissions committee hear about her trauma–whether through an additional essay, interview, informal contact etc– to provide some perspective. There is certainly a difference between making your trauma the subject of your personal statement, and having it be an addendum to your application in order to help the admissions committee be able to evaluate your grades/GPA in a more educated context. I’m still trying to parse out whether you take issue with her using this topic as her personal statement, or whether you are opposed to her mentioning it in any way on her application.

    My question to you is, if you think this girl should not mention her trauma in explanation of her GPA, what DO you think she should do? Her drop in grades must be an apparent anomaly in her transcript– is the suggestion that she just have the admissions committee look at that semester as if she had nothing else going on?

    The main reason I write, is that I have actually been struggling with a very similar question recently, having just graduated this past May with my sights set on getting my Masters in Social Work. At Brandeis, I suffered several severe depressive episodes, one of which crippled me entirely for a semester. My GPA suffered terribly, to a point where it certainly needs to be addressed in my applications to grad school. For me, it is not a question of whether or not I talk about it, it’s a question of how to talk about it in a professional way—possibly attaching a letter from a mental health professional. I would give the same advice to this girl.