Application 101: Academic Explanation

Blog Header: Application 101 - Writing Prompts

If you’re planning to apply to CSU, you’ve probably heard by now that we consider a wide range of factors in our admission decision. We want to get to know you as a whole person and understand more than grades and test scores alone.

The academic explanation and academic gap year writing prompts help us understand your academic experiences more fully. For freshman applicants, these are viewed alongside your personal statement and recommendation (optional support documents for transfers).

Academic Explanation

When making an admission decision, we consider things like your cumulative GPA, the rigor of your coursework, your trends in grades across subjects and over time, and, for freshmen, the balance between your GPA and test scores.

If we notice that you’ve struggled in a particular subject, that your grade trends have varied, or that your test scores are a little low (less than 20 ACT or less than 1030 SAT), we look to your Academic Explanation to get more information.

Here’s the specific prompt you’ll see in the application:

If your cumulative GPA is less than a B average or if you have any D or F grades, this is your opportunity to explain. Be sure to address the following questions when responding:

  • What factors caused or contributed to your performance, including your own choices/actions?
  • What actions did you take or are you taking to address these factors in order to be academically and/or personally successful?
  • What have you learned from the experience that has changed or will change how you approach your academics and/or personal challenges?

Your response can be brief — we recommend 250 words max. We don’t need lots of detail, but we do want to understand the circumstances that have impacted your performance. In addition to this context, we want to see how well you understand your academic strengths and limitations and what you’ve learned about yourself that will help you be successful here.

Academic Gap

Not every student goes through high school and directly on to college without a break. If the sequence of your high school and/or college enrollment includes time off or interruptions, we want to know more.

Here’s the specific prompt you’ll see in the CSU application (it’s asked slightly differently in the Common App, but the purpose is the same):

Provide an explanation of any break or interruption in your education of a semester or longer since 9th grade (or equivalent). Examples include sitting out for a semester or longer during or between academic year(s), completing a gap year, or taking time off between high school and college.

  • Be sure to include information about what you have done during your time away from school.
  • Again, a quick 250-word response is all we’ll ask for.

As you complete your application, be sure to take these prompts seriously. Giving us a full picture of your academic history is important and allows us to make a well-informed admission decision.

Questions about these prompts or how we’ll look at them when reviewing your application? Contact your admissions counselor.

Jill Baylis

Jill is part of the communications team in the Office of Admissions. As a first-generation college student, she works hard to simplify the college admissions process and enjoys helping future Rams connect to their interests. In her free time you can usually find her at a local concert or rolling through town on her single speed.