If My Grades Are Bad, Can I Still Go To College?

The short answer is yes.  I’ve worked with a number of students who had bad grades in high school, but went on to do well in college.  I’ve also worked with a few, however, who weren’t quite ready for prime time.

So while the answer is yes, a student with bad grades can still go to college, there are other questions that we must consider to determine the best course of action for a student with low grades.

if I get bad grades can I still go to collegeFirst of all, why are your grades so poor?  Is it because you experienced some sort of traumatic event early in high school that has colored your experience?  For example, students who lose a parent or sibling may lose focus in high school, and their performance may suffer.  Illness also can have a negative impact on one’s academic performance:  missing a lot of school can make it difficult to keep up.

However, if your grades reflect poor choices on your part, it’s going to be harder to convince an admissions officer that you’re really college material.  If you skip class, neglect to hand in assignments, or refuse to study for tests, perhaps continuing with school is not really something you want to do.  I’ve had some students tell me that they really want to go to college, but that they really hate school.  I have to remind them that college is, in fact, school.

And this fact leads to some other troubling facts.  Generally only slightly more than half of students who start a four-year degree complete it—even within six years.  While there are many reasons for which students may not complete their Bachelors degree, students with poor academic records in high school are among the least likely to graduate from college.  In fact, if you graduate at within the bottom 25% of your high school class, you HAVE an X chance of completing your Bachelor’s.

Before you lose heart, remember that these are aggregate statistics, and you may well be one of the people who beats the statistical odds.  Still, you need to consider carefully whether more school is really your best route to success—or whether you should consider other routes.

Certainly the structure of university life is very different from the more rigid structures of secondary school, but you will still be expected to do your homework, attend lectures and labs, study for tests, and write research papers.  And whereas high schools are pretty much required to let you keep coming back to class despite your poor performance, a college or university can throw you out if you refuse to do the academic work.

Thus it is crucial for you to consider whether your current poor choices really will change once you arrive on a college campus.  Or, if you were one of those students who suffered some sort of personal setback, extenuating circumstance, or other difficulty, you might want to ask whether the circumstances have changed enough for you to refocus yourself academically and perform better in the future.

Assuming that you have made the decision to pursue college despite your lackluster transcript, or that your circumstances have changed enough for you to succeed, then you need to consider which educational path will be the best for you.

 

Your choices may be more limited than those of an academically focused student.  But you still have choices.

 

Start at a Community College

Most community colleges have “open enrollment” policies, whereby anyone—regardless of academic history—can enroll.  You may be asked to take a basic placement test in English and mathematics to ensure that you have the fundamental skills to do college-level work.  Those who perform poorly on these tests will be asked to take some remedial work before starting college-level work.  But if you can pass these placement tests, then you’re off and running.

Community colleges also are much less expensive than four-year colleges, generally speaking.  Therefore if you are worried about whether you really can improve your performance in college, then it makes sense to spend a bit less money to prove to yourself that you are ready and that you can succeed.

The best thing about starting at a community college is that many, many courses are automatically transferable to your state’s four-year institution.  Thus you can conceivably take all your general education requirements at the community college and transfer to your state college or university without losing any credits.  Of course, you will need to research exactly which credits are transferable and which are not.  But if you perform well (and perhaps even complete your Associates degree) at the community college, you will find that you have become a highly desirable candidate for admission—even at competitive colleges and universities that would never have even considered you at the end of your (less than stellar) high school career.

One example of how community colleges can be the gateway to a four year college is in Massachusetts, where community colleges are offering pre-engineering Associates degrees that are easily transferred not only to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but also to Northeastern University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Western New England College.

Thus even students with poor high school grades may be able to graduate from their state flagship university—or even a selective private university.  For example, I worked with a student whose high school record was very poor, and whose parents refused to pay for anything more than community college.  Their philosophy is that their son had squandered four years of cost-free public high school, and they were unwilling to pay for him to continue to make bad choices.  They did tell him, however, that if he earned his Associates degree from the local community college—at his own expense—that they would pay for whatever four-year college he would accept him.  At the end of two years, he got into a selective, private university as a transfer student.  His Bachelor’s diploma bears the name of that four-year university.  Only people who know him well have any idea that barely graduated from high school with a D average!

 

Attend a Less-Selective Four-Year College or University

Many public and private colleges and universities that are relatively forgiving of a poor high school record.  In fact, the vast majority of colleges and universities in the US accept 75% or more of the students who apply.  In order to admit you in good conscience, however, it will be critical for you to convince the admissions people that your circumstances have changed, that you have mended your ways, and that your past choices will not determine those that you will make in the future.

Some colleges also specialize in assisting these “diamonds in the rough” or “late bloomers.”  They provide extra academic support, and may have more requirements (including, for example, taking attendance in lectures).  Other colleges may accept students on a provisional or probationary basis:  you are accepted on the assumption that you will maintain your grades at a certain level—or else you will be asked not to return for the next semester.

if I get bad grades can I still go to collegeFor students with learning differences that have had a marked negative impact on their academic performance will want to make sure they apply to schools that can help them to develop strategies for future success.  These schools have learning specialists, adaptive technologies, professional tutors, and many other resources that can help ensure academic success.

Students with weak academic histories who elect to go directly to a four-year college need to be especially careful in choosing an appropriate college.  They also need to be brutally honest with themselves about how the relative lack of daily structure, the increased expectations of personal responsibility, and the existence of countless campus distractions and temptations all may conspire to lure students into a continuation of their bad choices.  Students who really want to change bad habits will need to pick colleges that will help them stay on the straight and narrow.

By the same token, it is also important to keep in mind that it can be hard to go “cold turkey” into a life of stoic, academic asceticism.  If you cannot find ways to balance a bit of fun with serious academic study, then you are likely to become unhappy—and you may not stick with college long enough to complete your degree—and achieve your goals.

 

Take Some Time Out

If high school has not been successful for you, perhaps you need to take some time out to work, travel the world, or otherwise get your act together.  Many students have a difficult time seeing the direct relevance of academic work to their lives.  They are confused about their direction in life, and they may not be listening to the adults in their lives who harp at them about the importance of a college education.

I often recommend a gap year or interim experience for students for who do want to continue their education, but who are not really ready to dedicate themselves to more classroom time, more homework assignments, and more final exams.  Taking a gap year (or two) can be a very healthy alternative for some students, especially if they take the time and effort to plan their year.  Planning is key:  the difference between stopping out and dropping out is a well-conceived plan.

What you do depends on your imagination and your interests.  For example, you may decide to focus on the world of work by pursuing an internship or apprenticeship.  For example, Dynamy, in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a well-regarded year-long internship experience to help students gain experience and explore possible career paths.  Others may choose to perform community services, through organizations such as City Year or AmeriCorps.  Even taking some time to be a ski bum (perhaps earning a ski instructor’s certification from Flying Fish) can give a student the time and space to figure out how a college education fits into their own priorities.

The military, too, can serve as a solid plan for taking time out from school.  You can learn valuable skills, train for a profession, and serve your country. And then, once you are ready for college, the government will help you pay for it.

But what will colleges think if you don’t go directly from high school to college?  Colleges are happy to accept older, more directed students.  As we have discussed, about half of students who start college complete their degrees in six years.  If you apply after a year or two of work experience, travel, or internships, you will be more mature and more directed as you enter college.  From the college’s perspective, you are probably more likely to complete your degree than the pea-green freshman who has no idea what he wants out of college.

As an example, every year my alma mater profiles non-traditional students who are admitted to Dartmouth.  I had several classmates who were much older than I, who had been in the military, or who had spent a few years building log cabins, who had focused on their athletic abilities for a while, who had established their own business, or who had just bummed around until they figured out how a college education fit into their personal goals.  Sometimes—and for some people—taking time out between high school and college can be a wise choice.

So to come back to our original question, even the student with poor grades in high school still has a shot at a college education.  The American educational system allows for second chances:  it’s not completely unusual to hear of people in their 80s and 90s who finally achieve their goal of a college education.  Your high school grades may make it impossible for you to walk a straight line right into college.  But if you make good choices, develop some self-discipline, and set goals for yourself, you can attain all your goals—and more.

 

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant

 

Technorati Tags: Del.icio.us Tags:

About the Author

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

178 Responses to “If My Grades Are Bad, Can I Still Go To College?”

  1. Mark Montgomery says:

    Dear Sadi,
    I like your attitude. Good luck to you!
    Mark

  2. Mark Montgomery says:

    Excellent. Best of luck as you apply to the UCs.
    Mark

  3. Carlos says:

    Hi my name is Carlos, I haven’t been doing good from my freshman year all the way to my junior year, but I’m doing really good my senior year. The problem is that I go to a continuation school so I don’t know how this can affect my chances of getting into a university, but I think it might make my chances of getting into a university slim, and i didn’t take the PSAT during my junior year but hope to take the SAT this year. If anyone with knowledge can reply to this comment and provide me with a little bit of information is greatly appreciated!

  4. Mark Montgomery says:

    Dear Carlos, Keep up the good work. At this point, I think your best bet is to continue your hard work in school and continue to pull those grades up. Also, make sure when you take the SAT or ACT tests that you are fully prepared for them. Then I suggest going to speak to your guidance counselor at your school as the first line of inquiry. Your chances of getting into university improve as your academics improve. College, after all, is a school, and admissions folks want to know how well you are doing in school now (sounds obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised at how many students think that they can go to college without performing in high school…). Anyway, try talking to your counselor and teachers first, and then if you need more personalized help, let me know.
    Best of luck!
    Mark

  5. Malik says:

    In high school, I was in honors classes and did pretty good. But my last year, I got a D in Algebra 2 the first semester, and a D in Chemistry 2nd semester. I graduated from high school at 15 and now I’m getting A’s in college. I was looking at MIT to see the requirements and it says to give the high school transcript and college transcript. I’m afraid that if they see my two bad grades in high school, that I will be instantly ignored. Any advice?

  6. Haley says:

    Hi my name is Haley and I was wondering if colleges will accept someone who did poorly their first 2 years of high school but then transferred to a continuation high school and is doing well there? I transferred because I was behind in credits will they look at that and not accept me? I’m also the first of my family that actually wants to continue in school and have wanted to go to a four-year college but so many things have gone through my head because I feel like I won’t be good enough for a college due to my poor grades. I want to become a veterinarian but I just think that’s out of reach do you think it’s possible for me to become one?

  7. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Haley.
    Good for you for turning yourself around. It takes a lot of courage and effort to make these sorts of changes. Many four year colleges and universities will look at you favorably. They want to see a positive trend in your grades, and it sounds like you have one. I wouldn’t despair at this point. You just need to make sure that your teacher recommendations and your counselor recommendations are able to point to your 180-degree turn. Depending on where you apply, you may also want to write a quick note about how you made these decisions and to point to your progress. Don’t whine, but just express pride in having made the change!
    Best of luck to you.
    Mark

  8. Mark Montgomery says:

    Well, Malik, as you know, MIT is among the most competitive universities in the world. Are you considering transferring to MIT or going there for graduate school? I won’t say that MIT will reject you out of hand: it all depends on what else you’ve done in college besides earn good grades. But I also think you need to look around at other possible options. Again, I’m not the one to make decisions. But remember, you will be competing with students who have pristine transcripts and perfect test scores. The pool of global talent is incredibly deep. So go ahead and shoot for your dream, but make sure you have plenty of alternative plans in place in case admission to MIT doesn’t work out.
    All the best,
    Mark

  9. Michael says:

    Hi my name is Michael and I’m freshman my first quarter I got A’s B’s and C’s in AP classes but this quarter I got that and 1 D if I get better grades from here on out how will that affect me getting into a University?

  10. Kim says:

    Hi Mark, My son was a good student fr/sph yrs and attended a smaller catholic all boy high school. He decided to transfer to a larger public coed school for his junior year. Shortly after the transfer he was in an altercation with another boy (who started the altercation) after watching a high school football game and was stabbed 4 times (in the chest, back and arm) in front of alot of other students from the school. Doctors told us he was lucky to be alive. It was a very rough year for him for the rest of the school year. He couldn’t focus on school at all and his grades suffered, but he did end up with at least a C average for the year. He decided to transfer back to the smaller catholic school his senior year and his focus and grades have gotten much better. He did not want to discuss this in his college essay for fear of being judged as a bad kid (i.e., he brought it on himself kind of thing) but now his top choice for college this year has asked him for a better explantion of his poor jr yr grades. If he doesn’t give it he won’t get in but he is still afraid of being judged. Do you think there is any validity to his concerns? Any advice you might have for him on how to approach this statement would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

  11. Danie says:

    I’ve done pretty good with my grades for a majority of my life always getting high A’s and B’s. But I ended up receiving a D+ for the first term and a C+ for the 2nd term of Spanish 2 of my sophmore year (we’re on block schedule). That was my only bad grade I received besides recieving 2 A’s and 1 B+ in the same semester period with 2 of the 4 classes being college course and honors. I’m working hard this current 2nd semester of sophmore year, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to go to a UC any more due to that one grade. I understand I need to retake the class once more but will this affect my college career? I’m planning to take computer technology and computer engineering and I really wanted to go to UC San Diego. Will I have to go to a community college first then transfer out into a university? How badly will this grade affect me?

  12. Breanna says:

    Hi, Mark. The names Breanna. Here’s my situation. I slacked off my freshmen year, but I’ve buckled down once I hit sophmore year. My grades improved during sophmore year from D’s and F’s (Freshmen year) to 1 A, couple B’s, and the rest C’s. At the end of my sophmore year I transferred over from the high school to the JEH which is a continuation school, and I am currently a junior now. It’s been over a year since I’ve transferred. I’ve excelled ahead in all my subjects, including my peers and I’ve come to find out that I’m graduating early in the fall of 2014, but here’s my problem. Recently about a few months ago, I came across a university online called T.U.J = Tokyo University Japan, out of the country. I fell in love with their college. My heart was already set on that one University, nothing else. This past week I’ve been corresponding with some of the admission counselors on their website so that I could get more in touch with T.U.J. Basically their helping me guide myself in the right direction ( T.U.J) and by that I mean their trying to help me apply/ enroll, but what they don’t know is that I slacked my freshmen year. I don’t want that to effect my chances of getting in T.U.J when they take a look at my transcript from freshmen year because i’ve changed since my freshmen year. My life revolves around school now. I actually love school to the point where I can’t put down those text books. I want to learn so much more beyond my ability and my potential when it comes to my education and I know T.U.J is the college for me. I’m registering for the SAT’s by next weak, and I intend on studying hard core for the next 3-4 months. I’ll be taking the test in May. All in all, I want this one and only test to show throughout my years in high school just how much I have learned. This is my dream Mark. I finally know what I want in life. I need at least some advice to reassure myself that I do have a chance of studying in Japan. Also, I know colleges look at more than just your transcript. Not only have I improved with my grades, but I have also volunteered for clubs, community involvement, ect . throughout middle and high school. I’ve also played sports growing up. I have received recommendations, awards, medals, ect . . . Could this increase my chances of getting in? Thank you for your time Mark.

  13. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Michael,
    I don’t think you really need me to tell you that a D is not going to be very helpful in getting into university. Even C’s can be a barrier to getting into the most competitive universities. But even if you are not aiming for those most selective universities, lower grades will reduce your chances of getting merit scholarships at your preferred schools. That said, a couple of lower grades will not keep you out of college altogether. But the better you perform, the broader your options and the lower the cost you may have to shell out to pay for your higher education. (Think of it this way: high grades are like money in the bank–and potentially LOTS of money).

    The fact is that your grades are the single most important element of your college application. When it comes to scholarships, your SAT or ACT scores will also be a very important factor.

    So put your nose to the grindstone, get the help you need from whomever can offer it (especially teachers) and get those grades up. You’re only in 9th grade, so you have plenty of time to recoup lost ground. Show an upward trend, and all will be fine.

    Best of luck to you, Michael!

    Mark

  14. Mark Montgomery says:

    Dear Kim,
    Thanks for your message. What an awful, awful experience. The short answer is that your son needs to explain the entire incident, focused on the facts (remember Joe Friday from “Dragnet”? “Just the facts ma’am.”). Your son is right in one thing: he will be judged. But he has a much better chance of being judged positively if he presents the entire case with all the facts. If he hides the facts, well, then he’ll be judged a weak, inattentive student who may not be college-ready. This incident will continue to affect his life for a long time to come. But he cannot run away from it or hide it. Being honest about about the factors–good and bad–that influence our lives can only help your son create opportunity for himself, and perhaps heal a bit on the inside, as well.
    Good luck to you and your son.
    Mark

  15. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi Breanna. Thanks for writing.
    Let’s cut to the chase: what is your alternative to sharing your transcript with TUJ? I know you’re afraid of rejection. We all are. But the facts are the facts, and in those facts one can spin them both positively and negatively. You have given me the positive spin, and I daresay that the folks at TUJ will probably like the positive spin, too. You realized the errors of your ways and you get your act together. So keep up your hopes, work hard, and don’t be afraid. You will have to give TUJ your transcript. Again, what’s the alternative? Seems to me you are doing all the right things.

    Except one. You are infatuated with a single college. You have no Plan B. You are putting all your hopes and dreams in one place: all your eggs are in the same basket. This is dangerous, and I think this is probably part of your worry, right? What if it doesn’t work out?

    Well, I can tell you that there are several other universities in Japan that offer programs for English speaking students. In fact, the Japanese government has recently placed a priority to attract overseas students, and you may find that some of these government sponsored programs are actually cheaper than TUJ. And maybe even better (some are at Tokyo University, which is considered the equivalent of UC-Berkeley or U Michigan in Japan).

    So keep up the good work, the focus, the academic energy. Don’t give up on TUJ. But develop a Plan B.

    Best wishes,

    Mark

  16. Mark Montgomery says:

    Dear Danie,
    Thanks for writing in. I think you understand your own situation quite well. You have earned some poor grades that will have an impact on your college choices. It it not, however, a foregone conclusion that the choice is binary: UCSD or community college. Rather, much depends on what happens from here on out. You may have to retake the course, but you will also have to do very well in it. You will also have to work harder to improve the rest of your grades. You have discovered–perhaps early enough–that these things matter. Not only do they matter for admission, but they matter with regard to the COST of your higher education. I tell my students that they should put a dollar price tag on those A grades: they are worth thousands and thousands in reduced costs for your higher education. Conversely, a D is like throwing money down the sewer.
    It’s too early to say whether your performance in 10th grade will bar you from UCSD. You will definitely have to develop a Plan B. But I wouldn’t throw in the towel and say that your only other option is community college. Keep zeroed in on your dream, keep your nose to the grindstone, pull up those grades, and who knows what might happen?
    Best of luck!
    Mark

  17. Breanna says:

    much thanks mark. Regarding the plan B, my mom mentioned that when I talked about T.U.J a couple weeks ago and that plan B is set in motion. My plan B is to enroll as a high school student at the J.C in Santa Rosa, California which happens to be a community college who accepts students like myself with transcripts like mine. ( No need to share with you whats on my transcript) Instead I’ll be attending the J.C for a year or two ( aiming for a 3.0-4.0 and that will reflect my chances of getting in even higher because i’ll have that taste of college life, (prepared) not only that but It’ll look outstanding on my college transcript as opposed to my high school transcript. ) I’ll be studying Japanese at the J.C. Right there and then I’ll have learned the language without having to learn/study it in Japan, but I can further my education in Japanese once I transfer from the J.C. to T.U.J. I’ve also taken in consideration referring to the 2 colleges that offers the same curriculum for English speaking students (like me) Good to know it’s alot cheaper. I can afford to get in a lot sooner than T.U.J. which would probably have taken me years just to save up. You have helped me, big time. I still have alot of thinking to do. Just like majors, when it comes to making up my mind with colleges, I always change my mind. There’s a chance that I could change my mind with T.U.J., but for right now I’m just going with the flow. Thanks again Mark.

  18. Madsion says:

    Hello! I’m Madison, and I am stressing OUT! I am a Sophomore in high school, and I am enrolled in all of the AP and honors classes available to me this year. While I got a 3.95 last year (Damn you, A-!) This year, I got an F in one of my AP classes! I was out for a week before the end of the term because of an illness, and I was able to make up all of my grades, except that one! I have been getting A’s and B’s in all of my other classes, but this is my lowest grade EVER! I have been working my whole life to make it into the AF academy, however, I am really afraid that they will not let me in with this low grade on my transcript. Do you think they will still accept me? Or should I just start thinking about other options? Assuming I get A’s throughout the rest of my high school career, do you think they would still accept me? Thank you,
    Madison

  19. Kinara says:

    hie.. my name is kainara, i would like to know if i can go to college with O’levels, i am still doing my O2 and i’m not doing as well as i would like. I am scared of when i finish my last exams this november i might not be able to get in college because of my grades. I want to do marketing and promotion in denmark, and i was wondering if i am going to be accepted. i have no one to ask about this please can you help me.

  20. Salvador says:

    Im a freshman in Roosevelt high school in Fresno,California and i was wondering if it would be hard for me to get into a university to become a cop if i had a F in English and D+ in geometry the 3rd quater. i had bad grades because i was in the hospital about 2 months. i ahd mist alot and i dint realy new what to do in math when they took tests or things. could you give me any advice please mark

  21. Salvador says:

    Im a freshman in Roosevelt high school in Fresno,California and i was wondering if it would be hard for me to get into a university to become a cop if i had a F in English and D+ in geometry the 3rd quater. i had bad grades because i was in the hospital about 2 months. i ahd mist alot and i dint realy new what to do in math when they took tests or things. could you give me any advice please mark. also could i still graduate from high school

  22. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hello, Kinara,
    Thanks for your comment. I don’t think you should give up. If you want a more specific evaluation of your prospects, I’d need much more information about your performance. I assume that you are also interested in attending university in the US. Let me know if I can be of more specific assistance.
    Mark

  23. Mark Montgomery says:

    You’re welcome, and best of luck!

  24. Mark Montgomery says:

    Dear Salvador,
    The question as to whether you will graduate high school depends on the policies of your high school. My bet is that you will have to retake the English in order to get credit for four years of English. So summer school may be in your future. You might also want to try to retake the geometry for an improved grade. Your illness obviously had an impact, and that will be something you can explain on a college application. But the bigger issue is making up for your deficits. Colleges will want to see not only the explanation for those bad grades (illness), but they also will want to see how you responded to those setbacks. Did you pick yourself up, dust yourself, and start over? Did you get grades of A and B when you retook the class? How did you perform in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades? Were these grades truly an aberration? If so, you need to prove it to them by the decisions you make going forward. Don’t give up. Instead, dig in and prove that these grades do not define you. If you can do that, you’ll be just fine when it comes time to apply to university.
    Good luck, Salvador.
    Mark

  25. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Madison.
    I’m having trouble understanding why an A student who missed a single week of school received an F in an AP class. What did you get on the AP exam? This background information is important, as it goes to the heart of your question. An aberrant grade may not kill your chances at the USAFA. But it depends on why you received it and what you did about it. Is the F a quarter grade, or a semester grade? Or a full course grade? Again, I’m missing some information here that would help me assess your situation. Don’t give up hope or let stress ruin your attitude toward school. Rather, think about “what can I do to make up for that F?” What was the subject? Will you have to retake any credits to graduate (you don’t mention which subject this was in)? Anyway, let me know if I can help further.
    Best,
    Mark

  26. Gabriel says:

    Hi, I’m a junior in high school and for the past three years, my grades have not been the best. I think, since I’ve started high school, I’ve gotten one maybe two A’s on my report card. The highest grade I can manage is a high C, and I have to work really hard to be able to manage it. My grades usually range from C’s to F’s and both low to high D’s.

    For the past few years, I’ve been struggling with depression because of my family. I’m a queer teenage boy and my family doesn’t accept me at all. We fight about it a lot, and they haven’t even tried to get me into therapy(which they said they would do). I’ve read that you can include a note on college applications explaining your bad grades, and I was wondering if that’s an explanation they’d accept. I need to get into a college that offers LGBTQ+ support, and I’m absolutely terrified that, because of my grades, I won’t be able to.

    If I were to include both the fact that I suffer from depression as well as the importance of me getting into a school that offers LGBTQ+ support, and I also work hard to clean up my act in school before college, do you think I’d have a chance?

    I realize this is an uncommon thing to ask for help with, and I’m not too sure if this is the place to ask. If you are unable to come up with an answer, I understand completely. Thank you so much for even reading this.

  27. Mark Montgomery says:

    Dear Gabriel,

    Thanks for writing. I’m happy to try to respond as best I can.

    First, you have to separate the issues as best you can. Clearly your family struggles and your personal struggles with depression and your efforts to embrace your sexual identity loom large in your mind and heart right now. Whether or not your parents are able or willing to provide you with support and therapy, you need to do what you can to access resources in your community that can help you. Try to identify allied adults in your school who might be able to provide ideas. Do a web search on LGBTQ community centers in your city or state, and connect with them (some have youth support groups). Write notes like the one you wrote to me for more ideas of free resources that can help you attain a level of mental and emotional equilibrium. If you are not feeling safe, secure, and accepted, it might be hard focus on the school work. So continue to be a self-advocate. Your message to me is a step in the right direction; however, your difficulties in this domain lie outside my expertise. I encourage you to reach out to others who can help in this area better than I.

    When it comes to academics, you can look at things in two ways. First, clearly your non-academic difficulties spill over into your academic life. How could they not? However, the two issues are not inextricably linked. If you have educational ambitions, you need to do what you can to martial the energy–and the resources–necessary to help you achieve these goals. Like it or not, colleges will judge you by your past performance. However, your past performance is not determinant. You have some time to redeem yourself by hitting the books. Talk to your teachers. Tell them you want to improve academically, and that you would like to enlist their help–and promise to bring more focus to your school work. A school counselor might also be an ally (depending on your school and your community). Just as with your personal life, you need to give your academic life the attention it deserves. Again, I realize that the two are linked in some ways, but perhaps you can try to decouple them a bit. Your brain is your brain: no matter your sexual identity, you can use it to your advantage and prove to the world that your sexuality is not the single defining characteristic of who you are as a human being. I know it will be hard, but a bit of mental compartmentalization might be helpful to you (easier said than done, I realize!).

    As for your application, you can certainly do some explaining about your academic past. You would not be the first queer applicant at any American university, and certainly not the first to have faced such struggles. College campuses are relatively tolerant and forgiving places. However, your sexuality or identity does not get you into college. Your academic record gets you into college. So if you want to get in, you’ll have to provide _academic_ evidence that you are capable. My guess is that you are capable, but that all your struggles have been tossed together into one, big, messy bowl of hash. You may have to focus first on your mental state before you can focus on the academics. But all things are possible if you believe in yourself and learn to be a good self-advocate.

    It’s not too late for you to pull things together. It won’t be easy. Again, you will need to find some allies at school (on the faculty or administration) and you will have to buckle down and improve your grades. If you are able to do so within the next year, college may be possible. Even if you have difficulty in this short time, there is always community college and a chance to start over.

    My bottom line, Gabriel, is this: don’t give up. On yourself. On your abilities. On college. On the possibility of improvement in all aspects of your life. As Dan Savage and the It Gets Better Project highlights, it does get better with time. Get your head and heart together. Find other allies like me who are closer to you and who can provide more specific support. Try to forgive your parents their difficulties in accepting you (I know that can be hard). And if I can be of further help, send me a note through my contact page. Maybe I can help direct you to some resources in your community that can be helpful to you.

    Thanks again for your comment, Gabriel. You are not as alone as you might think.

    Best,
    Mark

Leave a Comment