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Getting Into College with Bad Grades

Getting Into College with Bad Grades

The number one rule to follow in college admissions? Don't give up!

Elizabeth Hoyt

November 25, 2013

Have bad grades? Believe it or not, it’s not always the end-all, be-all in terms of gaining entry into the college of your dreams.

Don’t give up! Attempt to combat your admissions struggle by considering these helpful tips:

Submit an explanation (in certain cases) – First, consider why your grades were, um, less than stellar. College admissions officers don’t want to hear excuses unless the circumstances were absolutely out of your control. If that’s the case, submit a brief but thorough explanation of the circumstances. Again, only submit an explanation regarding your grades if the circumstances were completely, utterly, nothing-on-earth-you-could-have-done-to-avoid-it, one hundred percent out of your control.

What falls under this? An illness or injury that impacted your cognitive abilities (head trauma, dyslexia diagnosed later in your high school career, etc.), a death within your immediate family (sorry, grandma and your third cousin don’t count, no matter how difficult it was) and, perhaps but not always included are moving and switching schools mid-year or a poor domestic situation that was out of the norm, like a messy parental divorce.

Remember, excuses like breaking up with you high school significant other, not getting along with or claiming a teacher was unfair and other stresses typical in high school won’t work. In fact, they will work against you because it comes across as placing blame on others (no matter how real or true they are). Anything that a typical high school student experiences is likely a poor excuse.

Also, make sure your grade or grades are really bad, if you’re submitting an explanation. Explaining the lone “B” amongst your straight A’s will likely just irritate the admissions counselor.

Apply regular admission rather than early – Your odds of being accepted during regular admission are far better than the selective process of early admission. Early decision/early admission is meant for students that not only are sure of the school they want to go to, but also confident in their ability to get into that school.

Consider community college – Why not consider attending a community college for a year (or two), getting your grades up and then applying to the four-year college you originally wanted to attend.

Look at schools with conditional acceptance programs – If you’re on the cusp, there are plenty of schools out that that give students the opportunity to attend the school on conditional basis. This is ideal for those who have lower grades but are great applicants otherwise. Many schools will offer conditional admission and the student must keep their grade point average at a certain point to remain enrolled within the school. If you had a bad run in high school but feel you can improve in college, this may be a route to consider.

Plan a comeback – It’s never too late to improve- the time is now to boost your academics and show that you’re making progress in a positive direction. Get extra help or a tutor if you’re still struggling and poor grades weren’t just in the past. Sure, you may not boost them enough to get into your top choice, but it will make a difference in whether or not you’re accepted to any school.

Play up your strengths – Schools look at more than grades alone. They also want students who will enhance campus life and that participate in school and extracurricular activities. Think about your strengths: do you volunteer a lot? Play on several sports teams? All of these activities are important factors in addition to your grades, so make sure you detail all of your strengths, too!

Get recognized – Perhaps your grades are poor in math but you’re the next Hemingway. Show off whatever talent you have by getting recognized outside of school. Get an article or poem published locally. Submit artwork in to a local show. Enter science competitions. No matter where your talent lies, there are ways to gain recognition academically to include on your application.

Make your essay epic – If you have poor grades and a terrible essay, why even apply? There is absolutely no excuse to have a terrible essay, since you have time to work on it and have people around you that can help you edit, proofread and structure your wording!

Ace your college entrance exams – To be fair, this is easier said than done. By “ace,” we mean prepare to the best of your ability through studying, utilizing practice questions, working with tutors (often times, you can get free help!) and taking preparation courses (either enroll, if you can afford it or find free preparation courses online).

Review your options with a counselor – When in doubt, you can always go over strategies and options with a counselor, teacher or admissions officer. They’re there to help you throughout the process and want your application to reflect the “real” you.


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