How to Make Up for a Low GPA in College Applications

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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It’s common for high school students to feel as if their GPA means everything on a college application. While it does matter, it doesn’t mean everything. A low GPA does not mean you cannot get into a great school, or even your dream school. It does mean you’ll have to make up for it elsewhere on your application; but it’s not as difficult as it may seem. Let’s discuss how to make up for a low GPA in college applications.

Your college application is designed to demonstrate you as a complete person. This includes putting your GPA into context. Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to identify your strengths outside of the classroom, and then highlight them on your application.


First, determine the context of your GPA. Is it really low, or does it just seem low to you? To find out where your GPA stands in comparison to successful college applicants, you can search online for the average GPA of students admitted to certain schools, or you can ask a college counselor. 

If your GPA is on the low side, consider why that happened. Did you have a hard time adjusting to your first year or so of high school, but your grades improved? Have you had some difficulty in your personal life at some point? Did you take a lot of honors or AP classes? By taking note of why your GPA is low, you can help yourself and college admissions by giving them context for it on your application.

Test Scores

Remember that your GPA is not the only numerical means to posture yourself as a quality student. If you are able to turn out some impressive scores on the SAT or the ACT, a college will see what you’re capable of this way. You can help yourself out before taking the test by enrolling in a SAT or ACT preparation course as well.

Write a Great Essay

In some cases, you can address the context for your low GPA in your college essay. More importantly though, the college essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate your analytical skills, your ability to communicate well, and it gives a personal touch to your application in a way your grades or test scores never could. Choosing an academic topic may help you here as well by giving a unique demonstration of your knowledge in a particular subject.

Boost Your Extracurriculars

This is a great strategy if you’re deeply involved in specific extracurriculars. If you have extensive arts or athletic experience, or if you have participated in unique volunteer or entrepreneurial work, colleges will pay attention. Your extracurriculars could even be a reasonable explanation for a low GPA in college applications.

Take Some Time

If you can’t make up for your GPA at this time, that doesn’t mean college is not in your future. Consider starting at a community college or a high-acceptance college to raise your grades, and then transferring to your preferred school later. You could also take a gap year to boost your activities and test scores. Additionally, some four year colleges will accept students on a “conditional acceptance”, which is often based upon a student’s academic performance in their first year of college.

You are a whole person, and college admissions offices want to get the best sense of everything you have to offer. Your GPA, while an important piece of that, does not define you as a whole. Accepting and owning your GPA as it is, and using your application as an opportunity to demonstrate the other wonderful things about you will impress colleges with your self-awareness, honesty, and demonstration of self-worth.

Questions? Let us know!