back to Admissions Advice
07/09/2020 at 10:21PM
Admissions Advice

Will a D+ sophomore year stop me from getting into an Ivy League? *Please read the whole thing

I understand that the obvious answer is yes - elite colleges have the choice to take in a class of countless straight A students so why would they take in someone with a D+? However, my one poor grade was a result of unique extenuating circumstances which I will explain below.

I had always been a straight A student in Math and decided to take Grade 11 Functions (I think the American equivalent is Algebra II) a year early in sophomore year. I started the class with a 100 average however my teacher had sadly gotten an injury that forced her to rarely show up to class. For the most part, we only had substitute teachers who had no experience in Math and we were expected to learn independently from our textbooks. We did not have a teacher for over two-thirds of the course and the school only provided us with a full-time Math teacher by the last two weeks of the course.

Additionally, the test content that the other Grade 11 teachers in the math department created was largely outside of the textbook. For example, there were multiple Grade 12 pre-Calculus and Calculus questions on our test when none of us had even taken Calculus, or even pre-Calculus yet. The course median that semester for all Math classes was a C-C+. Our class average in particular wasn't given to us, but since we all compared grades a lot, I would guess it was around a D. (Students who had received 99s the year before had dropped to high 50s).

I tried to teach myself content from Khan Academy, attended Math extra-help (which wasn't quite helpful as the teachers who didn't teach the course were the ones leading it) and spent hours scouring my textbook and the internet for some kind of help. Despite my best efforts, my Math grades started slipping - and so did those of my peers. Our class started with 30 students and finished with less than 20 because of how many students had dropped the course - majority of my school's Math summer school program consisted of my classmates. Since I had taken the course early as a sophomore, I was not allowed to drop the course and take a spare (or study hall as I think it's called in America). I was stuck in the course and despite the numerous complaints filed against the school, our class was not given a curve.

I ultimately finished with a D+ - which still didn't make sense because I was around a C in the class - and I had a meeting with the school to explain why I felt my grade wasn't correct. I spent roughly two hours being blamed for my dismal grades and even though they contended that I was likely closer to a C in the course when referring to my evidence record, they still refused to change my grade because they felt it "wouldn't help." They mentioned that I could take a make-up exam and whatever grade I were to receive would be my final mark in the class, however I could not because A) the date they had set for the exam was on the day my family and I were moving coincidentally, B) they wanted to give me a Grade 12 pre-Calculus exam despite the fact that I had never taken the course before.

So I ultimately finished the course with a D+. For further context, the three Grade 11 teachers are now disallowed from teaching any other University Grade 11 and 12 Math courses because of all the complaints they had acquired that year. My previous school where all this happened doesn't offer APs, has never had an Ivy acceptance, and was a large public school where I was at the top 5% of my class, if that helps. I took pre-Calculus this year at my new school and performed better - I got a B this time around - but my ineffective Algebra foundation in addition to not having the same in-person teaching experience due to COVID-19 didn't help whatsoever.

I'm currently studying for the SATs and I find the Math section a lot easier than the stuff I did in class - most of the content was covered in freshman and sophomore year for us - and I feel confident that I can secure a 700 and with a bit more practice, above a 750. I want to redeem myself as best as I can and don't want to come across as lazy to admissions officers for not demonstrating any improvement in Math.

With that all being said, I'm not applying to any math-related field. I plan on being a prospective English major and have received International and Regional writing awards, the highest English final mark both freshman and sophomore year (at my previous school), mostly As and A+s (except for those two Math grades,) strong ECs and LoRs, good essays as well as an excellent arts portfolio (for Creative Writing). I've also taken the most rigorous set of classes within my context - I've signed up for as many APs as I could at my new school and received A+s in them.

Would admissions officers automatically toss out my application despite my other achievements, or is it just not enough no matter what due to one poor grade? I'd highly appreciate any advice or way to boost my chances at an Ivy League school. For more background, I'm low-income and my EFC is $0 - I also was temporarily homeless at the start of junior year and managed to maintain straight As that semester.

If you've read up to here, thank you. I appreciate it and any advice would really, really be helpful.


Earn karma by helping others:

1 karma for each ⬆️ upvote on your answer, and 20 karma if your answer is marked accepted.

5 answers

Accepted Answer
07/10/2020 at 01:47AM

So I’ll weigh in a D class will not directly stop you as you have a valid excuse but if only 2 spots are available and it comes down to you or a equally qualified student th either will likely get in based on a proven track record of grades. So a D by itself will not stop you as long as you email them and copy paste this message/description. But it’s likely they will not look at that class at all assuming they find the excuse to be real as they very well should. But ivies gonna ivy and you have to be a top5% everywhere you even have a shot.

Try asking your school counselor to list it as a pass fail grade as a D is passing that way it wouldn’t affect GPA

07/09/2020 at 10:52PM[edited]

Aww it won't, don't overthink too much. I know ivy leagues are really strict but have hope.

I personally haven't gotten any grade lower than a B- on my transcript but the academics in my school suck. It is very low income but a few students managed to get into amazing schools such as Brown, Yale, Columbia, John Hopkins, NYU and many more! If the admission officers from the school you apply to can't understand your circumstances, they don't deserve you! Also, take rigorous courses such as honors and AP. You'll be fine and life will lead you to the place where you belong. I bet there are many great schools! But, think positive and dream big!

If you need any more advice or suggestions message me on Instagram: @ail.xo :)

Best of luck!

07/10/2020 at 03:46PM[edited]

Honestly before I read this I was ready to throw hands and say “of course a D+ will prevent you from getting in, that’s horrible!” but after reading the entire thing my perspective has changed a lot. I am so sorry to hear that you’ve struggled so much in your life - with both your living situation, classes, teachers, etc. I really would reach out to your guidance counselor this year and ask them what they can do, whether it be change your transcript, write an official letter to send to the college, whatever it may be… you need to explain hat you normally would not have gotten the D+, but you got that score due to extenuating circumstances and mistakes on the part of your school. Honestly, yes, that class will ding your application but I really think you should use it as something to boost your self-growth and endurance. This would make. great topic - overcoming adversity. You seem like a really interesting and genuine person who isn’t just passing off some minor inconvenience as something to write about; you have the real meat of the essay topic from your life’s experience. I think you can really pull through in your writing (luckily enough you’re great at that and it’s what you’re majoring in) and utilize you essays to explain how much strength you have and how much this experience has shaped your life. That’s a really unique story that admissions officers will be shocked/astounded by. Best of luck

07/10/2020 at 10:17PM

I would recommend that you talk to your counselor and see if there are some grade replacement options. I got a bad grade once in Spanish and I retome the course online and raised my grade to an A. Good luck

07/09/2020 at 10:29PM[edited]


One bad year cannot stop you from getting into an Ivy League school. They look at all parts of the application. As long as the rest of the application is top notch, like your test scores and extracurriculars, a bad sophomore year will not kill you. Also, colleges look at overall grade trends and really focus in on Junior and Senior year grades (Junior year mostly). So, as long as your grades are improving, it won’t completely dash your chances, although that year does decrease your chances of getting into an Ivy League school.


Community Guidelines

To keep this community safe and supportive:

  1. Be kind and respectful!
  2. Keep posts relevant to college admissions and high school.
  3. Don’t ask “chance-me” questions. Use CollegeVine’s chancing instead!

How karma works