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Articles / Applying to College / Tiny Dip or Downward Trend in Grades?

June 22, 2003

Tiny Dip or Downward Trend in Grades?

Question: My daughter had all A's in the most rigorous courses in 9th and 10th grades, but received one A- in an AP Spanish course first semester of 11th and a B+ in Honors Precalculus second semester of 11th. The remainder of her grades are all A's. Will the A- and B+ in her junior year be viewed as a "downward trend," or will colleges see that her overall record is still extremely strong? After 10th grade, she was ranked first in her class of 700, but she's probably now dropped a few places.

Colleges will not see a tiny tumble such as the one you describe as anything close to a downward spiral. Certainly your daughter’s overall record is strong, and it will be viewed that way.


I do, however, feel compelled to point out that, once your daughter drops off the valedictorian’s throne, she will lose a bit of her competitive edge at the Ivies and other hyper-selective schools, but that’s not to say that she’s out of the running. The top colleges like to count valedictorian and salutatorian heads like notches in gunfighter’s belt, so even if your daughter is only a couple rungs below that, she won’t have quite the same allure as she would if coming from the number-one or number-two slots.

I now feel the urge to climb upon my soapbox and expound on how much I hate to say things like that. Indeed, a student with your daughter’s record should feel nothing but proud, and I have many problems with a system that would suggest to her that she has failed in any way. My local high school just did away with class rank, andâ€"while there are clearly pros and cons to that decisionâ€"at least it should take a lot of unnecessary stress off of high-achieving kids and also enable them to choose classes based on their passions and goals and not on what will pump a GPA a few fractions of a point higher.

Keep in mind, too, that when it comes to elite-college admission decisions, many factors are in play. A good rank or GPA and test scores are required, but they are just the tickets to the ballpark, and a student needs a lot more to get into the reserved seats. Your daughter could have talents and passions and other desirable traits that will make her a more sought-after candidate than those who may end up a few ranks ahead of her when the dust settles.

So, don’t sweat the “downward trend.” Colleges won’t see it because indeed there’s nothing to see.

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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