How To Get Into a School When Your Grades are too low

Not everyone can be a straight A-student, and not everyone can have and maintain a 4.0+ GPA. We get that. While grades and test scores are important in the college admissions process, they aren’t absolutely everything. We have worked with a great deal of students who are either strong students but have below-average test scores, or who are on the cusp of achieving an A-average, but certainly have a GPA that falls markedly below that cut-off. We’ve helped a lot of students gain admission to schools of their choice despite these softer spots in their profile.

All of that said, we have to include this very real fact: grades and scores matter greatly. If you’re a C-range student and are aiming for a Yale, it’s probably not going to happen. That’s not to say that there aren’t hundreds of schools that would be an undoubtedly great fit for students who don’t have straight As. But we’re here to be straight with you. Your grades are the single most important thing in your application and your testing numbers are up there, too. There are ways to strengthen your application and make it stand out in a way that grabs your application reader’s attention and makes a compelling case. It’s possible to get into your first-choice school with an imperfect transcript, and here’s how: creativity.

The essay component(s) of the application is your shot to showcase your voice and present a different side of yourself that sheds light on your personality. It’s your chance to be seriously creative, and we encourage all of our students to think way outside the box when possible. We’ve had students succeed by foregoing the typical essay format in response to a prompt on a college’s supplement and write a poetic response adhering to all of the rules of iambic pentameter because they’re passionate about Shakespeare. We have had students write 600 words about their subway rides. We encourage our students to think small. Yes, that’s correct. Not only small, but we tell them to think small and new.

Every part of your application should be unique, particularly the essays, so don’t waste precious essay space writing about an item that already appears in another part of your application. It also must tell a story, and a creative one at that. We like to compare your application to a dinner: you don’t need two pasta dishes, even if one is couscous and the other is penne. They may look different and have different flavor profiles, but the content at its core is the same and it’s repetitive.

If the prompt asks you to pontificate on one of your greatest accomplishments, we’d argue that you not write about how you learned to speak fluent French while working in Paris last summer because your French abilities and job are both already listed in your Common Application. The readers know this information. While the story might be exciting and give more details, it’s not new, and it doesn’t expose or explore a different part of your personality. Take every opportunity to share something new. As such, we’d suggest you write about when you took on the challenging task of cooking coq au vin for your French host family or how your host dad taught you about the key ingredient of a perfect French salad dressing (champagne vinegar). The story is not the internship, nor is it your language skills—it’s a story about how your interest in something that has yet to be presented in your application has evolved. Creativity and a compelling, relatable story will make you stand out and may just be able to make up for that B you got in freshman year history.

But we’d be remiss not to mention another option for a lot of students who fall short when it comes to testing: test-optional schools. The idea gives schools a false reputation for being less academically-focused, but it’s quite the opposite. They just have a different set of metrics. There are a number of wonderful, academically-rigorous, and renowned schools that are test-optional who we have sent our students to and who are incredibly happy. To mention a few:

We’ve helped so many students unleash their inner creativity and put together some truly impressive applications with a range of GPAs and test scores—if you need help, just give us a shout. We’d be excited to work with you.