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Articles / Applying to College / "Excellent" College After "Terrible" 9th and 10th?

Sept. 15, 2016

"Excellent" College After "Terrible" 9th and 10th?

Question: I got terrible grades my Freshman and Sophomore year, so Im currently taking three AP classes to try and balance that out. Can i still get accepted by an excellent college or no?

“The Dean" gets asked this question—or similar ones—all the time, and the answer is always the same … an unsatisfying “IT DEPENDS."


For starters, it depends on how you define an “excellent college." The Dean, deluded as she may be, thinks that lots of schools are “excellent." The Colleges That Change Lives, for instance, do indeed alter countless lives, although many of these places are not well known beyond their local Zip codes. For some folks, however, only the Ivies and a handful of hyper-selective peers might earn the “Excellent" appraisal, while sports fans may accord a top-notch assessment to Michigan State, Old Miss and other ESPN stalwarts.

Secondly, if you are a fairly typical white or Asian middle-class or well-heeled applicant, admission officials will allow less wiggle room for your freshman and sophomore foibles than if you hail from a disadvantaged background or have overcome significant obstacles on your road to Advanced Placement.

If you do well in rigorous classes for the next two years, the college folks will definitely give you credit for your “rising record" and–if your test scores and extracurricular efforts are comparable—you should have many “excellent" (again, depending on how you define it!) options. But will you have a “Get Out of Jail Free" card that will make you a strong contender at the most sought-after institutions? Probably not. Your “competition" will include candidates who also took challenging classes and who earned tip-top grades from the get-go. So unless there is something in your profile that the Ivies and their ilk really want (e.g., are you a recruited athlete? underrepresented minority? award-wining author? Barack Obama's daughter?), then you're unlikely to get good news from every college that might land on an ambitious list, but you ought to be widely welcomed nonetheless.

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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