ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled College is saved to My Colleges.

Get Advice & Insights

Articles / Admissions / Stanford, MIT for Student With Strong Tests but So-So Grades?

April 27, 2020

Stanford, MIT for Student With Strong Tests but So-So Grades?

Question: First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I'm an international student currently taking the IB diploma and I am about to apply to college but I have a very bad academic history. My predicted IB grades are all 6 and 7s, but my grade 9 to 11 grades have been mostly Bs and some Cs with occasional As, although through the 3 years there has been an increasing trend in my overall grade. I'm thinking about engineering and my SAT subject test scores for Math 2 and Physics are 800.

How much will my grade 9 to 11 grades hinder my chances of getting into top schools like Stanford, MIT, UCB etc? Thank you very much and best regards from the other side of the world 🙂


Why would Stanford, MIT, Cal Berkeley, or any of the other pickiest places on the planet choose a student with a “bad academic history" when they are besieged by the top candidates from around the world? If you think there's a reason that these venerable and hyper-selective institutions should want YOU, then you must make it crystal clear in your applications. You will need to provide a compelling reason for your so-so grades (life-threatening illness? homelessness? the death of a parent or sibling?) as well as evidence that you have the potential to become an academic and/or professional superstar.

Strong senior grades, SAT's, and IB exam results alone won't do the trick. Most of of your “competitor applicants" will have these as well. You will need to present proof of uncommon independent research, an invention awaiting a patent, or other atypical achievements. (And at these big-name schools, it can be tough to be “atypical" because so many outstanding accomplishments turn up on applications and résumés.)

However, with excellent test scores and senior grades, you will find that other fine US colleges will welcome you if you are not applying for financial aid, and some may take a risk on you, even if you are. (If you come from a country that is not already well represented in US applicant pools, so much the better.) But if you have your sights set on Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, et al, then you better get cancer cured by December!

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.

A-Z College Forums

Browse the College Forums
C1E9D4E7-C4C9-4B28-8946-8F441A6D62B3

Find Your Best Fit

Find your best fit college and track your favorite colleges.