Expert college admissions adviser Mark Montgomery answers the question keeping many high school students up at night: if you have bad grades, can you still get accepted to a great college?


Hi, I’m Mark Montgomery with some Great College Advice, and right now we’re going to answer that perennial question: if I have bad grades, can I still go to college?

I get a lot of questions on my blog, and none of them are more common than the question, “if my grades are bad, can I still go to college?” For example, recently I just received a comment from a boy named Christopher who wrote that he’s in his sophomore year, he got all As in his ninth grade year, but in sophomore year, he ran into some trouble. He got a couple of Bs, and he got a C in geometry, he’s panicked, he’s worried that he’s not going to be able to get into college, and it’s really stressing him out. But then I also have students like David, who really are stressed out, because David is a freshman in high school, he was a 4.0 student in middle school, and he’s got a 1.5 GPA right now in ninth grade. And he’s totally freaking out and feeling like his life is over.

Well, to go back to the question, “if my grades are bad, can I still go to college?” The answer is yes. In both of these cases, and in most cases, frankly, you can still go to college. Remind yourself that the average acceptance rate in the United States is almost 70% across all four-year colleges. So there is going to be a college out there that is going to want you and is going to pick you up and lift you up and give you the opportunity you need to be something great.

However, you also need to understand that when you do get bad grades, there are consequences. I mean, a 1.5 GPA is going to have an impact. But that impact can be easily mitigated if, David, you pick yourself up, you recognize that you’re not working as hard as you need to, and you get with the program. You begin to study and work hard and pull those grades up to the level you know, and probably your teachers and your parents also know, that you can actually do.

So don’t get depressed, don’t wallow in self-pity, pick yourself up and start doing what you need to do to get those decent grades. You know what to do. Make it happen. And depending on how far you go, that’s going to tell us in two to three years how colleges will reflect upon your freshman year. Why did that happen, temporary insanity, probably, but just know that you’re not doomed. Yes, will an Ivy League school pick you up with a 1.5 in your freshman year? Probably not. Will you sacrifice some scholarships at certain kinds of colleges that you may be interested in, merit-based scholarships? Maybe, depends on where you apply, and remember, 25 schools or so don’t give merit scholarships at all anyway, those are the Ivy Leagues, the Stanfords, the MITs of the world, and they’re only giving scholarships to those people who basically walk on water. But there are plenty of other schools who are going to look at you as somebody who made a mistake and made up for that mistake. So things are still possible for you. Again, no self-pity, just keep going.

Christopher, with your C in geometry, is that going to doom you? Well, no, just remind yourself that there are Davids out there who have it a lot worse than you do, but if this C is really bothering you, ask yourself, why did you get this C? What do you need to do differently so that you can make sure that you don’t get a C in the future? Or that maybe at the end of this semester you pull it up to a B, or better, to an A. So I don’t know exactly how to do that, but freaking out about college right now when you’re in ninth or tenth grade, that’s the wrong emphasis. The right emphasis is to ask yourself what is it that you need to do to pick up those grades, and then also ask yourself what is the end result that you’re asking for? If you’re asking to get into Stanford at this point, well, you know, Stanford is really tough for any human being to get into, so it’s a really competitive playing field.

But will you get into college? Will you get a decent education? Will you make something of yourself and go on to do terrific things? Sure. One day at a time. Start today, think about what’s necessary for you to pick up your grades, and go out and do it. And you know what? College is going to take care of itself. You’re going to be awesome. But first, get to work!

Published by Mark Montgomery

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.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Mark
    I am currently a sophomore and I have a dream of getting into MSU. My freshman year i ended with a 3.5 gpa, having 1 C first semester and a couple of B’s with some A’s as well. Second semester freshman year i ended with all A”s except for one B in Biology. My sophomore year i decided to challenge myself and take challenging courses, I ended with a B- in Pre-AP geometry and a C in AP world History, and the rest B+/A- and my gpa at the end of the first semester went down to a 3.44. If i keep all A’s (and around A’s) this semester and get my gpa up by the end of the year, and keep getting high grades throughout junior and senior year, and score well on the SAT, would it be possible for me to get in MSU? Any advice helps! thanks!

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