Ask Test Masters – Bad Grades & AP Credits

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Ask Test Masters is a free information service offered by the college admission experts at College Compass. Reader Cynthia has a question about how bad grades early on in her high school career might impact her chance of admission to an Ivy League school. Cynthia writes,

“Hello, I love your blog by the way! I have a question. In 9th grade and the first semester of 10th grade I got a high C and failed a couple of [classes], but then made up all of the courses I failed and took AP classes on them and scored A+ on the tests, and actually became valedictorian. I also went to the world championship for taekwondo and won first place two years straight in other countries, and took model UN and debate and went to a debate competition and I volunteered for the UN. Do I have a chance to get into any ivy league?”

Dear Cynthia,

Certainly, taking AP classes in topics that you previously struggled with is a great way to demonstrate to admission officers that you are not afraid of a challenging course load. However, you have to keep in mind that there will be thousands of other applicants who did not struggle early on in their academic career. When you are being compared to these other applicants, an admission decision will ultimately be based on your final transcript.

So, the answer to your question is, as it usually is, “it depends.” In this case, it depends on your school’s policy for making up classes and how those makeups are reflected on your transcript. Every school, or more accurately every school district, will have its own policy when it comes to this; some schools will simply substitute your new grade with your previous grade, others might factor both grades into your cumulative GPA, and other schools will have other policies and practices.

The question here is what will your final transcript look like?

Essentially, if your school substitutes your previous bad grades with the grades you received after making up the course, then you have nothing to worry about; otherwise, if your transcript does indicate that you struggled early on in your academic career, then you will be in a position where you will need to explain your earlier struggles and demonstrate you have overcome them (you have already partly accomplished this by taking AP classes in these topics, but being in the position where you have to explain yourself puts you at a significant disadvantage).

All that aside, you should be congratulated for graduating from high school as valedictorian; it is an impressive accomplishment, as are your other extracurricular activities. Earning worldwide recognition for your talent in one particular activity or endeavor is exactly the kind of dedication and passion that competitive, top tier schools look for. You should be proud of your academic and athletic accomplishments regardless of whether or not you are admitted to an Ivy League school.

If you are desperately seeking peace of mind, then you should schedule a meeting with your high school guidance counselor. He or she should be able to explain to you the exact implications and consequences, as they relate to your transcript, of making up classes.

Hope this helps!

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