As a high school student in Tennessee, Austin Herrera knew he wanted to go to University. But with grades ranging from A to D, he also knew his options would be limited.
Herrera says he was too distracted at school and that his reputation as a class clown, his involvement in extracurricular activities, and his lack of interest and effort led to a weak GPA. Dyslexia, he said, was another obstacle that affected his grades and his confidence.
“I doubted myself and kind of gave up on myself when I saw the grades I had because I would work hard and study, but I still came out with a bad grade,” he said. he wrote in an e-mail.
Herrera has changed high schools her last year and used the new atmosphere to change direction and focus on the future. Realizing that her previous academic problems would affect her chances of college admission, Herrera used her personal statement to acknowledge her grades, discuss her learning disabilities, and show her interest in business and film studies.
“I explained dyslexia – what it was and how I learned. I just explained that I am a hard worker and passionate, ”he says.
Herrera was accepted into two of the five schools he applied to and went on to study cinema at Columbia College Chicago A few years ago.
For students who are struggling academically in high school, the college application process can be especially stressful. Low GPA can prevent teens from being accepted into top universities – like the Ivy League schools – and other selective colleges, but there are still options.
Admissions experts say high school students can explain an academic dip in their college applications and spend the remainder of their senior year making their applications more attractive. Another tip: Students should find out the root cause of these academic gaps.
“I think they need to explore what bothers them. Aren’t they studying? Aren’t they studying effectively? Is there an unidentified learning or attention problem? there an emotional problem? not to share? ”says Janet Rosier, a former admissions consultant and author of“ May 2: Practical Tips for Freshmen and Their Parents ”.
Students should speak with a counselor to consider all of their options, but the following six strategies can help those with poor grades strengthen their college applications:
- Take responsibility and come up with an explanation for low GPA.
- Receive letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors.
- Get good, standardized test results.
- Wait to apply and improve your GPA.
- Consider alternative admission programs.
- Start at a community college.
Take responsibility and explain the low GPA
There are many reasons why a student’s grades can drop, including family issues, illness, a change of teacher during the year, or lack of maturity. And now the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted many schools to switch online courses and disrupted the in-person educational experience of millions of high school students, can be added to that list.
Admissions officials recognize that a candidate’s GPA isn’t always an indicator of ability, but students should write an honest explanation on their grades, experts say.
“Everyone makes mistakes; there is not one perfect person out there. But how do you learn from those mistakes – if you can explain it in a thoughtful and mature way, often a college will understand that,” says Kat Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting company.
Students can discuss poor grades in a college application essay, also known as a personal statement, or in the additional information field of the joint application.
“Anything the student can provide to explain that (GPA) would be helpful,” says Monica Brockmeyer, Senior Senior Associate for Student Success at Wayne State University in Detroit. “They should be transparent, because (GPA) is already visible to admissions officers through their transcripts. Colleges already know this, so they are looking to better understand the situation and the circumstances.”
She adds that admissions officials understand that “every learner is on a journey.”
The coronavirus pandemic may have confused some students in 2020. Rosier advises those who have struggled to explain the challenges they faced in the new optional section added to the common app, which asks questions about the effects staff of COVID-19. Students can use this section to explain the lack of test scores, a drop in their GPA, or other areas that may require additional context, such as why they took pass-fail courses and why those – these appear on their transcript.
“It’s crucial that students explain to colleges any drop in grades, whether it’s related to COVID-19 or other issues. Colleges understand that COVID-19 has been disruptive for many students and in a variety of ways, ”says Rosier.
Get letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors
A nice note from a high school counselor or teacher who knows a student well can go a long way for college admissions, experts say.
“Sometimes a great letter of recommendation can come from a teacher who has seen a student dramatically improve their grade and go from very low to very high, even though the student has higher grades in other classes,” says Cohen.
High school students should develop close relationships with counselors and teachers and have an explicit discussion of what they would like to see addressed before a letter is written, experts say. This is another area where students can tackle the challenges brought on by COVID-19, including a slide in GPA.
Get good standardized test scores
High ACT or SAT scores will not negate a low GPA, but in addition to a good explanation and letters of recommendation, high test scores can help students show they have the ability to be successful at the test. ‘university.
Jeffrey Baylor, Executive Director of Admissions at West Texas A&M University, says that a holistic review of a candidate will take into account test scores, grade point average, class rank, recommendations, extracurricular activities, and high school curriculum.
For students with low GPA, one option he suggests is taking the ACT or SAT again and investing in a study guide.
However, the 2020 ACT and SAT cancellations due to coronavirus concerns have prevented many students from taking the test even once. Fortunately for applicants, colleges have been flexible on this point, with many optional admissions to the test. “Due to COVID-19, the ability to take standardized tests was out of the control of many students and colleges understand it,” says Rosier.
Wait to apply and improve your GPA
Early admission is extremely competitive, so experts recommend that students with poor grades on their transcripts apply during regular admission and use the extra time to take challenging classes and improve their overall GPA. .
“It is essential that you focus on your notes now. There are many ways to improve your grades, ”says Cohen.
Students should use their teachers as tutors, visiting them frequently to discuss what to focus on and what weaknesses to address, she says.
Consider alternative admission programs
For those considering a four-year college, an alternative admissions program may be the way. If a student’s GPA is below school standards, he or she may still be admitted under certain conditions. As part of the program, students receive additional academic support in their first year of university and beyond, depending on the program.
One such example is Academic Pathways to Excellence at Wayne State, which focuses on improving students’ academic skills as they enter college.
“It gives them a transition period from high school to college to really understand how college learning is different from high school learning, to get extended support or even correction of writing or math skills or other obstacles like that, ”says Brockmeyer.
Brockmeyer did not comment on the lowest GPA accepted at Wayne State. But students looking for colleges that accept a 2.0 GPA or similar may be well served by researching alternative admission programs.
Start at a community college
For students without the academic background necessary for a four-year institution, admissions officials recommend attending a community college. This is especially true if students need to catch up on development courses.
Baylor says West Texas A&M advises underachieving students to consider attending community college this summer after high school graduation and earning six college credit hours while earning a C or better in these courses.
He also says students should consider attending community college in the fall or spring, earning 12 college credit hours with a minimum GPA of 2.0, and then applying to four-year college as a student transfer. This stint at a community college can help demonstrate that a student is ready to take college-level courses.
Admissions officials want to make sure applicants can thrive in college. Students with poor GPA will need to prove that their past poor grades are not indicative of who they are now and their abilities as students.
“I think a lot of students don’t understand how much of an impact everything they do in high school has on their overall average,” says Samantha Taylor, director of admissions operations at the. University of North Texas.
“And I’ve seen students who have had a bad semester or two really turn it around and come back, especially if they did poorly in their first year and then got more serious with their second, second and third years. cycle, ”she says. “But the students who obviously consistently perform poorly for a while, it’s hard to turn the tide.”