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Articles / Applying to College / Can a Student Start Over at College Without Revealing a Bad First Year?

March 16, 2003

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

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.

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