Impact of Bad 9th Grade Year on Future College Options

Question: I am a freshman in high school. My GPA is very low, as in 2.53 unweighted, and 3.16 weighted. I have had C’s and D’s in my honors courses of Biology, English, and Global Studies (my school history course). How would college admissions officers receive that? Would it be bad? Also, I have another concern about sophomore and beyond classes and scheduling for the future?

 My guidance counselor suggests that I take all College Prep classes. But, my concern is that I will not be able to get out of them. If I am not, would it be better to risk another year of Honors courses, or to be stuck in College Prep classes for the rest of high school? Is it worth the risk to increase college admissions?

 Finally, my main concern is whether or not I am fit to go to college. I am not the most motivated person, and consequences have arisen as a result? Should I continue to think about college as a realistic possibility? Would I better served to start a community college and then transfer to a university? Realistically, if I go to college, what colleges would forgive a bad freshman year?

Admission officials do give students some wiggle room when it comes to freshman grades. However, if you are aiming at the more selective colleges, you need to realize that your “competition” will be top-heavy with students who earned near-perfect grades all through high school. So, in order to stay in the running at such places, you’ll have to offer not only a tip-top transcript in grades 10-12 but also some pretty major “extras” (e.g., athletic hook, minority status, atypical accomplishments or unusual background). At the majority of colleges, however, a strong showing in grades 10-12 can go a long way toward making up for a shaky start.

As for your future plans … it’s too early to predict if college is right for you.  Also keep in mind that some of the most successful … and satisfied … college students are those who began college (or returned to college) as adults, not as 18-year-olds. So by the time you are a senior in high school, if you’re feeling like you need a break from academics—either short-term or long—there’s no reason why you should feel pressure to go to college right away. Yet if you do want to go to college straight from high school, there are colleges out there at all levels of selectivity … from places that accept just single-digit percentages of their applicants to others with “Open Enrollment” that admit anyone with a high school diploma (and sometimes even those without one).

And for some people, college isn’t an imperative at all … ever. If you excel in areas such as cooking, art, music, acting, technology, and even sports (playing, that is, not watching!), it’s possible to move up the career ladder straight from high school. However, as you’ve probably heard, the average income of college grads is significantly higher than of non-grads. So those folks who decide to skip college will need to be not only talented but also self-directed and ambitious in order to stay afloat in today’s costly and competitive world.

So what steps should you take in the immediate future? Perhaps you should follow your guidance counselor’s advice and select “College Prep” classes for next year, since you fared poorly in the honors classes as a freshman.  BUT … before you commit to a curriculum, ask your counselor if you can jump into the Honors track again in 11th grade if you do well in the College Prep courses next year and decide that you want a greater challenge. You said that you’re worried that, if you drop out of the Honors classes now, you won’t be able to get back in. Thus, this is something that you (and your parents, too) need to iron out with your counselor right away. And if the counselor admits that it could be tough getting back into Honors once you choose College Prep, you might also want to discuss the option of taking a summer school class or two NEXT summer if you need that sort of extra enrichment in order to transition back into Honors as a junior.

Right now you claim that you’re not a very motivated student. Well, that could change as you get older … or not. But one reason you aren’t motivated could be because the subjects you’re studying in high school aren’t interesting to you. Once you get to college, on the other hand, you will have a chance to take a huge range of classes that don’t sound remotely like the ones you’re required to take now. You’ll be able to choose Glassblowing or Digital Media Production or Criminal Justice and countless more. While many colleges do have a “core curriculum” which includes required classes that sound suspiciously like the ones that bored you to tears in high school, if you choose your college carefully you may be able to find a college with no core curriculum or one with very flexible requirements that will allow you to substitute classes that excite you for the more predictable ones that don’t.

Bottom line: Rest assured that you will have plenty of excellent college options if your 9th-grade C’s and D’s are in your rearview mirror and you earn better grades next year, whether in College Prep classes or Honors. But it’s premature for you to decide if you want to go to college right after high school, if you want to go at all, or if you should initially head to a community college.

Meanwhile you should check out this earlier “Ask the Dean” column on the College Confidential discussion forum, along with the CC member comments that follow it:  Even though it was aimed at an 8th grader trying to get off on the right foot in high school, the advice is very apt for you as well.

Finally, consider the wise words of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In your case, the two opposed ideas are …

#1. You should follow the tips in the “Ask the Dean” column cited above and try to improve your grades.

#2. If you don’t improve your grades, it isn’t a deal-breaker. Not everyone who is happy and successful in life (by whatever definitions you apply) is happy and successful in high school. When you’re in the midst of high school it can often seem as if the opinions of you that are held by teachers and/or classmates are all that matter in the universe. Yet, as you get older, you will look back on high school with fondness or with horror … or with other feelings in between. And the key words here are “look back.” Whatever struggles you face in high school do not have to define you or determine the rest of your life.

So do try to boost those grades next year but, if that doesn’t happen, it won’t be the end of the world for you … or even the end of your college options. Low grades will limit your college choices, but there are still plenty of colleges that roll out the welcome mat for everyone.

(posted 6/13/2017)