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I guess I'll just launch right into this... So, long story short(ish), my dad died from cancer in the fall of my freshman year. After wanting to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, this finally made me realize that it was just not the right thing. Unfortunately, I'd never thought about a back-up plan, so I spent my first couple of years in majors unrelated to my current one, trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was depressed (never diagnosed; that would have required actually getting help...) and suicidal and, all in all, a complete mess, though I don't think I'll be mentioning any of those things in my applications. My GPA wasn't awful, certainly (I think a 3.45 one semester was the lowest), but it has not exactly done me any favors. In addition to all of that, my mom was diagnosed with a treatable cancer, though one with an awful and drawn-out treatment, this past spring. Again, my GPA didn't suffer terribly, but it was a noticeable drop. Currently, I'm applying to environmental chemistry PhD programs, plus the GRFP and other fellowships. My GPA is at a 3.64, my GRE is average for the programs to which I'm applying, I have no publications (though that may change), but good LORS, good research experience, and good connections. So not a stellar applicant, but not a terrible one either. I realize that explaining my circumstances won't magically make me a top applicant, but I do not want them dragging me down, as usual, and so I think I will explain either way. So, how do I go about this? Is it just a detached, one sentence explanation in my SOPs/personal statements? My experiences did not consciously influence me to choose my current field (and that explanation would probably be too sentimental for a hard science application essay, anyway), but they certainly influenced my trajectory, so do I frame it in that way? I've seen advice about having someone mention it in a LOR, but I don't think I'll ever have the guts to tell any of them.