Advice From Inside: What If I Have Low Grades?

by | Nov 1, 2018 | Advice From Inside

From time to time, we like to utilize the well over 50 years of combined college admissions experience of the Campus Bound staff to provide students and parents with some inside scoop.  These counselors have been on the other side of the desk, so their advice is priceless.


This time, we asked our former College Admission Counselors, “If a student has less than stellar grades, how can they enhance their application in other ways?” 

Here are their responses.:


The Entire Application

“I’d look at the strength of the rest of the application. Are the test scores strong, in line with, or weak when compared to the student’s GPA and my school’s averages? Is the essay well-written and memorable? What types of activities has the student been involved in, and how much time did they put into highlighting their achievements/extracurricular passions? Did they take proper time and care when filling out the activities section of the CA and perhaps submit an additional resume? What did I learn about this student from his/her letters of recommendation?  In a nutshell, if the grades are on the weak side, everything else needs to be as strong as the student can make it!”


Additional Information Essay

“Often times these students could use the Additional Information section of the Common App (or simply send a statement directly to an admission officer if the school’s application didn’t have the equivalent section) to add some context to why their grades or performance wasn’t quite what they had hoped.  To be clear, this was not the place to make excuses, but instead an opportunity to add a narrative that their transcript/test scores didn’t accurately portray.”


“In the ‘additional information’ section of the Common Application, addressing/owning a grade/grades.  Explaining what happened (‘I had mono’, or ‘I wasn’t taking high school seriously as a freshman, but learned….’). It gives admissions perspective on the situation and prevents them from making assumptions as to why grades weren’t as strong as they could’ve been.”


Demonstrating Interest

“I loved when students did all they could like, visiting, touring, interview if possible, attending an Open House, come see me at a College Visit at their high school (if possible), come see me at a college fair, email me, call me, and anything that could show their genuine interest in the college/university was strong.  “


“Because I worked at a small college, often the best way for students to explain their transcripts were through interviews or other personal interactions, like high school visits.  When students spoke about their grades and provided background information, it was incredibly helpful.  It was important, however, that students explained or described the circumstances, but didn’t complain about them.  If students complaining about “bad teachers” or difficult circumstances, without taking ownership for their own actions, they ended up coming across as juvenile or self-centered–which tended to hurt their admissions chances instead of helping.”


An example of what did NOT help:

“I remember students sending things that they thought would increase their chances of admission, but did not.  There was the student who sent flowers to the admissions office, and others who sent similar gifts (chocolates, other unrelated items).  And the student who sent a copy of her published novel (no one had time to read it–just listing it on her activity list would have been sufficient).  Sending irrelevant gifts or materials that are too extensive for anyone to review sends the message that you are not confident in your candidacy.  You shouldn’t have to try so hard.  Admissions officers wonder why you feel the need to send additional materials, which often works against you.”


A Campus Bound Counselor can help you put forth a strong application that best represents your abilities.  Call today for a free consultation.

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