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Articles / Applying to College / Will adcoms note that my grade drop is due to my transfer to a challenging private school?

July 25, 2008

Will adcoms note that my grade drop is due to my transfer to a challenging private school?

Question: I am a sophomore at a very demanding private high school. My 9th grade average in public school was in the 90's, but my GPA has dropped immensely this year. Will the colleges take into consideration that I am a new student in a demanding school? Will my current grades drastically hurt my chances of getting into a good college?

Colleges will definitely consider your transfer to a tougher school when they see your sophomore GPA, and, if you get back on track soon, it shouldn’t have a significant impact on your chances of admission to a “good” college. However, when it comes to a hyper-competitive school (i.e., the Ivy League and a handful of equivalent colleges, such as Stanford, MIT, Amherst, etc.) then it’s possible that your sophomore slump will have some impact at decision time. At that level, you will be up against very stiff competition, including many students who also transitioned to difficult high schools and maintained top grades when they did.


Colleges typically look at your class rank, if available. (And many private schools do not rank, so perhaps yours doesn't.) Since rank is based on achievements during all four years in high school, yours will probably suffer because of your sophomore grades. Similarly, colleges will look at your cumulative GPA, which again covers your entire high school career. The good news, however, is that admission officials are aware of what they call a “rising record.” So if you don’t do too well now but do significantly better as a junior or senior, they will make note of that improvement, and it will help to put your rank and GPA in perspective.

There are a number of other factors that you don’t mention that admission officials will take into account as well. For starters, just how bad is your “immense” drop in GPA? Are you getting mostly B’s, with maybe one C in a really hard class, or are you posting some D’s? Big difference. Also, right or wrong, many college officials have their own opinions about what constitutes a “demanding” high school. If they know your school to be especially rigorous, that will certainly work in your favor. On the other hand, they may not hold the same respect for your school’s rigor as you do, or they may be unfamiliar with it and will need some prompting when it comes to understanding the challenge of your transition. In that case, when the time comes for you to apply, make sure that your guidance counselor mentions that you made a move in 10th grade from a less demanding school to a far harder one and that your sophomore grades were the result of that change. You, too, can write a brief note to attach to your applications that explains your slip in grades.

Another thing that admission officers will consider when they evaluate your application and see those sophomore grades is your socioeconomic background. If you come from a privileged family, they are apt to be less forgiving than if you come from a less privileged oneâ€"especially if your parents did not attend college and you may not have been exposed to an academic environment in your home. You may call this an unfair practice and feel that, even if your mom and dad are Ivy League alumni, it doesn’t make your school switch any less daunting, but you need to recognize that that’s how some admission officials will think.

Your best strategy for now to is work as hard as you can to better your report card, to seek out extra help as needed, and to pursue activities that interest you outside of the classroom. Don’t focus too much on the trouble you had with your first-semester grades, but do prepare to put them in perspective for admission committees when you are a senior.

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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