How do you deal with health issues on your application?

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How do you deal with health issues on your application?

Post by franki » Tue Sep 08, 2009 1:21 pm

Hi all,

First thanks for taking the time to read this. I've always had pretty good, but not super exceptional grades, a 3.8 gpa physics & general gpa until the spring semester of my Junior year I got diagnosed with a fairly serious medical condition.

I ended up dropping or incompleting all of my classes last spring semester. I am making up an upper division physics & grad physics course and should have them completed by the time applications are due. But I actually failed a German class that summer because I was too busy/distracted dealing with my health issues to drop it. I'm trying to do a retroactive withdrawal from that class due to my health reasons but am not too hopeful.

My health also had a big toll on my research, my adviser and I were hoping that I would have published results before I turned my applications in but that didn't end up happening. However, I should at the very least have a poster presented on the subject at the APS DPP meeting, if not a paper submitted for peer review, by then.

I was just wondering how I should address this on my applications. I'm unsure how much I should mention where I expected to be with my research, I don't want to sound whiny. I'm pretty sure my adviser will put it in his recommendation letter. Should I also try and mention it? Or just make sure that he does in his letter?

I'm also undecided how to approach my how my gpa was affected. Should I try and talk myself up and seem proud of the classes that did complete? Or should I try and apologize for my short comings, and ask that they only judge my tumor-free semesters?


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Re: How do you deal with health issues on your application?

Post by twistor » Tue Sep 08, 2009 8:23 pm

I'm assuming you have/had cancer based on your reference to "tumor-free" semesters.

This is a really serious *** issue, so treat it as such on your applications. No committee will penalize your application because your grades suffered due to a life-threatening condition. Compared to dying, failing a German class is absolutely nothing. But also mention your accomplishments, because those are important. You can always put a positive spin on things: "While I was unable to finish German, I did accomplish x, y and z.....".

And don't worry about sounding whiny. I don't think it would sound whiny at all to explain some bad grades and unfinished research by the fact that you were suffering from a life-threatening concern.

And *** your current institution for not giving you the withdrawl.

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Re: How do you deal with health issues on your application?

Post by shouravv » Wed Sep 09, 2009 12:57 pm

Do by all means mention your health issues, and explain that it impacted your academic and research work. However, don't spend more than ~15% of your SOP on this, and also spend part of that focusing on "positives" of dealing with it, such as "lessons I learnt ...". etc. I know that I sound rudely materialistic here, but if you are gonna sell then sell hard.

I'd suggest that in the introductory first para of SOP, briefly mention that "despite XYZ, I have achieved ABC etc.". Then talk about past research and classes, occassionally pointing out that until your problem was dignosed, you were flying sky high, but then it was hampered for more than legitimate reasons. Next, discuss future research interests, faculty members you are interested in a given school etc. without making any reference to health issues. Finally, as you finish, emphasize that you are more enthusiastic about the future now than ever before, and are looking forward to joining the department and make the most of your life through contributing to science (etc. etc. usual stuff).

I am sure that your letter writers will also stress on how you handled work and life, and how that impacted your achievements. So grades will not be the only thing there. Make sure that if you adviser / professors you like have friends at schools you are applying to (they will), then they should send a personal email to thsoe mfriends mentioning you, so that your application doesn't get dumped just because of GPA/scores even before they see the SOP. Unfortunately, this can sometimes happen in big programs, specially in physics (compared to Astro).

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