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Articles / Applying to College / College After Failing in High School?

Sept. 8, 2017

College After Failing in High School?

Question: Can you still get into college after failing a year of high school? Though I failed I'm now graduating early, so still on time.

Life can be stingy with do-overs, but luckily this is one of those times when you get a second chance. While you can't turn back the clock and erase your academic mistakes entirely, you can move on and put those mistakes behind you.


If you have a high school diploma (or even a GED or comparable completion certificate) then you can attend college, even if you previously failed a year of high school (and some colleges will admit students who never finished high school at all). However, a full year of F's (or any very low grades) will torpedo your GPA which will, in turn, limit your college options and keep you out of many schools, including some less-selective (but well priced) public colleges.

Yes, there are colleges that accept all (or almost all) candidates regardless of high school GPA, and the majority of two-year colleges (especially public community colleges) will do the same. So you should certainly have choices, regardless of how badly you messed up in high school. But, depending on how long ago you failed that one year (i.e., was it 9th grade? 10th? 11th? ...) you may not want to graduate “on time" but, instead, take the extra year you missed to get your GPA on solid ground.

Without knowing your current GPA (or your college goals and future plans), "The Dean" can't responsibly advise you on whether you should try to stick around high school for another year or not. Similarly, I don't know if high school seems heinous to you so you're sucking it up now and just trying to get through or if, conversely, you're actually enjoying the fact that you're not flunking anymore and are perhaps even a bit wistful that you didn't put more time into your studies in the past.

Bottom Line: You can definitely go to college, even with one full failed year of high school on your record, but you will increase opportunities if you are able to bump up your GPA before you leave your current school.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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