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Articles / Admissions / How Do I Deal With An "F" in A Senior Class?

April 23, 2020

How Do I Deal With An "F" in A Senior Class?

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Hello, I am a senior in high school who just graduated and is attending Northeastern University in the fall. I ended second semester with all A's and B's but one "F" with five AP classes and two dual enrollment classes. The "F" was in AP Chemistry. Should I be worried and should I let Northeastern know? How should I approach this? I also have a guaranteed transfer to Cornell. Should I tell Cornell, or will my senior grades not matter by then?

It looks like you bit off a very ambitious courseload, and it was more than you could chew. And that's the message you must send to Northeastern ... and you should send it right away. College admission officials are not very tolerant of D's and F's on senior report cards, but they do usually judge these bad grades on a case-by-case basis. So you need to contact Northeastern immediately to plead for mercy (well, not in so many words).


An email is fine. Direct your email to the Northeastern admission staff member who oversees applicants from your high school, with a cc to the general admission address. (If you don't know the name of your regional rep, call the admission office to ask.) In this message, you must warn the Northeastern officials that they will soon see an “F" on your final transcript. Then try to put that “F" in the best possible light. You should start by pointing out that you elected a very daunting list of classes and that you did well in all but this one. If there are specific reasons why you got behind in AP Chem (e.g., a prolonged illness, a teacher who was new to the subject matter or frequently absent, problems at home, etc.) then be sure to say so.

What the college folks especially like to hear is that you weren't slacking, so if you can cite specific efforts you made to stay afloat (such extra help from the teacher after school or tutoring by a peer or pro), then include these details. If you think that your AP Chem teacher believes that you were trying to do better, then you might want to ask him or her for a letter of support. (But if you were screwing around, steer clear of that plan!) Also offer to retake the course (online if necessary) over the summer (they probably won't make you) and/or to start the school year on academic probation (they probably won't make you do this either).

While it may be tempting to wait with your fingers crossed to see if Northeastern contacts you about this grade, that's not a wise move. Your “F" isn't going to fall through any cracks — as much as you'd like it to — and, on the outside chance that Northeastern wants you to retake the chemistry class before matriculating in the fall, you need to get in touch with them now and not when it's too late to start the make-up sessions.

However, you don't have to say anything to Cornell ... at least not yet. If you have a strong year at Northeastern, those grades will speak for themselves and bail you out of this current hot water. Your high school failure will probably only matter to Cornell if there is a similar pattern in college (several good grades plus a lousy one). So make wise course choices at Northeastern and don't let yourself fall behind. If you feel that you're losing ground in any of your freshman classes, speak with the professor and engage the campus academic assistance office.

While “The Dean" suspects that you will weather this storm, it's not a sure thing. So jump on that email to Northeastern today and let me know how you make out.

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Written by

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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