Getting Bad Grades: First Semester Grade Woes

Question: I know that you often write about needing to keep up my grades in Senior Year. Well, unfortunately, I let mine slip and in the first semester I got a D and a few more Bs than I normally do. Do I still have a chance of getting into college? I have already gotten into a couple of schools, but the ones I care about most have not given me a decision. Does getting bad grades your senior year make a difference?bad-grades-high-school

Answer:  Of course you still have a chance of getting into college, but there are a few things that you need to do. Before you start contacting colleges out of panic, think about what you want to say – what do you want to get across regarding your bad grades? Is there a legitimate reason for the drop or was it just early onset senioritis? Is the D in a class that is a required course or an elective? Is it a course you took to show your interest in a specific major? Sit down and logically reflect on the past six months and why you got this bad grade. This will help you to answer questions the admissions officers have in a clearer fashion. Also, have some options about how you can make up the course that you go a D in.

Get on the phone to the admissions offices where you have already been accepted. Do not be afraid. At this point, those colleges will not likely rescind an offer immediately. Call them first. Because you have already been accepted, they are more likely to be upfront with you about the situation. Be honest about what happened and take ownership where you need to. Nobody, especially admissions officers, will care to hear your excuses unless there are reasonable extenuating circumstances at play. Be crystal clear about the grades you got. It does not benefit you to be fuzzy in your language. You may feel that it is softening the blow, but it is worse down the road when the admissions officer figures out the situation is worse than anticipated. It is likely that you will be asked to send in your official transcript with a letter of explanation before the school will give you a decision on what will happen with the offer. That is okay. This is actually gives you some time to make sure that your grades this semester are stronger.

Then, write a letter to all schools where you applied. Do this because the schools that are still reading your application will likely take into account your first semester grades. The current drop will bring up doubts for them and you want to alleviate those doubts to the best of your ability. In your letter to the schools again clearly restate what happened. Discuss what you have learned from this situation and what you plan to do to rectify it. Offer to retake the course online or at a community college now or during the summer. Offer to send in a progress report or quarter grades if that will help. If it is a course you needed for a specific major, consider changing your major to something different. For example, if you got a D in a Physics course and put Engineering as your preferred major, the D is going to hurt you. It might make the difference between you getting in and not. However, if there are truly no other majors you would want to pursue, take your chance on engineering.

The most important thing you can do going forward is to spend more time on your academics. Keeping your grades up is your number one priority. Colleges are going to be paying extra close attention to these. If down the road you get accepted to a school that did not require a midyear report, do not wait to reach out to them. They will get your final report and can pull back decisions whenever they want. You would rather know earlier rather than later so that you can make alternative plans. The most important thing to know is that admissions officers are people and they want to help you so long as you are making an honest effort. So all is not lost. But please don’t ignore the situation. Own it and you have a better chance of preserving your offers.

Purvi S. Mody is co-owner of Insight Education, an educational consulting firm that helps students throughout the country and internationally to achieve their educational goals. Get in touch with her via email at or follow her on Twitter @InsightEduc.