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Articles / Applying to College / How Will D in Calc BC Affect Admissions?

Jan. 26, 2004

How Will D in Calc BC Affect Admissions?

Question: I am a high school junior and am currently taking AP Calculus BC. I just found out that I received a D for the semester. Will this blow all of my chances of getting into a good college?


If, by "good" college, you mean an Ivy League school or one of the small handful of hyper-competitive equivalents, then your Calc BC grade could hurt your admission chances. While admission officials (plenty of whom may have once screwed up a calculus class themselves) are particularly sympathetic when applicants do poorly in that particular course, at the most selective colleges, you'll be "competing" against students who have gotten A's--or at least B's--in that class, along with 4's and 5's on the exam.

On the other hand, admission folks look at lots of factors when making final choices, and they may find something in your application that they really like and which appeals to them so much that it will outweigh their concern over one poor grade. To help assess the likelihood of this, ask yourself if you have any truly outstanding talents (e.g., music, writing, sports, an atypical hobby) or any additional admission "hooks" (minority status, legacy status, VIP connections, etc.) that might counterbalance a bad grade.

Finally, keep in mind that there is a wide range of colleges that are not only "good" but great. They may not be among that small group that get the most attention on our College Confidential discussion boards and which seem to cause the most admission angst, but they are excellent, competitive colleges where a strong record with one slip in a hard course won't make a lick of difference.

Don't be discouraged. Many admission officials will put more stock in the fact that you tackled a challenging course like AP Calc BC than in the fact that you got that first-semester D, especially if you can pull it up to at least a C in the spring

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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