You’ve probably already heard – it’s not just about the grades. The college admissions process has become more holistic over the years, where a 4.0 GPA doesn’t guarantee you admissions anywhere. With that being said, we’ll be real with you – if you have a ridiculously low GPA, your chances of getting into a selective college are slim to none. The good news is, regardless of which grade you’re in, there are strategies to increase your GPA.
Start strong: The majority of classes are still ahead of you, so get a solid start. Make sure you stay organized and build good study habits:
- Build relationships with teachers: Even if you’re not struggling on a subject, it never hurts to approach a teacher to talk about your progress or areas for improvement. In addition to getting guidance, the relationship you’ve built will pay off – for instance, if you’re doing poorly in a class, your teacher will be more inclined to help out. He/she could also be someone you potentially go to for a recommendation, or to talk you up to your school counselor.
- Don’t pull all-nighters: Don’t get into the habit of studying for tests the night before. Build a study schedule and make sure you stick to it.
- Address problems immediately: If you’ve already identified areas of weakness, don’t wait until your grades start slipping. Go to your teachers early for help on how to improve on your weaker subjects.
- Take classes seriously: Don’t skip classes and be an active participant in class. Pay attention and ask questions. You’ll absorb information more effectively this way, and you may just find that studying for tests will require less effort.
- Tutors or study groups: Regardless of your current performance, having a tutor or setting up a study group will be a big help in mastering a subject. Instead of just burying your nose in a book alone in the library, make studying an interactive process so you’re more likely to retain information.
Sophomore & Junior Year:
Take weighting into consideration: At most schools, some courses will be weighted – worth more points in terms of your GPA. On weighted scales, GPA often goes up to 5.0 to account for course difficulty. Make sure you have full visibility into which courses are weighted and which aren’t. Taking a long list of unweighted courses you don’t really need to could end up hurting you in the long run. And knowing which courses are weighted will help you prioritize which courses you need to be focusing on more.
It might sound counterintuitive, but getting a slightly lower grade in a harder, heavier weighted course can actually be worth more to your GPA. In addition, admissions committees want to see effort on your part. If you have stellar grades but have only been taking easy courses, it won’t be lost on them.
Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses: This might seem contradictory to the previous point, but if you’ve put in the effort but are still struggling on a certain subject, instead of dropping the course altogether, drop a level. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re pulling out your hair trying to ace a subject that simply isn’t a strength of yours.
Of course, don’t give up on a tough course and drop a level immediately, but if you are truly struggling even after putting in the hours, it may be time to cut your losses and go down a level. You’re likely to get a higher grade which will pull your GPA up – and take some weight off your shoulders.
Retake classes: Find out if your school allows for grade replacements, and make sure that the course you’re choosing to take will be approved beforehand. If so, you can opt to retake classes over the summer or during the school year. If you opt for summer school, plan ahead as classes fill up fast. Be strategic in this effort – of course, you’ll want to retake classes you did poorly on, but be sure that the course that you’re hoping will pull up your grade will be something you can succeed in.
Work with a teacher to repair a grade: This may not always be an option, but in some cases, a teacher will be willing to allow you to do some independent study/extra credit, giving you the opportunity to repair a grade. For instance, if you had a tough life circumstance and show that you’re eager to put in the work, a teacher may be open to letting you redo some work, or put in some additional assignments.
Focus on standardized tests: Realistically, it’s probably too late to bring up your GPA at this point – but that doesn’t mean it’s game over. Focus on pulling up your standardized test scores. You can retake the SAT or ACT up to the winter of your senior year if you’re applying to a college on regular decision. Many colleges still highly value standardized test scores as it allows them to compare applicants’ grades on a common scale. So if you pull those scores up enough, you’re still very much in the game.
Grades aren’t everything, but they do matter. With that being said, if your grades aren’t where you need them to be, there are other strategies other than just studying harder that you can be adopting. Make sure you have accurate information on hand to make smart decisions in your academic approach.
If you have doubts about the admissions process, check out some students’ frequently asked questions in our recent college admission requirements blog.