ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled
Saved to My Favorites. View My Favorites
Articles / Applying to College / Can a Student Start Over at College Without Revealing a Bad First Year?

Can a Student Start Over at College Without Revealing a Bad First Year?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 16, 2003

Question: My student was in a large university and had a unsatisfactory GPA after one year. He was out of state and had no financial aid; we paid for everything. Can we "start over" without using these grades now?

In a situation like this it’s hard to get off scot-free with the ol’ Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy, at least without lying through your teeth. The problem is that almost all college applications ask candidates to name every institution they’ve attended since 9th grade, and many specifically ask if the student has attended any college. Moreover, the requisite references and transcripts will indicate that time has passed since this student was in high school. Admission officials are sure to pick up on the fact that the candidate in question is not a current senior, and they will want to know how he spent his time since graduation.

Obviously, this is where personal integrity comes into the picture. If he claims he was hiking the Appalachian Trail or volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, no one is likely to be the wiser, but that’s certainly not an option we can advocate in good conscience.

Our advice is that, instead, this student should come clean with the fact that he had a rough year but is ready to make a fresh start. Depending on where he’s applying and how effectively he carries out this task, he could turn his bad experience into a plus in the admission process. In addition, you can admit that the first college year was not successful and ask if it's necessary to submit grades, if the student is applying as a freshman. Explain that he wants to make a clean start and be evaluated on the basis of his high school record alone. Some admission officials may allow this; others probably will insist that you submit the college transcript.

Before doing so, however, we strongly suggest that youâ€"and heâ€"take a close look at why his time at this first university was sub-par. You’ve probably done that already, but you need to be as certain as possible that whatever problems led to the previous “unsatisfactory GPA” aren’t going to dog this young man at his new school.

Reassure him, too, that many college students get off to a bad start and are able to parlay it into a learning experience that makes them stronger (and happier) on the second go-round.

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.

More on Applying to College

See all
typing at computer- karolina-grabowska-6958506-resized

Authentic Voice in College Essays

That’s why you want to use your authentic voice when writing any college essay.

So what’s the problem? A student has shared an ess…


College Interview Prep Tips: Brainstorm, Research, Analyze, Generalize

I recently visited Washington University in Saint Louis and was lucky enough to set up an interview. By speaking with peers of mi…

campus gates

Academic Index Scores: Why They Matter and How They're Calculated

Note: Click here for 10 Summer Programs You Can Still Apply For or keep reading to learn more about academic index scores.

8 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

7 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

Podcasts can offer a wealth of information to busy students, particularly when it comes to the college admissions process. We…


Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent t…

Get a student loan that goes beyond tuition.

Ascent offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans with exclusive benefits that set students up for success.

Explore Now!
Find Your Scholarship

Want to find money for school that doesn’t need to be paid back? Access insights and advice on how to search and apply for scholarships!

Search for Scholarship