High school is a stressful period for young adults. Between the struggles with changing hormones, social pressures, and academics all rolled into a four-year span, it can be quite overwhelming.
Some students handle the pressure of high school better than others, and some are simply better at school for whatever reason. Poor grades are sometimes viewed as an indicator of laziness, but that is not always the case. For many students, poor grades are a small piece of the puzzle. Many students struggle with basic study skills or test taking while others have difficulty with learning disabilities, distractions at home, or other issues that affect their academic success.
For many students, getting good grades feels like the only thing that matters. After all, good grades are what gets a student into college. Or are they?
College admissions have changed significantly over the years. Today, colleges want to see their students be well-rounded individuals with real-life experience and a direction for their future. Grades are still a key indicator of discipline and academic potential, but they aren’t everything. Even if you have poor grades, you can still get into college.
In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of grades and how much they really matter for college applications. We’ll also discuss some strategies to address poor grades in your college applications to increase your chances of being accepted.
Do Grades Really Matter for Community College?
There is a common misconception that community college is somehow below traditional colleges and universities. While community colleges accept non-traditional students and offer unique alternatives that traditional schools don’t care to match, that does not make them a second-rate option. Community colleges can still be accredited, and the degree you receive is just as real.
Misconceptions aside, many graduating seniors intending to apply to community college find themselves wondering – do grades really matter?
In high school, it is easy to obsess over your grade point average (GPA). The difference between a B+ and a B- seems gargantuan but, in the end, most colleges and universities just see a single number. They don’t see how hard you worked to bring your C up to a B and they don’t know how many late nights you spent studying to pass your midterms. The sad truth is that your GPA is just a number, but it still carries a lot of weight behind it.
A student’s GPA is a major factor for admissions counselors. It is a measurement of a student’s potential and an indication of how seriously they took their high school education. Your grades are a clue into your academic strengths and weaknesses, and they help the admissions committee decide whether you are a good fit for the school.
So, how much will a low GPA or a few poor grades hurt you on your community college applications?
When it comes to admissions, there are no stark differences between community college and traditional colleges and universities. Each school is different, and so are their application requirements. Every school wants to prioritize admission for students who will work hard and utilize their education well. Community colleges are simply more geared toward non-traditional students and students who aren’t quite ready for a four-year college, for whatever reason.
Whether you’re applying to community college as an alternative to a four-year college or you’re planning on transferring later, it’s important to start the process right. This means putting your best foot forward in your college applications. If you have bad grades, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be accepted – you just have to learn how to present yourself.
College admissions counselors want to get a feel for each student through their application to help them determine who is the best fit for the school. Keep reading to learn how to present your poor grades to college admissions to increase your chances of acceptance.
6 Strategies for Dealing with Bad Grades
When applying to college, you’ll be laying your soul bare before the admissions team. Every speck and spot on your transcript will be seen, and high SAT scores might not be enough to put you through. If you have bad grades, your chances for acceptance aren’t necessarily shot, but you may have to work a little harder to show why you deserve to be accepted.
Here are some simple strategies to employ when applying to college with bad grades:
- Own up to it and offer an explanation
- Focus on your recommendation letters
- Improve your SAT/ACT test scores
- Delay your application to work on your grades
- Look for schools that offer alternative admissions programs
- Start your college education at a community college
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these strategies.
1. Own Up to It and Offer an Explanation
Your high school GPA is one of the first things a college admissions team looks at, so there’s no point in trying to ignore it. In fact, ignoring it is the worst thing you can do because it shows that you didn’t even bother to pay attention to the school’s admissions requirements. The better move is to acknowledge and take responsibility for your poor grades and to do your best to offer an explanation.
Admissions counselors are human just like you. They understand that life happens and there are many reasons that can cause a student’s grades to drop – sudden illness, family problems, and learning challenges. What they want to know is that you can learn from your mistakes and that you are serious about furthering your education.
You can address the issue in your personal statement or in the “additional information” section of the Common Application. You could also write a separate statement to include with your file. Be sure to include the reasons for a change in grade but focus on the steps you’ve taken to recover from them rather than simply rattling off a list of excuses. If you can submit an updated transcript that reflects an effort to improve your grades, all the better.
2. Focus on Your Recommendation Letters
College admissions counselors can only gain so much from your application. Your grades and your test scores are an indication of your academic success, and your personal statement and list of extracurriculars are a glimpse into who you are as a person. On top of these things, a few good letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors can paint a clearer picture for the admissions committee to help them see why you deserve to be admitted.
A good letter of recommendation can go a long way. It’s a great opportunity for a teacher or counselor to confirm the work you’ve done to improve your grades. You don’t necessarily have to pick the teacher from your best class, either – it’s just another tool you can use to show admissions that you are ready for the challenge of college and willing to do the work to get there. It’s better to have a letter from someone who knows you than to submit an impersonal letter from a teacher you barely speak to.
3. Improve your SAT/ACT Test Scores
A high SAT or ACT score won’t necessarily cancel out a low GPA, but, when paired with an honest explanation and a good recommendation letter, it can help boost your chances of admission. In the same way that your GPA isn’t always a clear indicator of academic skill or potential, your SAT and ACT scores aren’t the only thing that matter. Some schools have a firm minimum score that they will accept, however, so keep that in mind.
If you’ve been working to improve your grades, retaking the SAT or ACT to get a higher score is another way you can demonstrate that work. Here are some of the situations where it might be beneficial for you to retake the SAT or ACT:
- Your score is below the average mark for the colleges you’re applying to.
- A higher SAT or ACT score might qualify you for more financial aid.
- Recent coursework will improve your ability to get a higher score.
- A higher SAT or ACT score might help you show overall academic improvement.
Before you run off and take the SAT another two or three times, think about how the colleges you’re applying to might view multiple SAT or ACT scores. Some schools require you to submit all scores, so if all of your scores are low, it may be a detriment to your application. Other schools allow you to pick and chose the scores from each section that you want to send. If you’re using your SAT/ACT scores as a show of good faith in your applications, make sure they present the right image and be sure to mention them in your personal statement or explanation.
4. Delay Your Application to Work on Your Grades
College admissions gets more competitive each year, especially if you’re applying for early admission. Typically, early admission is reserved for the students with the strongest applications, so if you have poor grades, it might be best to just wait it out. Take the time to work on your grades (and maybe retake the SAT) then apply during the regular admission window. Find some helpful tips for improving your GPA in the next section.
Sometimes getting into a competitive four-year college or university simply isn’t in the cards. If you have to delay your application by a year to focus on taking community college classes or online courses to beef up your transcript, it’s not the end of the world. You might even be able to do some of this work over the summer and then apply for admission in the Spring semester.
5. Look for School that Offer Alternative Admissions Programs
If you have your heart set on a four-year college or university but your GPA doesn’t meet school standards, there might be other options to explore. Some schools offer alternative admissions programs where you receive additional academic support during your first year. Many schools offer remedial education programs to help students improve their study skills and academic performance to increase their chances of succeeding in college-level classes.
6. Start Your College Education at Community College
To a certain degree, community colleges are a place where students who don’t quite fit the four-year college ideal can find their place. Community colleges often offer greater flexibility than a traditional college or university can manage which makes them appealing to non-traditional students and for students who aren’t quite ready to take the leap into a four-year school.
If your grades aren’t as high as they could be, starting your academic career at a community college could be a good stepping stone – especially if you need to beef up your developmental coursework. By taking classes at community college for the summer or for a semester or two, you can improve your grades and prepare yourself for a four-year program. Once you’ve improved your grades, you can apply as a transfer student to the college or university of your choice.
Simple Tips to Improve Your GPA
If you’re serious about getting into college and you realize that your poor grades might be holding you back, don’t delay in doing something about it! If it’s already the second semester of your senior year, you might not be able to do much, but it’s never too late to try. Talk to your guidance counselor about using some of the strategies above in your college applications and start buckling down in your studies to boost your grades and your GPA.
Here are some simple tips to help you improve your GPA:
- Don’t skip out on classes. While it may be tempting to play hooky or to goof off with your friends during study hall, it’s important that you use your time wisely when you’re in school. Pay attention to your teachers and take notes in class, so you retain the information better.
- Participate in class. You’re going to get more out of a class if you participate than if you hide in the back, trying not to be seen. If you don’t understand the material, speak up! Ask questions. Showing participation in class will also help show your teachers that you’re serious about learning, so they may be more inclined to help you improve your grades or to write you a letter of recommendation.
- Get organized and find a note-taking method that works. Everyone learns in different ways, so spend some time trying out different study tactics to see what works for you. Some people learn well by making flashcards or rewriting their notes while others do best re-reading the book material.
- Join a study group. By participating in a weekly study group, you will be able to learn from your peers if you’re struggling with a particular class. It may also help to have a specific period of time set aside for studying if you struggle with discipline when it comes to homework.
- Take advantage of the resources available. Sometimes simply going to class isn’t enough. If your teacher suggests additional reading or provides supplemental study material, use it! If you have a friend who took the class before, utilize them as a resource to help you grasp the concepts you’re struggling with. You can even find additional material online if you look for it.
- Don’t push yourself over the edge. If you’re trying to improve your grades, it may seem like the clock is ticking and the sand in your hourglass is running out. As stressful as that can be, you need to be smart, and you need to take care of yourself. Don’t pull all-nighters the night before a test or try to smash a whole month’s worth of classwork into a single day. It’s better to spread your studies out over time so you can absorb the material.
- Set reachable goals for yourself. You can’t expect to transform your GPA from a 2.0 to a 3.0 overnight. Improving your grades takes time and effort, and it won’t be an easy road. Setting smaller, reachable goals for yourself along the way to your final goal can help you stay motivated throughout the process.
- Ask about extra credit. You may be surprised at how many teachers will offer extra credit opportunities for students who ask. You shouldn’t expect it to be a freebie assignment, but if you’re willing to do the work, many teachers will reward you. If you’re hesitant to ask, it might not hurt to have a parent or your guidance counselor broach the subject with your teacher.
Though you’re unlikely to be admitted into an Ivy League college with a 2.5 GPA, low grades don’t necessarily mean you won’t get into college. You may need to adjust your expectations and use some of the strategies discussed above, but if you’re serious about getting into college and doing the work to make it happen, you can be successful.