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Articles / Applying to College / Will One Sophomore "C" Hurt College Prospects?

April 11, 2018

Will One Sophomore "C" Hurt College Prospects?

Question: Will a "C" in 10th grade math hurt English major prospects? This class is the second-hardest in our school (nationally-ranked STEM school) but it is not an honors/AP class.

Yes and no. (How's that for an ambiguous, UNhelpful answer?) : -( The reason that “The Dean" can't do better is because the answer:


1. Depends on where you're applying

2. Hinges on all the other components of your application, ranging from your GPA and standardized test scores to how you will stand out in a crowd based on many factors such as your extracurricular accomplishments, your racial/ethnic/family background, etc.

At the vast majority of colleges, one lone sophomore “C" in a tough class in a demanding school will have no impact at all on your admission outcomes two years later. However, the “C" will have at least a tiny impact on your overall GPA and also on your class rank (if your school provides one). If you end up applying to most hyper-competitive colleges, you will be vying for a spot with students who have perfect grades and tip-top class ranks. But, as noted above, if other aspects of your “profile" are intriguing, then the “C" will be easily overlooked. (And if it turns out to be the only “C" on your transcript by senior year, you can ask your guidance counselor to mention in your letter of recommendation that this math course — while not Honors or AP — is reputed to be grueling.)

If you are aiming for an English major and math continues to be your Achilles' heel, admission officials will take into consideration that you are a humanities maven and not a numbers whiz. On the other hand, at the most sought-after colleges, the admission folks typically expect their successful candidates to be firing on all cylinders, garnering the best grades even in academic areas that aren't part of their future plans.

Bottom line: This grade is either nothing (or little) to worry about. But if you do think you will be applying to the Ivies and their ilk, it's time to start thinking about how you can distinguish yourself in the classroom and beyond. Also keep in mind that the most selective colleges turn down thousands of interesting, qualified candidates every year, and that there are many roads to happiness and success. So when you begin to create your college list, regardless of the grades on your final transcript, make sure it includes a reasonable balance of “Reach," “Realistic" and “Safe" options and that you are excited about all of them.

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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