Reader Question: Will One Bad Semester Kill Me?

Reader and high school senior Gigi has submitted a college admissions question likely shared by many students in her position:

during my senior year in high school (last year), my parents decided that they wanna move to bakersfield, [California]... and that decision pretty much just ruined my senior year in high school... my grades dropped... my GPA was, i think, about 2.0... or even lower... not sure...

i was a complete stranger in a new school, with no friends whatsoever... it really affected my life and grades...

i'm wondering if i'm even eligible for college...

Terrific question, Gigi.

Remember that college admissions committees are not full of robots. They are real people who genuinely want to work with you to help you succeed. Since you had a tough senior year in high school, that is something you will want to address in your personal statement. Talk about the difficulties associated with moving to a new place, and then explain that you feel that you are ready to return to your academics and excel again. If you discuss your situation exactly as you have in your letter, the admissions officers will understand.

Remember that it's not about making excuses or casting blame, but rather persuading the admissions officers to believe that one semester or one year of grades does not accurately reflect your abilities as a student. Then, tell your story and why you believe you're ready to overcome the difficulties you had.

If you are not able to get accepted by any of your preferred California state colleges, remember that community college is always a viable option. If you finish two years, and do reasonably well, you could transfer to a California State University without having to take the SAT or ACT. You could also look into some of the admissions programs offered by the Universities of California (UCs) including the Transfer Admissions Guarantees of UCs Davis, Irvine, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, or the similar Transfer Alliance Program of UCLA. Each offer either guaranteed admission or priority consideration if you transfer from a participating community college. Many other states have similar transfer programs as well.

Best of all, you'll save money (community colleges are way cheaper than universities) and in the end, it won't be any different than if you had gotten into your college of choice in the first place. Your diploma will say only the school you transferred to.

The most important thing is to stay calm and keep perspective. Just because you had one less-than-stellar year does not mean your opportunities are lost forever. I would recommend calling a few local community colleges to ask about their transfer programs. They will be able to make some recommendations for what you should look into initially.

Good luck!

Have any insight on this topic? Want to ask a question or make a suggestion? Click here to leave a comment.

Related Articles



Hi my name is Eshaan Mehta. Im a good student overall. My gpa is only 3.3 and 3.7 weighted. The reason its this low is because during my first semister junior year i failed trig honors. I came from a non honors algerbra 2 and went into a trig honors class. it proved to be too difficult and i failed. But since i have this F im afraid my chances at all the colleges i want to go to are lost. i really just want to go to a good UC but im afraid that F will show them im a bad student when im really not!! I just want to know if my college admission chances are lost or not because i really dont want to go to a community college and transfer over later.

- Eshaan, 07/10/08 at 1:53 pm

Hi Eshaan,

Your chances for college admission are certainly not lost. Junior year grades are very important, but remember my comment to Gigi above: college admissions committees are not full of robots.

You will definitely want to address your F in your application packet. Many universities will allow you to submit a short addendum (e.g. to discuss something about your file outside of the scope of your personal statement). Explaining the move from non-honors to honors and your difficulty with the move will help to explain your small lapse in grades. This approach will be especially helpful if you earned a higher grade in your math course in your second semester and in your senior year (make sure you keep working hard!)

If you know you're interested in a UC, you might also consider contacting the admissions offices of a particular UC you are most interested in to explain your situation. They can likely give you more directed advice unique to their program. While my tips will work for a number of schools, having a targeted answer from a specific school regarding a particular problem is always the best approach.

I want to close by asking why you are opposed to transferring from a community college. I know many students (and myself included when I was applying to colleges) feel like that route is "less than" a direct entry into a 4-year university program, but remember that spending 2 years at a community college and transferring into a university earns you the same diploma, will likely save you money, and may even get you into a better school. It may feel like a smaller achievement, but four years down the line, will make little difference.

Best of luck to you, Eshaan!

- Brian Cavner, 07/10/08 at 2:19 pm

Ok thank you! That is good to hear! I will do that for sure. Well the reason i dont want to consider community college is because to my parents ill look like a failure! They dont care whether or not they save money, they just want me to good to a good school because all my cousins good to good schools (yale, stanford, ucla, berkeley, and usc). So i have alot to live up to and going to community college just looks bad (to them of course). I know its the same diploma and honestly i think its a better idea, but to my parents its a bad move.

- Eshaan, 07/14/08 at 9:11 am

I am currently a junior at my high school, and frankly I haven't done as well as I had hoped to in my high school career. I have kept my GPA above a 2.0, but barely until this year. OUr first quarter just ended and my GPA is a 2.6. i am currently enrolled in all honors and AP level classes, but I am considering switching due to my goal to have a 3.4 or higher. if i have two F's in one quarter my junior year, but do better throughout this year and next; will I still have a shot at getting into a decent college? If so what should I do to prepare?

- Ariel, 11/12/08 at 7:19 pm

Hi Ariel,

Two F's is not great, but it's important to keep working on getting better for the rest of high school. Your junior grades are super important to admissions officers because sometimes they are the last ones that they will see. A lot of successful applicants have a not-so-good past, but show an upward trend in their grades. If you can earn a lot of As and Bs and stay away from the Cs, Ds, and Fs, it will improve your chances substantially.

When you apply, make sure that you include an addendum that explains your poorer grades (and especially those two Fs). When admissions officers see a weakness in your application packet, they look for a reason why. Give it to them. Essentially, you will want to calm their fears that your grades suffered because you were slacking. It's fine to address your weaknesses and be open and honest about them (they're going to notice your GPA, after all... it's not like not mentioning it will make them forget), so assure them that whatever caused you to have poor grades in your earlier years will not affect you any more. Then, prove it to them by actually having higher grades in your later years.

One thing I highly recommend as well is to call and offer to send updated transcripts when more grades come in, especially if it moves your GPA in a positive direction. Your application packet does not have to be your last correspondence.

And finally, perhaps the best advice I could give would be to be open with the admissions officers, not just in the packet, but up front. Give some of your select colleges a call and tell them your situation and ask for advice. Remember that admissions officers genuinely want to help you to get into their school. They're not evilly trying to find ways to keep you down and won't put your name in a book of "don't admit"s just for calling to ask questions.

However, the most important thing you can do right now is make sure your GPA takes a positive turn. Work hard (and study hard for the SAT to offset any negative points you might get for a low GPA) and you'll have a good chance.

Hope this helps, Ariel. Good luck!

- Brian Cavner, 11/12/08 at 8:50 pm

Hi Brian,
First of all I'd just like to say thank you for this amazing, didactic website...
Second of all...
I've just completed my junior year in high school and I'll be applying to colleges soon so I'm pretty nervous for several reasons.
You see, for each year of high school, I've been at a different school. For freshman year I was home schooled via an online academy. I was in the gifted student program and my gpa for that year was 3.8. For sophomore year my parents decided to live in a 3rd world country (so I could interact with the "other kind of people and not preps")and enrolled me in a private school that taught in a language I didn't speak. So not only was the curriculum difficult, my grades dropped from all A's to B's or C's. For junior year (while still living in the 3rd world country) my parents enrolled me in a private English teaching school. Nonetheless, the curriculum was horrible. Students didn't get to choose their classes and the teaching is all SAT based(for example,the courses only teach the physics you need to know for the Subject Test). In addition, I had to take Physics, Biology, Human Biology, Math, Chemistry, Computer, English Composition, English Literature, a foreign language, Social Studies all year and all at once. I might add that I was the first in my class and I have a 3.9 gpa. However, the school offered NO extra-curricular activities or Ap or IB courses.
Next year I will also change schools. I'm considering getting a high school diploma from Ashworth University by re-doing all four years. I'll be doing this in conjunction with going to a normal school. I also do community service at the local hospital, am a member of a charity organization that gives food to the poor, intern at the local newspaper, teach English to young students, am president of a peer tutoring program,am part of a dance class, play various sports and hope to be a published author by the time I apply to colleges.(I mentioned above that I've never taken Ap courses, but I forgot to add that I'll be taking at least 5+ Ap exams and 8 SAT Subject tests. I've already taken two and I got a 720 and a 790)
In short, how do I stack up next to students who apply to top tier universities and get accepted? And what can I do to improve my chances of getting accepted?

P.S if you took the time to read my question/comment, thank you so much.

- Laina, 06/16/09 at 10:46 am

Have a question or comment about this article? Leave me a message.