Making Up for a Weak Junior Year

Question: I dented my GPA with a weak junior year but am doing really well now as a senior. My mid-semester grades are due out in mid-November. How can I get colleges to see the “new,” more mature me? If I apply Early Action or via Rolling Admission, might I be rejected outright or will colleges get the improved grades in time?

Most colleges will wait until they have those November grades in hand before making a decision, but—depending on exactly when the grades will be available and the college’s decision deadline—you could be taking a risk by applying Early Action. There is also little advantage to applying to a Rolling Decision college right now when your improved transcript is only weeks away.

However, if you are itching to launch an application before then (especially an Early Action one), then you shouldn’t hesitate to get the information you need right from the horse’s mouth. In other words, first determine exactly when those November grades will be finalized. Secondly, contact your target college(s) and tell them precisely what you’ve told us. Ask directly if grades posted on, say, November 15, will be taken into consideration in their Early Action decision process. If the answer is no, or even, “Well, that could be right on the bubble,” then you would be wise to postpone your application and wait for the regular decision pool.

Keep in mind, too, that favorable Early Action decisions (which are not binding) are usually tougher to come by than either Early Decision okays (which are) or Regular Decision admissions. So, even if EA schools do get those strong senior grades, they may be reluctant to jump all over a candidate who had a weak junior year and will wait to evaluate you until they have seen their full range of applicants.

When you ask your senior teachers to write references for you, it’s always a nice idea to present them with a cover note along with the recommendation forms. It’s fine to mention your rising record in the note and ask your teachers if they, too, will mention it in the letters they write.

Finally, if you do forge ahead with Early Action or Rolling Decision applications, you should stay on top of your counselor and make sure that he or she gets your new grades to colleges ASAP. Many colleges will accept grades right over the telephone, as long as they come from the guidance office—not from you! Your school will have to follow up with something official in writing, but a phone-in report will at least get the ball rolling and make sure that target colleges will see the New You as soon as possible.