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Articles / Applying to College / Will B's in Grade 10 Be a Duke Deal-Breaker?

Oct. 12, 2017

Will B's in Grade 10 Be a Duke Deal-Breaker?

Question: I am a high school sophomore and am currently taking the following classes for my first semester: AP human geography, AP psychology, AP statistics, and English honors. Next semester I will take: biology honors, Pre-calc, and AP US History. I am nearing the end of my first quarter and am currently on the 'B' side of the A/B border for the AP classes. I feel confident that I can get two of them up to an A by the end of the quarter, and all of them up to an A by the end of the semester. However, I am curious to know, how much will it hurt my chances at a place like Duke if I get a B in one or two of the AP classes this Year?

Side Notes: Freshman GPA: 4.3 Extracurricular: Varsity Soccer (strong player); Model UN, working at Burger King part time, program and learn to code in free time, and potential internship at national tech company for the summer. I am also awaiting the results of my second SAT (1260 on first one my freshman year, had a rough day!)


“The Dean" does not do “chances." When it's time for you to apply to college, admission officials will have access to a lot more information than I have here, and also some of the data will have changed. Your grades may not stay consistent throughout high school, and so your junior and first-semester senior report cards will play a far greater role in your college outcomes than your sophomore grades will. And your SAT scores will play a significant role as well and they are still a big question mark.

But, having said that, I can also tell you that getting two B's in AP classes in 10th grade will not be a deal-breaker at all. However, when it comes time to apply to college, you need to be aware that the most competitive places such as Duke will receive mountains of applications from students with perfect 4.0 GPA's or at least solid 3.9's. So if your GPA is below that, the admission folks won't immediately push your application into the “Out" pile but will ask instead, “What's special?"

If you are strong enough at soccer to be recruited by a college coach, then this will certainly count as very special. But, as you probably know, only tip-top soccer players will interest coaches at the Division 1 level. So if your talents are not recruitment-worthy, then admission officials will view your commitment to soccer as worthwhile but it won't push your application toward the “In" pile.

Admission folks will like your Burger King job. They tend to appreciate it when teenagers get a taste of minimum-wage labor. And they will also scrutinize your background to see what sort of “diversity" you may bring to campus. While “diversity" is often a euphemism for skin color and ethnicity, it also includes unique activities. So since you're already leaning coding, perhaps your next step will be to think about what you can do with this skill that could help you to stand out in a crowd. Note also that admission committees at places like Duke are seeking the “heavy-hitter" AP classes (Calc, Physics, Chem, Bio ...). The AP's you're in right now are good sophomore options but, for serious consideration at the hyper-selective schools, you'll need to take AP's that are traditionally seen as tougher.

Bottom Line: A “B" or two in grade 10 will not put you out of contention at any college, but because you'll be up against students who have never earned lower than an A, you need to be sure that your grades continue on a strong trajectory and that your applications indicate that you have atypical strengths that will add to whatever college community you join.

Finally, try not to be too focused on one particular university or even on a type of university because there are many roads to happiness and success.

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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