How to Get Into College With Bad Grades

We receive a lot of questions from parents and students alike that have to do with GPA, grades, scores, school choice, and likelihood of admission. What everyone really wants to know, though, is this: can my kid get into his dream school if he has less than stellar grades/scores? Let’s not beat around the bush. The answer is: YES. But there are some caveats to that yes, so read on.

Our answer of ‘yes’ is tied closely to our mantra: be realistic, open, and balanced. This not only has to do with your mindset, but with your college list as well. Really, it has to do more with the latter than the former, we’ll be honest. Bad grades can be a result of a lot of different factors, and while a less than stellar transcript doesn’t need to be the end of the world, you do have to be mindful about how to approach the college process given your particular situation. Every student is different.

There are a couple of different scenarios that we consistently see so we have outlined our solutions to them below.

Option A: You have had consistently subpar grades. Your GPA is less than ideal.

Solution: Adjust your college list accordingly.

The college search has everything to do with numbers for everyone, but those with 4.0s and 35s on their ACTs don’t need to pay as much attention to a school’s average scores and grades. For you, it is essential that you are particularly mindful of the numbers that represent a school’s admitted classes. If you Google “school” + “middle ACT range” you can find a bunch of numbers that the school itself publishes that reflect the stats of the students that they admit. Get familiar with these numbers and get comfortable with taking schools off of your list because it is just plain not in-range, nor is it just slightly out of range. Don’t forget: there are hundreds of schools out there that are truly wonderful, and a great match. Don’t hone in on the name. Instead, focus on finding a place that is a great fit for you given your profile, intellectual inclinations, and personality.

Option B: Your grades are overall fine, but you had a bad semester.

Solution: Use the additional information section.

We suggest that some students use this section to mention projects or extra classes, but for you this section is made to explain your momentary lapse in academic excellence.

Regardless of your situation, we cannot say the following enough: the essay is the most important part of your application. No matter what, that is what you should be focusing all of your energy on at this point. You should, of course, continue to aim high with your academics and test scores, but right now is the time to finalize and perfect your essay so that it truly reflects the person that you are. Your personality is your most desirable trait for a college, but it’s also the hardest to convey in the college application process because the application is all on paper. The essay leaves you the most room to be creative and display your interests, so take advantage of that and use it to your advantage. We’ve posted some (okay, a lot) tips here, here, and here on how to write the best possible essay and application supplements.

We understand that every situation is different, so if you have any questions or want to talk through your student’s circumstances just give us a call or send us a note. We’d love to come up with a game plan.