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How will schools consider a singular bad semester that drops your overall GPA? How do you compensate for that?


Good evening again,

I am a rising senior applying so far with an unweighted gpa of a 3.5 and a weighted of a 4.0 and taking several AP/IB/CC courses. I have one bad semester of junior year that has plummeted my GPA and without that semester added in, both my unweighted and weighted gpa would be higher by .3 points. Since that semester I have improved by a significant amount. I wanted to know how universities, particularly California ones actually consider cases like this and ways to compensate for things like this. Thank you.


3 answers

answered on[edited]

If your semester with a lower GPA was caused by unusual circumstances (like illness, family concerns, etc.), colleges tend to be understanding about this. You'll just need to explain this in the Additional Information section of your application, and you might also ask your counselor to note it in their recommendation.

Between now and college applications, you won't be able to raise your GPA, but you should just try to do your best in the most challenging courses you can handle (just be sure to balance the time you'll need to spend on college apps). Colleges will get a mid-year report of your first semester senior year grades before most decisions come out, so that is a way to "compensate" for a lower GPA. Otherwise, working to write the best essays and get strong test scores will also improve your chances (good test scores are always helpful, even if a school is test-optional; they're also the quickest way to improve your academic profile).

If you're improved significantly since that one semester, that will also work in your favor. Colleges like to see positive trends, as that shows tenacity and a willingness to tackle challenges.

Hope this helps, and let me know if you have more questions!

I got sick several times that semester (mainly due to exhaustion and stress because I was also cutting weight for my sport) that caused me to miss a few weeks of school at a time which was mainly the reason why my grades dropped the way they did but have no records from doctors or any way of actually proving it. Is there a way that I can corroborate this effectively?
Colleges won't ask for a doctor's note or anything - simply stating this in the Additional Information section should be enough. You'll want to be mindful of how you state this though, as you don't want admissions officers to think you can't handle the stress of college.
Simply stating something like this should work: "I got sick several times the fall of my junior year, leading me to miss school a few weeks at a time. For that reason, I was unable to maintain the same academic rigor as before, but I have since recovered and worked diligently to improve my grades, as evidenced by my junior spring performance."
Thank you so much this was very helpful! Two more things: one is that while last year UC college apps have a section that will say "state anything else that you want us to know" as an actual short essay prompt option. Would you recommend that be a place to input this or is there somewhere else?
Thatโ€™s more or less the additional info section just the UC version
Oh ok so do I need to take up 350 words to explain that? That's been the word limit for all of the essay prompts and it sounds rather excessive to talk about just academics. My teachers all recommend that I don't talk about academics or sports at all in my essays because those things aren't unique to me. So I'm stuck ๐Ÿ˜…
The additional info usually just has a maximum not a minimum but Iโ€™ve never looked at the UC application.
UC schools have two "Additional Information" sections. One is under Academics, and the other in Personal Insight. The Academics one is the best place for this situation. You don't need to take up the full word count. The Personal Insight question is best for something else, like a meaningful extracurricular or experience.
Here's a page from UC Berkeley with more info:
Thank you all for the help! You guys are making this site grow on me ๐Ÿ˜†
I try to itโ€™s very useful!
answered on

Hi! (Rising senior gang!) If that one "bad" semester that you had was during your school's period of online learning, they'll realize the connection immediately. Even without that, the improvement that you mention after that semester shows an incredible amount of growth and intellectual grit--exactly what colleges are looking for. I would guess that Cali schools are going to look at this in the same way... but I'm not 100% sure. The rest is definite.

yeah I agree. also - they will look at your GPA holistically, so AOs will recognize that there is a difference between being consistently a 3.5 (B) student vs a 3.8 (normally, A- wish) student with one bad semester. Theyโ€™re gonna see that otherwise your GPA would have been higher
Thank you for the feedback. Two things: one is will they care more if that bad sem was in junior year? Or will that not be relevant. Second is how do I explain/ compensate for this? What ways have been effective?
So it should be a fairly obvious it was due to Covid. A friend of my moms said he knew people who were A students who had to repeat the year. You can say in the additional info โ€œ2nd Semster Junior year due to schooling adjustments my grades slumped.โ€ Something like that would work. Also CV has live-streams about how Covid Will impact so that may be something to look into. Hope this helps.
Yeah AOs are gonna recognize that not every school or every family had the resources (tech, wifi, ability to focus, needing to work, money, etc) to be successful during home/onine schooling so if any of those socioeconomic/extenuating circumstances apply to you you should explain that on the Common App
Thank you but I actually took advantage of covid and got my grades up. It was my first semester that I struggled because I had jumped into a way heavier course load and had 36 hours of training per week at the same time. Idk how to explain that
In that case Iโ€™d try essentially saying in a bit of a โ€œsubduedโ€ tone I bit of more than I could chew. Some humor directed at your self is likely a good response.
answered on

I had the same problem but in my sophomore year before online learning started. You see, I'm an immigrant and my family had a period where we thought we were going to have to return to my home country. This took a significant toll on my mental health and I wasn't able to perform as well as I would. Therefore, instead of getting one B (as I usually do, there's always that one class), I got 4. But during the online learning semester, I performed very well and ended up getting one B as usual (I hate you, chemistry). I think colleges would look at this as a case of tremendous growth AND as tenacity during a global pandemic. So in the end, it all works out.

Your story is very compelling! I'm glad u turned out well! I agree that overall I was ok.. however the situation I am in just made it so that I wouldn't be seen as an exceptional applicant. I wanted to know how to rectify that.
(ALERT: This is completely based on my opinion) I think that colleges would find someone with tremendous growth more exceptional than someone who has been the same. This shows that you are motivated and determined to grow as a person, which is what I think colleges find more valuable. But then again, I might be wrong.
GPA over time is considered at most schools actually but a constant 3.7 gpa will beat someone who went from 2.9 to 3.7 becuase the constant guy has always shown he can study at a high level. The over time would likely be favored if the constant guy had a 3.4 always for example even then itโ€™s a toss-up
That makes sense hopefully colleges will consider our situations ๐Ÿคž๐Ÿป๐Ÿคž๐Ÿป๐Ÿคž๐Ÿป
Me too man, good luck!
@DebaterMAX that's fair. I know I won't be very competitive in a lot of the schools I really want to go to for that reason. I'll have to see what my essays and ECs have to offer
@sai_jeyaprakash thank you and likewise!
Someone on CV was an international soccer player & wrestler with huge achievements but only had a 3.5 gpa. If she got it to 3.7 sheโ€™d be a near lock to be recruited. So ECs go a long way but academics are really important.
Lol good point.. this coming year's first semester should be able to bring my GPA way up as well if I do well. Thank you for the feedback
Lol good point.. this coming year's first semester should be able to bring my GPA way up as well if I do well. Thank you for the feedback
Your welcome! Best of luck!