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Articles / Applying to College / Does a Good AP Exam Score Make Up for A Bad Class Grade?

May 28, 2020

Does a Good AP Exam Score Make Up for A Bad Class Grade?

Question: Does a good AP test score make up for a low grade, like a C or D, in that AP class? How will this situation affect the admissions process?

While a good score on an AP exam is obviously always a plus, admission officials will wonder why you did poorly in the class itself but learned enough to be successful on the test. A brief explanationâ€"if there is one (e.g., “I missed two weeks of school due to mono and had trouble catching up”)â€"can be submitted with your applications. You can also ask your counselor to include this in his or her recommendation.


If you are applying to the most elite colleges in the country (the Ivy League and a handful of equivalents like Stanford and MIT), then even one poor grade could affect your admission outcomes because you will be “competing” with so many others who will have straight-A transcripts. A low grade will also affect your rank (if your school is one that does rank). In some schools, in fact, only a fraction of a point separates the number 1 student from number 10 or 12, so a C or D could bump you down the list quite a bit. This is also something that you should ask your guidance counselor to point out at recommendation time by saying something like, “Griselda's rank would have been far higher had she not gotten that C- in AP Physics when she was only a sophomore.” Moreover, most admission officials will be more forgiving of low marks in 9th or 10th grade than they would be of those earned in your junior or senior year. Indeed, once you look beyond the hyper-competitive level of the Ivies, the majority of admission folks will be understanding when it comes to a single aberrant bad grade.

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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