Admissions Success With Poor, Mixed Academic Record
Can a student with a mixed academic record (we’re talking A’s to F’s) in a tough curriculum (AP, IB, Honors) justify that record (due to illness, family issues, etc.)? What if balanced with high standardized test scores? In other words, can a student with such a mixed academic background find a path to admission to your college/university — and if so, generally how must it be accomplished?
If you’ve had some academic troubles while in high school, have lower than expected test scores, or otherwise do not fit the profile of the college of your choice, don’t give up all hope — especially if there have been outside factors that contributed to your mixed record. But when applying to colleges, be sure to put the record in context by fully explaining your situation so that admissions folks have a better understanding of the student you could be in college.
Here are the answers to this question from each member of our panel:
Jay Murray, Marist College
It is tough to make it through the application process at a selective institution with a mixed record. Illness and family issues are considered but students have to understand that they are competing against other student who may have had the same problems but still excelled. At a selective institution most applicants are equally strong. The student with the mixed record pales in comparison. A student who overcame an obstacle and still has the great grades is even more attractive to the committee. We expect the applicant to have AP, IB, and Honors level courses. A student with mixed grades (A’s to F’s) is simply weaker than the students who have A’s and B’s in the same courses. High standardized test course are good to see, but when the committee sees low grades we automatically assume the student was lazy or unmotivated in high school. It is much better to have a super high GPA in advanced level course with a subpar SAT/ACT score than the opposite.
Karen Copetas, Western Washington University
We offer every applicant a comprehensive review regardless of academic record. This review, along with input from counselors and teachers, allows us to discover the “hidden gems,” students whose academic record does not reflect their true ability and potential for success in college. Every year we admit a handful of students that have grade point averages significantly below our average. The reasons for admitting these students are all over the board — exceptional course selection, personal challenges, positive grade trend, etc.
The most important step students with inconsistent or poor academic performance can take is to give us the information we need to understand their record. Whenever we are making an admissions decision, we are asking ourselves “can this student be successful at Western?” In the case of a student with a mixed or poor academic record, our response may be “no” or “maybe;” the burden of the student is to show us otherwise in the course of his/her personal essay.
Daniel C. Walls, Emory University
There are no guarantees in highly selective admissions. Certainly an applicant, with the help of his/her counselor and teachers can provide context for why there may be gaps in an application file. Each year there are cases where there are compelling reasons to admit a student who does not have grades or scores that perfectly match our averages. Again, it is important to emphasize that this is a subjective process involving real people reading each application. Bottom line — if you don’t explain yourself in these situations, how will the admission committee know the real story?
Tracy Manier, St. Edward’s University
The St. Edward’s University admission application encourages students to submit a personal statement, if there is anything further in their academic or personal records that they would like to elucidate. A student with a mixed academic record most certainly should take the time to shed light on the underlying reasons for or the background to their record. St. Edward’s admission staff read every document submitted for each application and carefully considers the merits and weaknesses of an application in totality. There are times when a mixed academic record is justifiable and a student is granted admission. It is really a case-by-case basis, upon which these decisions are made.
Certainly it is better that a student with a mixed academic record have strong test scores rather than low test scores. However, test scores are often markers of a student’s ability and if a student has strong test scores, he or she will be expected to have worked at their level of ability. High test scores and low grades could indicate a lack of academic motivation. Conversely, if a student has mediocre test scores but an excellent academic record, this could be an indicator that the student is working above his or her ability level.
However, there are other important points to be considered, when balancing a student’s test scores with their academic record. It is important to consider the quality of the school that the student attends, and it is important to consider how well the student has done relative to his or her peers. Grading scales, curriculum opportunities, class rank and other factors serve as the background to a student’s academic record.
It is possible that a student with a mixed academic record could successfully gain admission. However, it is critical that such a student submit a detailed personal statement, providing insight into his or her unique circumstances. Personal statements that reveal a high level of maturity are more impressive and meaningful. For example, in some cases, it’s important that students accept responsibility for past failures and recognize that such failures are, in part, attributable to their own poor choices or lack of motivation. Due to vast discrepancies in academic quality between schools, it is our goal to put a student’s test scores and academic record into a context that will allow us to judge the applicant holistically.
Karen Guastelle, Sacred Heart University
A student with a mixed academic record can find their way into a college or university, but must do some additional work to prove that they are worth the risk. My recommendation is to begin with a few strong letters of recommendation and perhaps a phone call from their guidance counselor to the student’s admissions counselor. I also strongly suggest a personal interview, alumni or on-campus, if the school allows it to explain the mixed record and to show the student’s seriousness in attending that particular institution. I would also caution the student not to use the excuses too much, but rather mention them, how it affected the student, what he/she learned and how they will use that experience once in college to become a more solid student. High test scores could be a benefit at some schools and yet at other schools without an all-around strong profile it may not benefit the student. The student needs to convince the interviewer/school that this pattern will not continue.
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