I Got a “C” in One of My Classes! Can I Still Get Into an Ivy League?

Grab a towel, and don't panic! A B or C won't sink your Ivy League application
Grab a towel, and don’t panic! A B or C won’t sink your Ivy League application

Hello readers! Today we’ll be talking about a topic we get asked quite frequently here at the Testmasters blog: “I got a B/C/D/F in one/two/three of my classes! Can I still get into an Ivy League?!” Fear not! We’re here to reassure you that a bad grade or two isn’t going to sink your application — as long as the grade is an anomaly, not a trend.

“I got a B in Underwater Basket Weaving! I have A’s in everything else, can I still get in?”

We first want to address the more mild of the cases we hear– a B. All of you shooting for Ivy League schools are undoubtedly gifted and highly motivated students, so earning a B in a class might come as a shock to you. However, Don’t Panic! Though you might think otherwise, a B is not in fact a bad grade. It’s an average one! I know most of you have excelled in school, so the mere word “average” might scare you off, but don’t let it. There’s no shame or fault in being average in certain respects, and Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, certainly don’t expect perfect students to be masters in every single subject. They just want high-achieving students who on average are excellent students. The emphasis is on “average” because remember your GPA? Remember how that stands for Grade Point Average? Yeah, it’s called that because schools want to see how you’re doing across the board, and as long as that GPA is generally pretty high, you don’t have to worry too much. You’ll still be okay with that B in Flower Crown Construction.

“I had a really bad semester and got a C/D/F in a class!”

Schools want to see your Grade Point *Average*. As long as the overall average is excellent, you're in the clear, even with the odd discrepancy or two.
Schools want to see your Grade Point *Average*. As long as the overall average is excellent, you’re in the clear, even with the odd discrepancy or two.

This is admittedly a more serious case than a simple B or two, but again, the advice here is to Not Panic! Admissions officers are human too, and, even in the Ivy Leagues, they understand that people make mistakes or that people have unfortunate circumstances that might have made a semester worse than is typical. The key here is to prove to admissions officers that the C was just a fluke and not indicative of your academic performance as a whole. Unfortunately, your GPA will take a bigger hit than if you earned a B, but again, your GPA tracks your performance across the years. If you can smooth out that bump in the road and pull your GPA back up by crushing your classes with A’s, everything will be okay! A single C or two won’t bar you from MIT or Stanford, but you have to prove to admissions counselors that you do have the knowledge and fortitude to attend their schools.

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“Should I mention why I got a B/C/D/F on my application?”

For B’s- NO. B’s again are not a huge deal, so if you make excuses for a B or two, you’re just going to sound neurotic. Relax about it!

For C’s/D’s/F’s- it depends. If you had a serious medical condition or a traumatic life experience, then I think it would be worth mentioning in whatever supplemental essays the schools offer, the ones that ask “Is there anything else you would like to talk about that you haven’t gotten a chance to already.” Succinctly explain what happened, but importantly, emphasize how you bounced back from this! It’s much better to read an essay about adversity and triumph than just adversity. However, it’s important to note that you SHOULD NOT write your primary essay on this event, unless it truly has had a life-shattering impact on how you developed. Especially in this case, if you choose to write your primary or cover essay on that, make sure to emphasize the triumph; don’t go into detail about the effect on your grades. Emphasize your strong suits, not your moment of weaknesses!

If you don’t have a good explanation for that bad grade, and no, having a bad teacher doesn’t count, just don’t mention it. It’s entirely possible that admissions officers won’t even notice a solitary C, especially if your GPA is relatively high. Remember that these admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications a day – they certainly don’t have enough time to carefully skim every single transcript, hawkishly looking for every single discrepancy. Though schools may use a computer program to flag applications with C’s or F’s, it’s unlikely that many do so, and as long as your overall GPA and SAT/ACT score are high, it likely won’t be a big deal.

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