Expert Answers to Your College Application Questions


Norman answered: Assuming these essays are for the same school, if your son has something else to write about, I suggest that he write about that. He risks coming across as one-dimensional (if it doesn't have to do with sports, he's not interested).

Jennie asked: My son is struggling to come up with a topic for his essay. He is toying with two topics. He has a reading disability that he has worked hard to overcome, and has excelled in school and could write about that. He also changed school districts when he was going into sixth grade, and was very anxious about it. What is your opinion of those two topics? If he writes about the learning disability and explains why his grades were lower freshman year, should he expand on that in the supplemental essays? He is also considering ROTC in college. What is your opinion of writing about that? He played sports in high school and did community service. How will that fare on the application, leaving all the clubs blank?

Norman answered: Your son should write about the topic that he feels most strongly about -- that's always the best essay. I would, however, say that it is not necessary to disclose his learning disability; and if he has excelled in school, there may be no reason to. As for explaining the lower grades freshman year, that's more appropriate in the Additional Information section. Finally, regarding your question about his activities, it sounds like your son has no reason to leave the activities section blank -- he has plenty to report!

CLICK HERE for more of Bari Norman's tips on how to approach the personal essay.

Selling Your Strengths, Addressing Your Weaknesses

Kim asked: My daughter has a 3.9 GPA, but her SAT scores are middle of the road (500-550 each category). She will be taking the SAT again in October and will hopefully improve. However, if she does not, what is the best way to overcome the SAT scores on an application. They do not truly reflect the type of student/person she is.

Norman answered: In my experience, the highly selective schools tend to have less flexibility with scores that are significantly lower than their mid-50 percent, even when the grades are strong. The good news is that there are many, many schools out there that will reward your daughter for her hard work. Consider looking into the many colleges and universities that do not require SAT scores for admission. You can find this list at Also, make sure to speak with your daughter's guidance counselor to ensure that her college list includes an appropriate range of schools.

Darla asked: I have twin boys (now starting seniors), whom we moved from a private school after completing their sophomore year to a public high school. They have trouble with their GPA and position because for two years these stats were based on a four- point scale with very limited honor class availability, and last year it was a five-point scale with every course honors/AP. How do you suggest the apps be filled out when their combined GPA stats are not a true representation? Any advice would be appreciated!!

Norman answered: On the Common Application, students who have attended more than one high school must include an additional statement regarding their change of schools. This would be a perfect place to explain not only the reason for the switch, but also that that the two schools had different grading scales and course offerings.

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