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Articles / Applying to College / How Do Colleges View B's and Evaluate "Work Ethic"?

How Do Colleges View B's and Evaluate "Work Ethic"?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Nov. 12, 2017

Question: I'm a high school freshman. My first quarter just finished and I have more concerns than I'd like to admit. I was very stressed from the transition and had some anxiety attacks during my tests, which brought my grade down. The majority of my grades are Bs and the rest are As, will this get me from getting into college? Many people have been telling me that grades are important but not the most important and college will look at you're work ethic too. However, I'm confused on how they look at that too. My questions are will Bs keep me from getting into college, are Bs bad grades, and how do college check your work ethic

Freshman year can be stressful, and there are also many students whose test anxiety begins then but plagues them beyond 9th grade through all of high school. But—unlike in most foreign countries—almost every US resident who wants to attend college will be admitted somewhere. And students who have more B's than A's will find that the welcome mat is rolled out for them at the vast majority of colleges and universities.

Often, however, when “The Dean" is asked something along the lines of, “Can I get into college with B's?" the question really means, “Can I get into Harvard and Yale and all those hyper-competitive places that we hear way too much about?" So if that's what you, too, actually want to know, then the answer is, “If you have B's in 9th grade, it won't have a huge impact on your college outcomes. But if you don't earn close to straight A's thereafter, then the chances aren't too great that you'll get good news from an Ivy League school or any of the other most selective schools."

If, on the other hand, you're a recruited athlete or you come from a disadvantaged or unique background or you have some extraordinary talent, admission folks might give you wiggle room with your GPA. But “work ethic" won't go a long way toward taking the spotlight off of your transcript. In general, college admission officials expect all of their successful applicants to have a strong work ethic. Of course, it's hard for them to assess this truly accurately. But when you apply to college, you will have to provide a letter of recommendation from your guidance counselor and a letter from one teacher ... and often from two. Students commonly provide an extra letter as well ... from an employer, club advisor, coach, etc. These adults will address your work ethic in their letters. If they find it's exceptional, they will say so. But even their greatest praise will take a back seat to your grades when your application is evaluated in admission offices.

BUT, as I already told you above, once you take that tiny handful of picky, picky, picky institutions off the table, you will still have gazillions of other places that will want you ... and might even lure you with scholarship dollars. B's are definitely considered to be desirable. Since "C" means “Average," you can see that "B" means “Above Average," and that's nothing to sneeze at!

While so much of the chatter about admission angst is focused on the Ivies and their ilk and on their ridiculously low acceptance percentages, the truth is that many students are better off at different colleges. For starters, most of the Ivies and “elite" colleges offer a range of liberal arts majors such as English, economics, biology, art history and so on. Most have Engineering and some have Business. But what if you want to major in Sports Administration or Event Planning or Advertising or Criminal Justice or Equine Science or Air Transportation or Golf Course Management (etc.)? The more selective a college is, the greater the chances that its majors will be the traditional ones. And if your interests lie elsewhere, they may be better served at a college that has broader offerings along with a reasonable acceptance rate and where--as an A/B student-- you might even be a star and snag the plum internships and jobs.

So as you continue through high school, try to do the best work you can but also try not to stress out about your tests and grades. If you're struggling in a class, seek out extra help. But don't be hard on yourself if your grades aren't tops. The students who do the best in high school –and who put the most pressure on themselves—may impress their friends and family with their snazzy college acceptances. But this doesn't mean that they will be the happiest—or most successful later on.

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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