Ask Test Masters – Can Extracurriculars Make Up For Low Grades?

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!
Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

Today’s Ask Test Masters question comes from YG who writes:

Hi! I am currently a sophomore in a high school that is located in a boring state, but is pretty competitive. It is well known in my area (other districts know about it) and is ranked in the top 100 in the nation (may be bound to change, its according to newsweek). I took AP Chemistry my freshman year, as well as 2 honors classes and band, but didn’t get that stellar of grades. This year, I am not doing band and taking 2 AP’s with 2 honors. I am in 2 competitive clubs and 1 “filler” club, and am in the process of founding 2 more clubs. I volunteer weekly at my local recreational center and retirement home. I still have the ACT to take, and obviously I still have my junior year left, where I am planning to take 6 AP/IB classes. To make up for some of my lacking scores, I am aiming to get the highest possible score on my ACT and take subject tests (Math 2, for one). My questions are:

1. Do all my extracurriculars help make up for the fact that each semester, my grades average all A’s and 1-2 B+’s? (the B+’s are in AP’s or honors) I am trying really hard to raise them and am doing pretty well second semester, and am doing pretty well..

2. I am not aiming for an Ivy League school, maybe more on the Duke/Brown/USC type of things. Do you think I have some potential?

3. Do SAT 2’s really help to show that I am trying to make up for my slightly lacking grades? Do you have any more tips for this?


Hi YG!

  1. To answer your first question, extracurriculars definitely supplement applications but they can’t necessarily make up for low grades, however, a B+ isn’t necessarily a “bad” grade for the schools you’re intending to apply to. If you shore up your academics and show that these 1-2 B+’s were outliers rather than a trend, admissions officers will be able to overlook these “blemishes” and view your application as a whole. Further, you have the right idea of doing well on your ACT since performance on standardized tests is a huge part of applying to competitive schools—put in a lot of work into studying and preparing for these tests so you can score as well as possible! In short, definitely keep up the work on your extracurriculars, though, but don’t let them impact your academic performance.
  2. As long as you keep up the good work and do well in your AP classes and standardized tests, you definitely have a shot at the Duke/USC type of school, though it must be noted that Brown is in fact an Ivy League school!
  3. SAT 2’s, also known as SAT Subject Tests, are absolutely there to prove to schools that you are capable and qualified in subjects beyond basic math/reading/writing. For the schools you’re applying to, Subject Tests are actually required, and most of these schools require at least two Subject Tests, though we highly recommend you take at least three. Since Subject Tests are essentially mini-AP exams, we suggest students take the associated Subject Test after completing the AP course since that material will be fresh on your mind at that point. You’ll still need to study and prepare for these tests like you would the ACT, but by taking the Subject Test immediately after the AP class, you’ll be more efficient in your preparations.
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Hope this helps, and good luck in your application!

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