Low GPA in College Applications
It’s common for high school students to feel as if their grade point average (aka 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 first choice! Yes, 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. Many schools now practice “holistic” admissions. 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.
How to Make Up for a Bad GPA in Context
Before we get carried away dissecting how to make up for a bad GPA, let’s do a reality check. First, determine the context of your high school grade report. 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? [If so, remember that advanced classes might boost your weighted GPA!]
Regardless, 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.
How to Get into College with a Low GPA with Test Scores
Remember that your grades are not the only numerical means to prove yourself as a quality student. If you’re still stuck on how to get into colleges with a low GPA, look for other academic metrics you can submit. For instance, 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 in academic performance in different settings. You can help yourself out before taking the test by enrolling in an SAT or ACT preparation course as well.
You may also want to consider submitting AP test scores, state qualifying exams, or other academic extracurricular performances that are relevant. If you struggle to pay attention in class but excel in other academic areas, you could be considered a splitter candidate. More on splitter candidates here.
Write a Great Essay to Counterbalance a Low GPA
In some cases, you can address the context of your low GPA in your college essay. More importantly, though, the college essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate your analytical skills. Excellent writing shows your ability to communicate well. The personality aspect of the essay 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!
Most of all, your essays are your chance to tell the story in your own words and connect with the admissions reader on a personal level. Exceptional essays with a compelling reason for your academic track record may even make up for a low GPA. It’s worth taking the time to ensure your drafts are the best they can be. If you need additional support reviewing your application essays, consider working with a professional essay team like Empowerly.
Shift Focus from GPA to Accomplishments: Boost Your Extracurriculars
This is a great strategy if you’re deeply involved in specific extracurriculars and have evidence to demonstrate your hard work. If you have extensive arts or athletic experience, or if you have participated in unique volunteer or entrepreneurial work, colleges will pay attention. What’s more, if you sacrificed time and sleep for these activities, your extracurriculars could even be a reasonable explanation for a low GPA in college applications. Be careful, though, as you don’t want the college admission readers to think you can’t balance your workload.
Take Some Time: Colleges that Accept Low GPA
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 on a student’s academic performance in their first year of college.
You can also do some research and look into which colleges that accept a low GPA might serve your needs. Consider your personal goals and what timeline makes the most sense for you! A low GPA in college applications doesn’t have to hold you back. There are many junior colleges, state schools, and community colleges with open enrollment that can jumpstart your plans and confer a degree in your field of choice.
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. You might even surprise yourself by finding a new college that accepts students with low GPAs to get started right away. In the end, no single statistic should determine your future path. Accepting and owning your GPA as it is, and using your application as an opportunity to demonstrate the other wonderful things about you, can help you transcend. Not only that, it will impress colleges with your self-awareness, honesty, and demonstration of self-worth. You can do this!