I Didn’t Do So Great in High School
The high school years are a pivotal point in your life.
Not only are you beginning to define your personal identity, there is a great emphasis on your future for the first time in your life. And now that you are looking at colleges, it suddenly becomes increasingly evident that grades do matter and having a decent GPA plays a big role in being accepted.
Less than stellar GPA?
So, what happens when you start filling out college applications and realize that your high school GPA is less than stellar?
Is there any way to offset poor grades when applying to colleges?
First of all – don’t panic.
Yes, grades are a substantial factor that any reputable university will consider in the admissions process, but there are many other factors to consider when earning your degree, including:
- Consider online degree options
- Leverage your extracurricular activities
- Letters of recommendation and essays
- Community college opportunities
When you look at all the factors that go into a successful college application, finding a way around poor academic performance is possible. Let’s take a closer look at how you can boost your chances of getting the acceptance letter you want when you didn’t do so great in high school.
Consider an online degree from a reputable university
Over the last several years, the opportunity to take classes online has become a respected and viable option for many students. Whether you struggled with performance in high school or you are an adult learner that wants to go back to school, an online college offers many degree programs that may have less stringent application requirements than a brick and mortar college.
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To figure out if an online school is something that may work for you, first, you have to do your research!
While there are a number of high-quality online universities out there, there are also some that do not have the accreditation necessary for you to get a meaningful degree. To avoid the trap of a “degree mill”, look for accreditation from one of these organizations when examining the credentials of an online university:
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) – Regional Accreditation
- Distance Education Training Council (DETC)
- United States Department of Education (USDE)
Beyond choosing an online school that offers the degree you want and the accreditation you need, you should also consider the specific challenges and benefits that online learning entails to determine if it is a good fit for you. Having your education available at the click of a mouse allows a great deal of flexibility which can be a major draw for adult learners or those who are working a full-time job. However, being successful at online classes requires a strong inner motivation and drive to succeed in order to keep yourself on track and accountable.
Next to academic performance, extracurricular activities have a substantial influence on your college application. There are several things that colleges are looking for when it comes to extracurricular activities, such as:
- Level of commitment
- Leadership skills
- Well-rounded life skills
- Activities that relate to your chosen major
- Ability to handle a busy schedule
When it comes to extracurricular activities, always remember that it is quality, not quantity, that has the most impact. If you are struggling with your grades, it can be tempting to jump into as many school clubs as possible to beef up your application, but that can be a mistake on many levels. Not only will it take time away from improving your grades, but joining a number of activities without demonstrating a high level of commitment is something that the admissions department will see right through.
Instead of jumping the gun and immersing yourself in numerous activities, take a moment to think about where your passions lie. Are you great at sports? Do you love activities that allow you to be a leader? Is there a volunteer opportunity that is close to your heart? By choosing one activity and giving it your all, you have a higher chance of showing future colleges that you have what it takes to be a dedicated leader in your community.
Letters of Recommendation and Essays
For some students, doing poorly in school is a direct result of being unmotivated to put forth the effort necessary to complete their classes. For others, poor performance can come from issues beyond their control, such as learning disabilities or a difficult family life. If you didn’t do great in high school due to these circumstances, colleges may be willing to overlook some poor performance if you can point out the challenges you’ve faced and the measures you’ve taken to help overcome them.
Most well-respected colleges require some form of recommendation letter or personal essay during the admissions process, and this can be your opportunity to shine! Is there a coach, teacher, or guidance counselor who believes in your skills? Ask them if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you that emphasizes your strengths and potential.
Have you struggled over the years with learning disabilities, ADD, or a less than stable home life? Instead of feeling defeated from the start, use the strength you have gained from overcoming these challenges by writing your personal essay based upon these situations.
Your biggest obstacles could very well be your greatest strength when showing a college why you deserve a chance to become a member of their student body. Check out some helpful college application essay tips.
Start at a Community College
In the past, you may have experienced some stigma over the idea of attending a junior or community college right out of high school instead of applying to higher-level schools. Don’t let this deter you!
A community college can be a great opportunity to repair the damage done by performing poorly in your high school years. Often, community colleges have very flexible admissions standards – they may not even require you to take the SAT or ACT!
In the last several years, the reputation of community colleges has grown, and many offer joint degree programs with higher-end universities. They also offer the flexibility of taking a mix of online and in-person classes to work with your schedule. By committing a couple years to your studies at a junior college, you can have the opportunity to transfer to the college of your choice with current grades that reflect your abilities.
When it comes to applying for college, there is more to it than just your academic performance. If you have done poorly in high school, there are several options to explore that can help you achieve your future goals. By boosting your leadership skills and exploring alternate educational options, you can change your future for the better no matter what happened in your past.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s always been said that colleges are looking for “well-rounded” students. I’m involved in many extracurricular activities, but have only found time to play basketball. (I was previously on the ski team, but ran into conflicts with student-directing the musical.) How many sports are “enough”? Yes, I know they all differ, but do I need to worry about doing more?
The thing most students don’t get is that it is not the quantity of the things you do, but the quality. If you played ten sports but rode the bench in all of them, I don’t think it would speak as highly of you as would playing one sport but being “all-state.” College admissions people are on the lookout for “clubbers”—people who join but don’t do. They want to see a passion for a couple of things you really care about. My advice: find the couple of things you really enjoy and try to excel at them.
I am a high school junior currently attending Lowell High School in San Francisco. I really want to attend a prestigious Ivy. However, my grades are not too sterling (around 3.5 unweighted). Also, I don’t think being Asian helps me, considering so many Asians apply each year. Please respond and tell me honestly if I have a shot.
College admission committees look at more than your grades. Among other things, they look at the courses in which you got those grades, your experiences outside of school, the competitiveness of your high school, etc. The fact that you’re Asian might or might not play a role in the decision, it really depends on your credentials and the applicant pool at the time you apply. So do you have a shot? Again, that depends on the applicant pool at the time you apply. But it is worth a shot.
You might also consider why it’s so important to you to attend a “prestigious Ivy.” You’d be better served if you considered what you want from college and then looked at schools, both Ivy and otherwise, that provide the best match for your desires. If, for instance, you want to go to medical school, check out the med school admission rate for a number of different colleges. If you want your professors to be more involved in mentoring you, you might want to pick a university that focuses on teaching more than research. You might discover that a “non-Ivy” will prepare you just as well.
I am a freshman at the University at Albany. I am very interested in transferring to Cornell University for the fall semester. What do you think I need to have (academically) to make this dream possible?
First, let me say that I am not an expert on Cornell’s admissions criteria. Second, I’m going to assume that you applied to Cornell out of high school and, for whatever reason, didn’t get in.
Every university has a unique transfer policy, many schools welcome transfer students with open arms and go out of their way to make it easy for them to do so. Your first step in making your dream come true is to find out what Cornell’s policy is. Call the school’s undergraduate admissions office, tell them you’re interested in transferring, and ask for all the appropriate information. As a prospective transfer student, you will need to structure your current academic work so that it will transfer as credit for graduation to Cornell. This means you need to review Cornell’s requirements for graduation and begin to work toward that goal even though you are not a student there. This will likely require some contact with Cornell to ensure that the courses you are taking in Albany will transfer in the way you expect.
Keep in mind, though, that you may eventually want or need to finish at Albany, so it is best to try and take courses that “work” at both schools. It’s sort of a “back door” approach. This does not work at every school and has an element of risk, but I’m going to lay this out for you as truly an alternative for dreamers.
Many universities have an evening college or continuing education school where you can take courses offered by the regular university, often at the same time of day. The difference is that 1) you are not a degree candidate, and 2) you aren’t going to get certain benefits of other students (like the option of living on campus which, for freshmen, lessens the college experience). The strategy here is to rack up a number of hours (maybe 30-50) toward your intended major, then apply to the school for admissions as a degree candidate.
Then, if you’ve done well in these prior courses, the school typically admits you as a degree candidate. Again, there is always the possibility that you won’t get in, but if you discuss this possibility with Cornell openly, you may feel good enough about your chances to give it a try. I know a number of students who have gained admissions to colleges and earned degrees by this back door admissions approach. But by all means, apply to the school first as a transfer student. Good luck with your dream.
I noticed you have stressed how junior year is the most important year. That’s great. I’m a junior now, and on my way to honor roll. However, my other high school grades from the past two years are lower, and I regret that. Nothing can change those, however. If I shine through this year with flying colors and do well on my SATs (Please, Lord), do you believe that most colleges will care much about my C average? Or have I pretty much blown it already and should consider junior college or bartending school?
Washed up at 16? I don’t think so. You should see the questions I get. What pressure students feel to be absolutely perfect. Do well the next two years, work hard to score well on the SAT, get involved in things you enjoy, and you will get into a great school. Maybe it won’t be Harvard or Stanford, but who cares? There are many excellent colleges out there who will love to have you, you’ll get a great education, and you’ll have fun in the process. So relax and enjoy high school with the confidence that your future has good things in store for you.
Where can we go to find a list of non-competitive colleges that will accept a high school student who has a so-so grade point average but is very intelligent?
Personally, I’d set my sights a little higher. Your grade point average is only one part of your application. Perhaps you’re an outstanding baseball player. Or maybe you play the flute. What about your SAT/ACT scores? Select a group of five or six schools whose admissions requirements range from non-selective to selective (you can find these in any college handbook in your local bookstore). Then structure your application in the best possible way. You might surprise yourself. There’s no reason why you can’t attend a good school and make a living afterwards—especially if you are “very intelligent.”
What are your thoughts on students who begin their college career at a community college? Do they have the same chance of transferring to a good four-year college as those who are transferring from another four-year school?
In earlier questions, we talked about transferring from one college to another, and the same strategies apply. If your intent is to end up in a specific four-year college, and you’d like to start out at a community college, you need to begin your studies with that in mind. Some four-year colleges actually have “feeder” community colleges that they look to for transfer students. A few calls to the admissions offices of the colleges of your choice will help you discover what they are.
I’m a student who is taking all the college prep courses in high school that I can. My grades are sometimes very good and sometimes awful. I sometimes get Ds. But I’m involved in almost every club in our school, and I volunteer a lot. If I would write it all down you would say, “Wow! That is a lot.” So what I’m asking is, will my extracurricular activities make a difference in how the college will look at my application? I am also a ward of the state. How will that affect my college future?
Extracurricular activities matter (there are questions below and in the Guru archive which address this subject thoroughly). Whether they can overcome Ds is doubtful. You need to do better in those classes, and if you can’t do better, get out of them.
My dad used to tell this joke about the kid who brought home three Fs and a D on his report card, and when his father asked him what the problem was, the kid says, “I think I’m spending too much time on one subject.” The point is that maybe you can spend less time on the subjects you do very well in, and more time on the subjects that are kicking your butt.
Also, when you get around to applying to college, make sure you select schools that match up favorably with the work you have done. Put some thought into it. As for being a ward of the state, it probably won’t affect decisions on admissions at most places. On the other hand, you have obviously had to deal with problems that others have not, and you should, on your application (perhaps in the essay), describe your less-than-ideal home life (and in particular, how you have overcome those things to achieve anyway). Admissions people love a winner.
I believe you will find a college that is right for you, and with a college education, you have the potential to create a far better life for yourself than you have had growing up. Good luck.
I’m a freshman in high school, and I guess you can say I’ve been a BAD student all my life. I would have failed the 8th grade for my second time last year, but my dad knew some people. So I went into high school this year with high expectations and new goals for myself. But the first semester was no different from the rest, and I failed. My GPA is currently 1.0. I was diagnosed with ADD. I seriously want to change my life and prove everyone wrong. If I turned my school life around now, do I still have a chance to get into a good law school? All I need is to be accepted. My parents can afford to send me anywhere. But I think I’m going to be a drop-out. Thank you very much.
Gee, where to start? Well, first, law school comes after undergraduate college, so no point in thinking about that for about six years. I think you might be better off trying to figure out how to get out of high school and with luck and hard work, a decent college.
Maybe at the moment you’re struggling to think of yourself in a positive way, but that’s the first step. What do you do well? Sports? Mr. Personality? Hard-working? Try to build on those things.
Next, you say you were diagnosed with ADD. Are you being treated, too? If not, you’re only halfway there. Since your folks have money, encourage them to spend some of it on other testing. You may have learning disabilities that are holding you back and not even know it. Check it out.
I’d encourage your folks to spend some money on tutoring, too. You are probably so far behind in everything that just wanting to do well is going to be tough. Check out a Sylvan Learning Center or the host of private tutors to help you. You can catch up.
Finally, do not count yourself out of the game at age 16. You have much ahead of you to live for. I personally think you’ve had some crappy support along the way to be in the situation you’re in. Write me again and let me know how it is going.
A note to the many educators reading this column: Please look around your school tomorrow and see if there’s a kid that fit’s the description above. I’ll bet there is. If so, reach out. That’s a cry for help.
Is there any way for a student who’s not real great in school to get into a good college? Is there a chance to be successful even though I’m not really good at school? I would like to be successful, but with my grades, I’m afraid that I won’t get anywhere!
Your question touches me deeply, and I hope this advice will be useful to you. First, let me say that about 80% of all questions we receive here have typos in them—yours had none! That tells me a lot. In my experience, teenagers (and many adults) have a difficult time assessing their abilities. They either over- or underestimate them, both of which are bad.
Your grade point average is just one assessment of you. Let’s consider your grades first. Why are you doing poorly in school? Do you have trouble studying? If so, you may have Attention Deficit Disorder, which is easily treatable. Or perhaps you are dyslexic, which is also manageable. Maybe you read poorly (I did, and it took years to figure it out and deal with it).
The point is that for someone like you who has the desire but who is not getting the results you want, you need to explore why. Many, many adults have overcome these kinds of problems to enjoy success at the highest level.
If your problem is not physical, consider psychological causes. How’s your home life? Are you in an environment where you can be successful. Do you have a support system in place? Everyone (not every teenager, but everyone) needs the support of others. In either case above, you need to seek out an adult who will help you. If it can’t be your parents, find a teacher, counselor, relative, clergy, or even a trusted friend (they have parents, too), and tell them that you want to find out why you aren’t getting the results you want in school. If they tell you to “try harder,” look for someone else who can provide some meaningful help.
Privately, I am sending you my e-mail address, and if you can’t find the help you need, let me know. We have people here who can help you. Finally, I want to say that college isn’t necessarily the ticket to success and happiness. Those things come from within. But if you want a college degree, there is no doubt in my mind that you’ll get it. You just seem like you have the right stuff.
How do admissions boards weigh your GPA against the SAT? A handful of students in my year, myself included, have mediocre GPAs (hovering around the 2.7 mark), but all scored well above the average on the SATs. Do good SAT scores partially make up for a bad GPA?
Colleges typically prefer students with higher GPAs and lower SAT scores to those with high SAT scores and lower GPAs. The reasons for this are many. Among them:
Grades reflect your performance over an extended period of time while the SAT only reflects your ability to take a particular kind of test.
Some students just aren’t great standardized test takers.
Standardized tests don’t reflect your intelligence, just your ability to take tests.
And admissions committees prefer students who live up to their academic potential in high school to those who don’t. After all, they want to get a sense of your commitment to your high school education so they can gauge how likely you are to succeed in college when you lack the structure (and parents) that help keep you focused on school.
All of that said, it’s important to remember that college admissions aren’t based on your SAT scores and GPA alone. Admissions committees also closely evaluate recommendations, essays, and extracurriculars (and leadership in those extracurriculars in particular). Consequently, low grades don’t have to be the death knell of your application. Good luck!
I didn’t do so well in high school. Let’s just say I fell into peer pressure and constantly skipped school. But, as smart of a kid I am, I still (just barely) passed all my classes, even my honors math class. I took a year off after graduating to find a nice job and help my girlfriend raise our newborn before going to the community college I’m going to now, and I have a 4.0 and doing very well. I’m still working full-time while going to school full-time. I am looking to go for engineering management, and I want to transfer to a top-notch engineering college like Caltech, MIT, or Purdue. Am I setting the bar too high for myself? Or, is this possible? And if so, how do I make this possible?
I can’t tell you whether you’ll get into one of these schools eventually, but I would say that if you maintain an excellent academic record, and if you’re an exceptional engineer (I can’t tell your level of skill from this question, of course)…then certainly you have a shot at getting into a great engineering program.
I would even say that you don’t have to attend one of these three schools to enter a well-founded engineering program and create your own version of professional success. (Although, please go ahead and apply to those three!) Collect a couple of stellar recommendations from current professors who can speak to your engineering proficiency, and certainly maintain your 4.0 if at all possible. Talk to your advisor at your current college as soon as possible to form a game plan for transferring into a four-year university. I would also recommend you apply to several different schools that have varying levels of selectivity.
Above all, I would say that the tone of your e-mail demonstrates your confidence in yourself and in your abilities. That is so very important. Remember that your persistence and confidence, added to your talent and work ethic, will take you much farther than if you relied on your intelligence alone. Good luck.
I am a freshman in high school, and I want to go to Northwestern, Duke, or the University of Chicago, and I want to know if my freshman grades will impact me getting into these schools. Right now I am getting D’s in some classes, and I am trying to get them up or make an improvement for the next three years. I also want to know, if I can’t get my grades to where I want them to be, then how many out-of-school activities will I have to do to make up the difference? I would like an estimated number please. Thank you!
It doesn’t really work in the way you’re thinking: You can’t just take more extracurriculars to compensate for the difference in bad grades. Schools look at a combination of extracurriculars, grades, tests, and your personal essay, but they also always prefer better grades to worse!
What you need to do most is figure out how to get the help you need to raise your grades. Consider tutoring, rearranging your schedule, giving yourself incentives to study (besides junk food, probably, although that’s always my struggle…), asking your parents or guardian to hold you accountable to do your homework, having study gatherings with your friends, asking your teachers for extra assistance outside of class, etc, etc.
There are so many ways you can work on getting your grades up. That should be your main focus for right now. Yes, of course, get involved in some activities you love–it adds variety to your life–but don’t think that joining X number of activities will make up for the D‘s you have earned. That’s an algebra formula that just doesn’t hold up.
I was terrible in high school. I repeated 9th grade 3 times because I basically walked in the front door and out the back! I think I earned maybe 3 credits in my 3 or so years of being there. Right after that I earned my GED and passed the test the first time. This was all in 2005. Now I am 21 years old, never been married, with a 3-year-old son. I am smart when I apply myself, but I just feel so far behind that I don’t know where to start or what to do! I also live in a different state now and have no clue about anything here. I am very interested in being an IT expert or computer engineer. I am great with technology, and I know that I could have a fulfilling life…or be just another single-mother, high-school dropout. Please help me!
Thank you for writing me. I think that the fact you are determined enough to take the first step and even write someone for help means that you really do want this. You sound committed to your goals. And if you know you’re intelligent and can handle the training when you apply yourself, then I also believe that you will be able to work in IT or computer engineering.
Now, the best thing you can do is work with what you’ve got where you are. See what local resources are available to you. Get on the internet and find all the four-year and two-year schools with technical/computer training in your area (I’d suggest a 30-mile radius to start). Then your next step is to contact the admissions office of each school and ask them some general questions about what kinds of computer or IT degrees they offer. Also, ask them how a GED can apply to their college admission tracks. The admissions officers will be much more helpful to you than I can be.
Research the cost of each program you find out about and make a list (or more than one!) of pros and cons. What appeals to you most about each option? What sounds most unappealing? Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the admissions advisers when narrowing down your focus. Be bold. Ask what kind of financial aid could be available to you. Ask how you can succeed. The people you talk to really will want to help you succeed.
Those are the practical steps I suggest you start with. Now, my last thought is this: You’re really not that far behind. Don’t worry about the few years older you may be than your colleagues. Just focus on your goals. It’s really not too late. I have a lot of hope for you. Some of the schools you apply to may even have childcare options for your son, or may offer financial aid packages for you since you’re a parent. You can use your current circumstances to your advantage. So go for it. You don’t have to be the worst-case scenario…and I don’t think you will be.
I am a junior, but I graduate this year because I started English and math early in Texas (I now live in Mississippi). It’s given me enough credits to be a graduating senior. I had a 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale my freshman year in Texas), and now I have a 2.94 on the same scale. I had poor math scores last year that ruined me. I have about 12 hours of community service on record (I have other hours, and I don’t know if they transferred here). Other than that, my extracurricular section is pretty poor. I transferred schools and didn’t know what to do. I’m in French club and that’s it. I tried to start a club, but it got shot down. I received a 20 on my ACT, but got a 73 in gym. It basically looks as if I went backward academically. I was doing really well, then went to ugly when we moved. Do you think I should waste my time applying to school, or do I have a chance of getting into some not-so-great schools? In that case, it’s still a waste because I’m not going to get the education I dreamed of.
I will tell you this absolutely: Your life is NOT going to be a waste just because you didn’t get into an Ivy League school. There are so many great and inexpensive public colleges in the country. For example, lots of state universities are focused on teaching students well, and the professors are more available to you than at big-time research universities. That is a factor that can contribute to later success for students.
My point is, don’t quit now…you just need a little perspective. As you begin applying to colleges, here is a tip: Apply to some schools that are “reach” schools, apply to some “safety” schools, and a few in between. Then work hard in college. That will speak volumes for your character and your willingness to keep persevering. By no means are you destined for failure. Trust me.
I get questions from a myriad of students who have GPAs and extracurriculars all over the board, and they get accepted into college all the time. There are more than a few factors of college admission. You have plenty of hope. Don’t give up while you’re this young.
All that being said, would it be worthwhile to stay and finish out a four-year high school career? That way you could take some tougher classes, such as honors or Advanced Placement classes, in the subjects you excel in. Retake your ACT, raise your GPA, and get in a good year and a half of a couple more extracurricular activities. I’d suggest you give some consideration to this option as well. Good luck.
In high school, I didn’t do so great. I have about a 2.0 GPA and an 18 ACT score. I regret it, but I refuse to go to a 2-year college. I want to go to a 4-year college and succeed. I’m currently a graduating senior. Please help!
You’re not stuck yet even if you haven’t done as well in school as you hoped. Talk to your high school adviser or guidance counselor about your best options for four-year schools. For example, state universities are frequently less selective, and you certainly have a chance of getting into a few of those (plus, you can get a terrific education through many state universities – it’s all about what you put into it). You might even consider retaking the ACT if you have time. Good luck.
I’m in my freshman year of high school. I think I will end my freshman year with a 3.3 GPA. I was wondering if through the next 3 years, assuming I get straight As or As and Bs, what is the best GPA I could end with my junior year to apply to college? Or, what grades would I have to get, to get a 3.7 or above GPA if possible since my freshman year GPA was bad?
Congratulations on realizing early on that you need to make a change! Don’t be overly worried about the 3.3, you have plenty of time to make it up, and colleges are very interested in seeing where you are improving so if your grades show a clear upward trajectory over time, that will be a major plus.
It is impossible to predict exactly what grades you need, as they are weighted differently whether you are taking AP courses, regular ed, etc. But what you do know is that you are focused on getting the best grades possible — that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Don’t forget that your GPA is just one of the areas that colleges focus on. Your SAT and your extracurricular activities bear a lot of weight in the mix. And, this might end up being a great topic for your essay!
Good luck and again, great job on realizing in year one that a change is needed.
I’m lost right now. I’m 19 years old with great ambition. I’ve had a difficult time with life during my school years. I attended six different high schools, moving every year around Florida. I never really cared about school. I barely went. I did whatever I wanted. My mom never guided me. I moved to New York my senior year with, like, 11 credits. I didn’t graduate, so I had to do an extra year. I gave it all I got. I made it and graduated. My question to you is, what can I do with my 1.3 GPA? Can I improve it? Also, I never took the SAT. Can I still take that? Will colleges accept that? I don’t know what I want to go to college for, but I need to put myself on a path to success.
I’m sorry that you’re feeling lost and confused right now. It’s great to hear that you want to recommit to your education. It’s not too late to turn your life around.
You might consider starting at a community college. Often, community colleges have very flexible admissions standards. Some don’t even require you to take the SAT or ACT.
That being said, you should go ahead and take the SAT. The SAT and ACT are designed to measure your abilities coming out of high school, and if you hope to one day attend a four-year university, they will likely require test scores for admittance. I would recommend seeking help from a teacher or a tutor. You can also take practice tests.
If you start at a community college — and commit to your studies — you could warm up with community college classes, establish good study habits, explore your interests, improve your GPA and eventually transfer to a four-year university. Begin by researching community colleges near you, and speak with one of their admissions counselors about your options.
You’ll definitely have to work hard, but if you stay focused and positive, you can do it!
I am a senior, and I wanted to ask how important are recommendation letters and any trouble leading to a referral or suspension. I had a very bad freshman and sophomore year academically (2.2 out of 4) and even some disciplinary misconduct issues, but since the start of junior year, I have gotten almost all A’s in my honors and AP classes and have caused no trouble. My biggest concern for applying to colleges is the trouble I have gotten into and that the only teachers who I feel can give a nice recommendation letter teach Latin (which I did not do as well as I hoped for) and digital design, which is something I would be doing as a second choice at best. I hope to pursue a degree in engineering and have taken three science and three math courses since the start of 11th grade with only one B. I realize this has been quite a long post, but I want to thank you in advance for any advice you can give me.
I’m sorry you struggled early in high school, but congratulations on turning things around for the last two years. Although poor grades and a suspension are definitely obstacles, you can turn them into strengths by discussing what you learned in your admissions essay. Talk about the challenges you’ve faced and the measures you’ve taken to help overcome them.
Strong recommendation letters from teachers who know you well will also help mitigate this circumstance. Just like with your essay, schools want to learn something about you from a recommendation that is more than just facts and figures. Although it might be easy to approach teachers who have given you good grades, the best recommendation letters often come from a teacher in whose class you struggled and then succeeded. If you’ve overcome difficulties in high school, it shows you can overcome obstacles in college.
When you approach a teacher, coach or guidance counselor to write a letter of recommendation, give them plenty of advance notice. It also helps to provide them with a résumé of your proudest accomplishments and a list of future goals. This will both refresh their memories and help them tailor the letters to your strengths.
Most importantly, don’t be intimidated! Teachers expect to write many recommendation letters, and you’ll be complimenting them if you ask them.