2 years ago
Admissions Advice

I had a bad school year during the pandemic. What do I do?

During the pandemic in 10th grade I had some really bad luck with zoom meetings and taking classes online. I ended up getting way too many Bs in my classes, which show incompetence. However, when compared to my test scores for this year and my junior grades, it's like looking at two different people. I struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the distanced-learning quality being low. My school doesn't offer too much help with these issues, and supervised study is a required class, and I can't take more classes than the allowed 8 or I would be taking as 1.5x or even double just to fix everything. (And there aren't enough courses then) There isn't a way to improve my unweighted GPA, which is capped at a maximum of 3.76 when I will be applying to college. However, my weighted GPA will be around 4.15 at the time of application. My ACT score is a 34, with a 36 in Math, 35 in English, and a 33 in both Science and Reading. I plan to take the SAT again soon, but I'm not sure if I can get into my dream colleges with this low GPA.

I really want to get into Carnegie Mellon, because they have some amazing reputation for computer science, and I'm really into application development, 3D-modeling/graphics, AI/machine-learning, cybersecurity, and robotics.

I have 19 questions.

1. Can I submit a weighted GPA instead of an unweighted GPA to colleges such as Carnegie Mellon, Harvey Mudd, and Georgia Institute of Technology?

2. If all else fails, I have a very high chance of getting into Oregon State University, which is an in-state option that has a job program. Should I be looking at more of the 95-100% chance range, rather than focusing on the 20-50% chance range?

3. I have a disability (ADHD - attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) which has impacted me before I overcame it. It was active during the year of 2020-2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. How would I add this to my college application? Is there a section for these things?

4. In the past, I was in 2nd grade doing 9th grade math, but then I started to go to public school and couldn't learn at my full potential, resulting in procrastination until I pulled myself together in high school, finally realizing this. How far back should my college application story go? Is this a good thing to include on my application?

5. Should I take the SAT in August or keep my current ACT score?

6. My school doesn't offer that many courses in general, but I have taken mostly AP classes wherever possible. Do AP exams help you get into college if you put them on your application?

7. If AP exams can help you get into college, can they also hurt you? For example, I took AP Computer Science Principles in 8th grade, while my ADHD was intense and I didn't realize anything going on around me. My exam score was a 3 because I refused to take the FRQ (Free-response question section) because I didn't know what it was back then, which is really low, especially considering it's a very easy exam to get a 5 on. Would this hurt my college application more than my other scores would help it? (I have a 5 on AP Calculus and a 5 on AP Physics)

8. How important is AP credit for college? If I don't have computer science credit because I took the classes before high school, would I have to retake a similar low-difficulty course in college because of this?

9. I have a psychologist who knew me since before kindergarten. Should I get a letter of recommendation from him explaining a bit more about my talents and strengths to the colleges, or would they only accept counselor and teacher recommendations?

10. Is superscoring a bad thing for the SAT? Do colleges that accept superscoring know when you used it and affect your admissions decision with knowing that?

11. I have accomplished many tasks in the programming and computer science field. I even published an application and 10,000 people downloaded it before I took it down. Some of these programs would probably show more of my skills to colleges. Is there a way to submit portfolios, programs, and other files to the college application?

12. One of these files I created was a master-scheduler, which I created alone for my school. The scheduling office then used my program to build schedules for the upcoming year of school. Since I had volunteered to do this (for my school's community), is this a good thing to show on my college application as an act of community service? Should I do something else instead?

13. I used to play video games, but I overcame my addiction and don't play any at all anymore. I instead find fun in other activities, that are more on-topic to helping me advance and succeed. What parts of this should I add to my college application? Should I exclude this entirely, or put it as an obstacle? Are self-created obstacles only able to hinder your application, or if you overcome a self-created obstacle does it make it even?

14. I want to achieve, and I'm not satisfied with low-challenges. Since "waking up and realizing who I am", I have realized that trying hard in life is fun, and I find the satisfaction of completing a challenge more enjoyable than anything else. Is this a good trait to put on my college application?

15. Over the summer, I went to the NSLC (National Student Leadership Conference) Cybersecurity program. There, I learned a lot about hacking, but also ethics, leadership, and the other non-technical aspects of cybersecurity, such as social engineering. This is certainly a peaking moment to add to my college application, but I'm not sure where to begin on it. What category would "summer camps, summer courses, and summer activities" fall on the college application?

16. I'm taking the college-credit part of the cybersecurity course. Can I submit this as an external transcript to add more college credit? Will this boost my high-school GPA, even though it's not part of the school I went to? Should I even mention this on the college application?

17. I have a bunch of secondary hobbies, such as photography, filming and editing my own videos, talking with friends, and computer design. Should I add these as well, or does it blur my true goals?

18. What is the key formula to writing a college essay? If there is anything more important than anything else to write about, what is it that makes you get accepted? What are colleges looking for in you? Achievements? Character? Both?

19. I'd really like to go to Carnegie Mellon, and it really sounds like the perfect matching school for me. None of the other schools (even MIT) look like they match up to it. I'll probably be applying to a set of similar colleges in the computer science/engineering/robotics fields, but I really think Carnegie Mellon is the best most diverse yet computer-science-related college I can go to out of all of them. In the event that I don't get accepted in early decision, can I reapply? I don't think this is doable if they have already made a decision, but there doesn't appear to be a rule saying you can't, so can I?

Please answer something here! Most importantly, which of any of these factors (if any) would help me overcome my bad GPA from COVID-19 year?

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Let’s welcome @Pierre_Erard to the community! Remember to be kind, helpful, and supportive in your responses.
@EllaGrace2 years ago

Since your question has already been answered, all I have to add is try not to worry so much. I understand your worry, applying as a CS applicant during an unprecedented time, but I have a friend like you (brilliant student + mind in general, had a terrible covid yr, even failing some classes, suspect he has undiagnosed ADHD or Asperger's). He's an econ applicant, and was initially waitlisted to UPenn, then accepted to the college of engineering + transfer admission (starting Spring) to Wharton.

@EllaGrace2 years ago

Literally, probably the best school you can go to for economics. I think colleges in general understand the massive effect covid has had on students and are really trying to see past that. Hope CMU does for you! Hope this helped a little :)

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Accepted Answer
2 years ago

1. No you can not. The Common app ask for your UWGPA and the scale, either 4.0, 100 etc.

2. No you should not apply to many 90% chancing schools, its overkill.

3. You can use the add'l information section to describe your condition. Since millions of HS students were impacted by COVID-19, be brief and accurate vs trying to have anyone take pity on you. There are just too many affected applicants.

4. I wouldn't talk about your 2nd-grade math ability. If there is something important that happened in middle school that you continue to do today like playing an instrument, sport, or other EC, talk about that.

5. No, don't bother with the SAT at this point since you already have a 34. I would focus on getting your Science/Reading up 1 point and get a 35 composite which would be a better use of time. Colleges only want 1 test score, not both. College is agnostic to which one you submit.

6. AP classes are more important than AP exams. like 80/20 so worry less about the AP exams or taking more APs. It's more important to show Intellectual Vitality if your school doesn't offer much APs.

7. A 3 for AP CS for an 8th grader is a good score. I wouldn't worry about submitting it or not.

8. For 99% of applicants, getting into a good college is more important than whether they are going to get college credit for HS work. This should not be your priority either. If getting into CMU for CS is your priority, then don't worry whether your AP test scores get you college credit or not.

9. You can ask anyone who knows you best to be your recommender. However, I caution you on your selection. If you have a medical professional write your recommendation, that would appear to come from a defensive position rather than from a normal recommender. It's like being careful what you write in your main essay. Writing about your mental illness is not always received the exact way you expect it to be.

10. Superscoring doesn't matter to most colleges. Why? Because standardized tests like the ACT or SAT, are really poor proxies for your intelligence. Rather a high score indicates you took the challenge seriously, studied thoroughly and diligently, and learned how to master taking the test. For that, you are rewarded for best completing the assignment. Perhaps only 1% of SAT/ACT get a 1530+/35+ score but that doesn't mean you are 99+% more intelligent than other applicants in the pool. It just means you took the task seriously and exceeded expectations on knowing how to take the test.

11. Describe your apps/work experience in the Common App EC section. Some colleges allow you to submit a portfolio of your work or a video (eg Brown U) If you apply to college with the Coalition App, not the Common App, you can archive examples of your work in a "Locker" that Admissions officers can see for themselves. The Locker feature is not something that is available in the Common App.

12. The Master Scheduler could be a good EC to highlight if you have room for it. Remember you only have 8 or 10 total slots on your application so prioritize them from most important to least important.

13. Everyone has had challenges whether it has been overcoming a personal matter, video games, addictions, porn, bullying, abusive parents, etc etc. Some things are best left unmentioned on a college application because they do not make you a better applicant than the next person for taking about it. Writing about video games doesn't seem like a good use of your available space on a college application.

14. If you want to write about your satisfaction to complete challenges in your main essays or supplemental essays that would be a good place to mention that as part of the bigger theme.

15. You can either mention your cybersecurity as a course to augment your intellectual vitality/curiosity or as an EC you did as a summer program. Unless you earned college credits, it doesn't really count as add'l course rigor/course work.

16. If you take cybersecurity as college credit, and earn a grade and say 3 college credits, then you can detail that in the add'l coursework section of the common app. It will not be factored into your high school GPA. The only classes that can bump up your GPA are classes that your HS approves either as official dual enrollment classes or approved college courses that they deem equivalent to those in your HS course catalog.

17. Passion projects are useful if you have space on your college application to mention them. Again, you should be filling out either a Common App or Coalition App now to familiarize yourself with the actual forms you need to fill out and how the limited amount of space you actually have. The common app is a rather compact set of forms because each application reader only has about 10-15 minutes to review everything including the application, transcripts, essays, and recommendations.

18. There is no key formula to writing a college essay and if there was it would be a math problem and everyone would be submitting the correct answer. So a better way to think of the Main Essay and the Supplemental Essays is an opportunity for you to use your own voice and share parts of yourself which is not clearly evident in the rest of your application. So if the rest of your application are data points and themes and events and circumstances, successful essays would be a way for the reader to connect the dots to your narrative as a human being touching upon who you are, what you stand for, why you do what you do, and your personal character. Format matters less than substance. You can write it as prose or a technical manual.

19. If you apply to any college ED or EA and get rejected, you are done for that college for that admissions cycle. You can't apply RD. You would have to take a gap year and re-apply the following cycle if you are keen on getting into that 1 school.

20. You actually asked 20 questions if you include the last. Nothing, in particular, will give you a higher GPA than your capped 3.76 so I think it's prudent that you focus on being your best version of yourself regardless of what college you get admitted into. CMU for CS is the #1 CS school in the USA and CS is a very competitive major, to begin with so I recommend you put your best foot forward but have 10-15 other schools picked out that will serve you just as well. As I mentioned earlier, it makes sense to get a higher ACT score because CMU CS admits probably have a 35 on average. And I would think whether you apply to MIT, Olin, GTech, Columbia, Rice, Cornell, etc, having a 35 is better than a 34 in CS. I'm an extremely kind responder so do all the CV community a favor and only ask 1 question at a time. We don't get paid to do this and it's rather selfish to think you can expect someone to take an hour of their time to reply to 20 questions at once okay. That's rather un-compassionate and if you do this in real life to your teachers and friends, that gets pretty tiresome quickly. Be a kind person, not a selfish person who doesn't understand reasonable limits.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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