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Articles / Applying to College / Will One Bad Grade Damage College Admission Decisions?

Dec. 30, 2002

Will One Bad Grade Damage College Admission Decisions?

Question: I’ve always had a strong GPA and take top courses. My SAT scores are pretty good, too. Now, however, I’m about to finish the first semester of my senior year, and it looks like I’m going to get a D in Calculus BC. Will this affect my college admission decisions?

Admission officers are often willing to give a lot of slack to atypically low grades in Calculus BC because they know it’s a tough course, and they admire those who tackle it anyway. However, how much your D will hurt admission decisions will depend a lot on where you are applying and other extenuating factors. For instance, if you’re aiming for an Ivy League institution or other highly selective schools, your “competition” will include hundreds of other applicants who got A’s in all of their classesâ€"including Calc BC. On the other hand, if you come from a disadvantaged background, are a recruited athlete, uncommonly talented musician or writer, etc., then admission officials may be more interested in factors beyond your math prowessâ€"or lack thereof.


Any chance you can make that D into a C? That could make a significant difference at decision time. Perhaps a chat with your teacherâ€"and the promise to take on an optional assignment or projectâ€"might earn you a better grade.

Overall, while it’s hard to make a determination without knowing more, it is very possible that the D could impact final decisions. That's hard to hear after you’ve worked diligently for all these years, but the world of elite admission can be pretty unforgiving. Whatever happens, you are to be congratulated on an excellent high school career, and you should know that there are many, 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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