How much do freshman year grades count for college? Learn the truth about how admissions committees evaluate your child’s first year
Course selection: How colleges look at academic rigor
GPA: Do freshman grades matter?
Extracurricular activities: demonstrate a deep commitment
A sinking feeling sets in among many high school students as they embark on the college application process. Some might think, “I messed up freshman year of high school” and, with it, any chance of acceptance at their dream college.
Moving from in-class pop quizzes to ten-page papers, or from a small neighborhood middle school to a multi-county high school is no easy feat. Adjusting to a new environment can make what purports to be the “easiest” year in high school one of the hardest.
But how much do colleges look at freshman year?
Colleges closely evaluate freshman year grades and activities, but not in the ways you might think. Here’s how ninth grade does matter: freshman year is the foundation for the rest of your child’s high school career.
The courses your child takes early in their career, as well as their performance in them, determine the rest of your child’s high school course load. If they join extracurriculars freshman year, they may become a leader in those extracurriculars as an upperclassman. If they take honors physics at the start of high school, they may enroll in AP Physics senior year. And most colleges consider your child’s overall high school GPA, meaning the grades they receive freshman year do have weight.
But here’s the nuance. Many universities follow a “holistic admissions” process, which means they’re not simply looking at grades or your child’s ACT or SAT scores. They’re seeking a sense of your child’s narrative. Hasyour child made the most of the academic and extracurricular opportunities available at their school? Did they improve or grow during high school?
In that vein, admissions officers consider both your child’s GPA and their freshman course load in the context of their overall high school transcript. That means that excelling later in high school can balance weak academic performance freshman year. If your child recovers from a weak freshman year, admissions officers will see this as positive evidence of their ability to adjust to new academic demands and expectations, an ability that will come in handy during college and beyond.
This applies to extracurriculars as well. Admissions officers look for depth rather than breadth in your child’s involvement. If they don’t participate in many activities freshman year, your child can still go on to lead or excel in a couple of extracurriculars.
Let’s consider three core elements of your child’s freshman year of high school in more detail. These elements are:
Read on to learn about the weight each of these elements has on your child’s college applications as well as how to make up for weak freshman year performance during their remaining time in high school and within their applications.
Course selection: How colleges look at academic rigor
The courses your child takes freshman year matter as much if not more than the grades they receive in those courses.
Why? While most colleges don’t have minimum GPA requirements, they do want your child to have completed a minimum amount of coursework. And at most high schools, freshman courses are prerequisites for more advanced classes. In addition, colleges want to see that your child has challenged themselves by taking tough courses offered by their school. Achieving a high GPA by taking easy courses is not viewed as favorably as achieving a high GPA in hard classes.
On top of that, the courses your child takes freshman year are the foundation for the courses they take in the rest of high school. Choosing courses wisely will help set your child up to take the best classes for their strengths and passions later on.
For instance, if your child is interested in art but their high school doesn’t have an honors or AP course in that subject, your child shouldn’t skip the painting elective freshman year. Instead, your child should enroll in it and find other ways to deepen that interest later on, through community college classes, summer programs or scholarships, or extracurricular activities.
How to bounce back if your child took the “wrong” courses freshman year
If your child didn’t take an ideal course load freshman year, don’t worry. They can still bounce back by choosing to take a challenging course load during the rest of high school.
Or, perhaps your child missed a freshman prerequisite for a class they would like to take. They should talk to their guidance counselor to see if there’s a way to test into that class. Your child can also look for summer, online, or community college options.
How your child can strengthen the rest of their application
If extenuating circumstances influenced your child’s course load freshman year, they should, if at all possible, have their guidance counselor address this within their letter of recommendation. And if your child attends a high school that lacks challenging course options for freshmen, your child’s guidance counselor can also provide that context in their letter.
If your child missed out on taking a course in a subject area that they are comfortable with or interested in, they might consider self-studying for an AP Exam in that area, as a high score on one of those tests will demonstrate your child’s proficiency with the subject. Many students choose to self-study for AP English Language or Literature exams, which test essay-writing ability rather than content, for instance.
GPA: Do freshman grades matter?
Admissions committees are far more likely to be excited about a student who had mediocre grades freshman year and went on to receive stellar grades than they are to admit a student who thrived academically freshman year and then declined.
Colleges understand that your child might enter high school not yet knowing what they’re passionate about or that they might be coming from a middle school that didn’t prepare them as well as their classmates’ junior high schools did. Taking the first year as a chance to scope out their new world, learn its ways, and then ace it is much better than starting strong and losing interest or momentum. An underdog story is never a bad one!
Most universities will consider your child’s overall high school GPA, but will always consider their GPA and transcript together, meaning that an admissions officer will see if your child’s grades have improved over time.
While most admissions officers will not simply forgive low freshman year grades, they will be more understanding of them than they will be of low grades in upper-level coursework. Your child’s sophomore, junior, and senior year coursework is more predictive of your child’s ability to succeed in college courses.
There are some universities that do not even factor your child’s freshman year grades into the GPA they consider during admissions. University of California (UC) schools, for instance, consider a GPA that is calculated from freshman summer through junior summer, meaning both your child’s freshman and senior year grades don’t factor into their GPA at all. Nevertheless, UC admission officers do take freshman and senior year course choice into account. In the past, Stanford University and McGill University have also considered applicant GPAs minus freshman year grades.
In short, your child’s freshman year grades may be considered during admissions but only as part of the overall picture of their academic achievement—never in isolation. A weak freshman GPA will not rule your child out as an applicant.
How to recover from bad freshman year grades and get into college
If your child is worried about their weak freshman year GPA, they should focus on improving it by excelling in their remaining high school coursework. And don’t assume your child should take easy classes in order to cushion their GPA.
Many high schools weight grades in AP, IB, and other honors classes—meaning that a high grade in one of those classes will especially offset earlier lower grades. Plus, the types of classes your child takes still matter—frequently more than the grade itself.
Admissions officers often read applications regionally, meaning the person reading your child’s application will know something about your school. If it’s common knowledge that Environmental Science is an easy A while AP Chemistry is a challenging option, your child will be rewarded for an A- in Chemistry more than an A+ in the former.
Your child might also consider enrolling in online coursework or classes at your local community college. In addition to potentially boosting your child’s GPA (if their high school factors outside coursework into their calculation of GPA), this can demonstrate your child’s commitment to their education and help them excel in their remaining high school classes.
(Suggested reading: Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA: What’s the Difference?)
Holistic admissions: Looking at the bigger picture
Remember that admissions officers make holistic decisions based on your child’s entire application. If your child received weak grades early on in high school but went on to attain excellent grades, receive high test scores, write distinct college essays, complete a handful of extracurriculars, and develop relationships with teachers and administrators who write glowing letters of recommendation, then admissions officers are likely to view low grades freshman year not just as a “fluke,” but as a setback your child overcame to thrive in high school. If your child is stressed about their GPA, they should use that energy to focus on other parts of their application.
If the challenges of your child’s freshman year were truly significant, they might consider writing about it in their Common App essay, Common App Additional Information section, or supplemental college essays. But that’s totally optional. Your child shouldn’t feel that they have to apologize for or explain low freshman year grades within their essays or elsewhere in the application.
Another way to explain freshman year grades is through your child’s counselor’s recommendation letter. Yale University, for instance, tells students that an explanation from a counselor or another school official is more valuable than notes in the Common App Additional Information section. A counselor can explain how your child went on to succeed despite their circumstances, demonstrating resiliency and drive, without seeming defensive, as your child might if they wrote it themselves.
Extracurricular activities: demonstrate a deep commitment
Getting involved with clubs, societies, and teams freshman year gives your child a chance to dive deep into an area of interest. Joining early can help them achieve and assume leadership roles within those organizations as an older student. However, sophomore or junior year is not too late to become more involved in your child’s high school, town, or state community.
If you’re concerned about your child’s extracurricular involvement
If your child hasn’t yet involved themself in extracurriculars, how can they bounce back during their remaining time in high school?
Your child should not overcorrect for a low-activity freshman year by joining as many activities as possible later on. They risk seeming scattered and unfocused. Instead, they should select few extracurriculars that are meaningful to them. Anywhere from two to six extracurriculars can be a great number, but it’s the quality and not the quantity of their involvement that matters.
What activity will give your child the chance to really make the most of their talents and interests? If, during freshman year, your child devoted most of their time to one demanding primary activity, such as a sport or musical instrument, they should not feel they have to take time away from that activity simply to pad their list of extracurriculars.
Is there a way to supplement your child’s core extracurricular activity? For example, if they spend most of their time playing soccer, they might find time to volunteer at soccer camps for younger children or to referee youth games. Or, if they play violin in a youth orchestra, they might share their talent by performing or giving lessons in a local venue like an elementary school or a retirement home. If your child pursues what is truly meaningful or exciting to them, this will come across in their application.
Summer and school breaks are also opportunities for your child to become more involved in the community. Over the summer, they might follow an interest they haven’t found an outlet for within their school community.
Maybe they’re interested in politics, science, or creative writing. They could volunteer for a political campaign, find an internship at a local hospital, or write a play. It’s even better if your child can then somehow bring that involvement back to their school community in the fall. For example, your child might recruit other students to get involved politically or direct a production of their play with the high school theatre troupe.
(Suggested reading: Extracurricular Activities for College Admissions: The Ultimate Guide)
How your child can strengthen the rest of their application
If your child didn’t join many extracurriculars freshman year because they were also balancing employment, familial responsibilities, or medical issues, they can mention this in their application. And the “extracurriculars” they reference in their Common App Activities section or do not only have to be typical after-school activities. For example, a part-time job or religious involvements should be included.
Admissions officers want to know who your child is as a student and community member. They recognize that your child is not defined by their freshman year. The best way to recover from a “weak” freshman year is to give admissions officers a full picture of who they are now.
About the Author
Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on college admissions. For nearly 20 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into top programs like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT using his exclusive approach.
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The UC and CSU systems are both ones which say they only look at your grades from 10th grade onwards when computing your GPA. Stanford and McGill are two other schools you could consider looking into as well.Do colleges look at your freshman year? ›
Yes, your freshman year grades do matter when applying to college. Admissions officers will take your overall high school GPA into consideration which includes your freshman year performance.What are the top 4 things college admissions officers are looking for? ›
Basically, there are six main factors that college admissions officers consider: AP classes and challenging course loads, high school GPAs, SAT and ACT scores (unless they are test-optional), meaningful extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and your personal statement.What year do colleges look at the most? ›
Your first year and sophomore year affect your cumulative GPA, which is important to most colleges. However, a solid academic record in your junior year is likely to carry more importance with an admissions committee.What should you not do freshman year of college? ›
- Living Off-Campus Right Away. ...
- Feeling Pressure to Adjust Quickly. ...
- Avoiding Peer Interactions. ...
- Skipping Class. ...
- Losing Sight of Time Management. ...
- Making All-Nighters a Habit. ...
- Not Asking for Help. ...
- Mismanaging Money.
We get this question all the time, whether from a student who is excited about a top-notch start to his high school career, or a parent who is concerned about a rocky adjustment to a more rigorous curriculum. To put it bluntly, yes, colleges do look at freshman year grades on your college application.What grade does college look at most? ›
Your junior year grades are essential: it's the grade a college will look at most, along with your senior year. Your grades predetermine your academic performance for your final year. Your GPA and the “sturdiness” of it matters.Do colleges disregard freshman year? ›
In short, your child's freshman year grades may be considered during admissions but only as part of the overall picture of their academic achievement—never in isolation. A weak freshman GPA will not rule your child out as an applicant.What is the least important year of high school? ›
For colleges, the freshman year is typically the least important year on the high school transcript (they figure you're just trying to find the school every day). But that's not to say freshman year doesn't matter at all. Lots of colleges, particularly private schools, will consider your freshman grades.What is a red flag for admissions officers? ›
What is an application red flag? Simply put, it's something on a college application that can make an admissions officer second guess how qualified an applicant is or if they're a good-fit for the school. A red flag can be as serious as a disciplinary infraction, or as simple as not following application directions.
Rarely is anything more important to Admissions Officers than solid grades, a challenging curriculum, and good standardized test scores.What semester do colleges look at the most? ›
Regular/Rolling applicants: - Junior and Senior (first semester) grades are the most important. Sophomore and freshman grades are given less of an emphasis. - Unless you don't submit a midyear report, your senior year performance will have a significant impact on your admissions decision.Which semesters do colleges look at? ›
If you're applying in an early admission round, your admission officer will see the first quarter of 12th grade; if you're applying in regular decision, your admission officer will see grades for the entire first semester of senior year.What year of college is the hardest academically? ›
Some consider sophomore year to be the most difficult, just because it's a huge adjustment period for many students. While some students experience difficulties during their sophomore year, some experience a slump during a different year, and some don't experience a slump at all.Is it normal to struggle freshman year of college? ›
It's common for first-year students to find themselves struggling to adjust to college life, and making mistakes is part of it! You can't have it all together right from the beginning, which is perfectly normal.How do I avoid the freshman 15 in college? ›
- avoid eating when stressed, while studying, or while watching TV.
- eat slowly.
- eat at regular times and try not to skip meals.
- keep between-meal and late-night snacking to a minimum.
- choose a mix of nutritious foods.
1. Skipping Class. While skipping class to sleep, study, or socialize may tempt students, attendance often comprises a key part of course grades. Any missed classes can lead to students falling behind in coursework.Do colleges care a lot about freshman grades? ›
Talking point: The vast majority of colleges care about your freshman year grades. (The one big exception are the public University of California and California State schools, which calculate your GPA starting in tenth grade.) By doing your best now, you'll keep the doors to your dream colleges open.What is the highest GPA for a freshman? ›
No matter what kind of coursework a student takes, the highest possible GPA in an unweighted system is a 4.3. NOTE: some schools do not differentiate between an A (5.0 weighted, 4.0 unweighted) and an A+ (5.3 weighted, 4.3 unweighted). Your school office can confirm what the highest GPA possible is for you!What is a good GPA to have freshman year? ›
In most cases, a high GPA is somewhere between 3.50 and 4.00, and a low GPA is somewhere between 1.50 and 2.00. Understanding what constitutes a good grade point average (GPA) is important.
In undergraduate programs, 'D' is typically the lowest passing grade, but passing may not be enough to fulfill graduation requirements. In college, the grading system is typically divided into five letter grades, A, B, C, D, and F. Each letter grade corresponds with a grade point average (GPA) and a numerical range.What do colleges care about most? ›
Good grades, a challenging high school curriculum, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and a strong essay are a few key factors admissions officers assess. Each university may emphasize different elements of the application process.What grade do colleges start looking at your grades? ›
Colleges look at grades starting in the first year of high school. As part of their application, students submit a transcript with the grades and GPA from the first three years of high school.What percent of people fail freshman year? ›
First-time undergraduate freshmen have a 12-month dropout rate of 24.1%. Among first-time bachelor's degree seekers, 25.7% ultimately drop out; among all undergraduate students, up to 40% drop out.Why do so many freshman drop out of college? ›
Seventeen percent of US college students don't plan to return in the autumn, a survey shows. The strong jobs market and rising costs are some of the reasons given for dropping out of college. Some students say they can't afford tuition or regular living expenses, while others want to start a business.Does freshman year matter that much? ›
So, in what ways is freshman year important? Simply – freshman year sets the foundation of the rest of your high school career. The courses and grades one receives freshman year determine their courses the next year. Sophomore year classes determine their courses for junior year, and so on.What is the average GPA for a freshman in college? ›
The results show that it's common for students to earn lower grades in college than in high school. In general, high school GPAs are 0.66 higher than first-year college GPAs. The statistics show that the average high school GPA is 3.36, while the average college GPA is 2.70.What is the hardest school year in high school? ›
While junior year is often the hardest year of high school, the transition from middle school to 9th grade can also be tough. To make it easier, don't feel afraid to reach out to your teachers and counselors, and take advantage of the support resources that are available.Is 9th grade the most important year? ›
Compared to other stages in childhood development, ninth grade has not traditionally been considered as a pivotal moment. But that's starting to change, and with increasing frequency, researchers are pointing to ninth grade as a key year for children's academic growth.How do college admissions officers decide who gets accepted? ›
Factors That Most Affect Admission Decision. Many small, selective colleges pay greater attention to personal statements and essays, teacher and counselor recommendations, leadership experiences, and the individual talents of applicants. They typically offer the chance for a face-to-face interview.
In the US admissions process, colleges and universities take many factors into consideration. Admissions officers look at “hard factors” (GPA, grades, and test scores) and “soft factors” (essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and demonstrated interest) to gain a full picture of applicants.What will colleges reject you for? ›
Colleges can revoke an admitted student's acceptance at any time. The most common reasons include poor grades, disciplinary infractions, and honor code violations. Students at risk of not graduating high school can have their admission revoked. Colleges typically reach out before revoking an admission offer.What can I do to increase my chances of getting into college? ›
- Earn Good Grades in Challenging Courses. ...
- Get a High SAT/ACT Score. ...
- Write a Compelling Personal Statement. ...
- Demonstrate Interest. ...
- Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation. ...
- Apply to a Diverse Selection of Colleges. ...
- Opt for an Early Admission Plan. ...
- Manage Your Online Reputation.
It's also recommended to take AP and honors classes, as an advanced curriculum is preferred to straight A's in less challenging courses. Overall, college admissions typically value students with a difficult course load and grades that represent strong efforts and upward trending scores.What makes a student stand out? ›
Stand-out applications showcase achievement, merit, and previous academic success. Taking honors classes or AP courses can give you a significant advantage. Most colleges generally prefer applicants with a B in an honors program over those with an A in standard courses because it shows initiative.How do you stand out to universities? ›
- Research your course. ...
- Read challenging books about your chosen subject. ...
- Volunteer. ...
- Get course related work experience. ...
- Get an award. ...
- Learn another language. ...
- Improve your grades. ...
- Believe in yourself.
Your first year and sophomore year affect your cumulative GPA, which is important to most colleges. However, a solid academic record in your junior year is likely to carry more importance with an admissions committee.Do first semester grades matter? ›
For Regular Decision, college admission departments will definitely use your first quarter grades and almost always the first semester grades unless they come out atypically late.Do colleges look at all 4 years GPA? ›
Your cumulative GPA factors in the grades from all of high school. The cumulative GPA, along with your high school transcript of the classes you've taken and the grades you received in them, will be what colleges see. They are not as concerned with individual semesters.Does semester GPA matter? ›
So yes, while you're in college, GPA certainly matters. Having a good GPA can also help you earn academic honors, and it provides the college administration with a method of ranking performance in a particular course or program.
Your junior year grades are essential: it's the grade a college will look at most, along with your senior year. Your grades predetermine your academic performance for your final year. Your GPA and the “sturdiness” of it matters.What year grades matter the most? ›
Junior Year is the Most Important
While all the years of high school are important, junior year is definitely one that stands out for many reasons, and for college-bound teens, it may be the most important year of their high school career.
- Environmental Economics and Policy.
- Environmental Earth Science.
- American Studies.
- Nuclear Engineering.
- Energy Engineering.
- Applied Mathematics.
Talking point: The vast majority of colleges care about your freshman year grades. (The one big exception are the public University of California and California State schools, which calculate your GPA starting in tenth grade.) By doing your best now, you'll keep the doors to your dream colleges open.Does Harvard care about freshman grades? ›
To be considered for admission to Harvard, you must earn top grades in high school. The Harvard Crimson reports that the average reported GPA of entering freshmen in the class of 2022 was 3.90 on a 4.0 unweighted scale. According to College Data, the average weighted GPA of freshmen matriculates is 4.18.Does Stanford ignore freshman grades? ›
Stanford and the University of California system are perfect examples of appropriately evaluating prospective students. They do not count freshman grades at all in admissions decisions, and instead recalculate applicants' grade-point averages without them.What percentage of college freshmen fail? ›
First-time undergraduate freshmen have a 12-month dropout rate of 24.1%. Among first-time bachelor's degree seekers, 25.7% ultimately drop out; among all undergraduate students, up to 40% drop out.Is it normal for freshman in college students to fail classes? ›
You may be surprised to learn that many students fail academically in their first year of college. One-third of freshmen students don't make it to their sophomore year. That's a huge number, and it worries everyone concerned with higher education.What grade do colleges look at the most? ›
Your junior year grades are essential: it's the grade a college will look at most, along with your senior year. Your grades predetermine your academic performance for your final year. Your GPA and the “sturdiness” of it matters.How many college students drop out freshman year? ›
30% of students drop out in the first year. Only 41% of students graduate in 4 years. Male students have a 20% higher chance to drop out, than female students. Asian students have the lowest dropout rate.
Less selective schools may just take your GPA/Grades at face value, but, assuming you're planning on applying to top schools like Princeton and Stanford, you shouldn't have to worry about freshman year grades, as these schools will go through a more rigorous process of figuring out the story behind your grades ...How much do freshman grades matter? ›
Lots of colleges, particularly private schools, will consider your freshman grades. And beyond just the impact on your GPA, your academic performance as a freshman can influence which classes you'll be eligible to take as a sophomore.Do you need straight A's for MIT? ›
With a GPA of 4.17, MIT requires you to be at the top of your class. You'll need nearly straight A's in all your classes to compete with other applicants. Furthermore, you should be taking hard classes - AP or IB courses - to show that college-level academics is a breeze.What is the lowest GPA to get into Stanford? ›
There is no minimum GPA or test score, nor is there any specific number of AP or honors courses you must have on your transcript in order to have your application reviewed or be admitted to Stanford.Does UC Berkeley look at 9th grade GPA? ›
UCs do look at courses you take in freshman year and the rigor/grades in context of your overall schedule/grade trend (so you should provide an explanation if there are anomalies in your schedule or grades); but freshman grades are NOT included in the GPA calculation used for admission evaluation.What is the average GPA of a Stanford freshman? ›
Average GPA: 3.96
The average GPA at Stanford is 3.96. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 3.96, Stanford requires you to be at the top of your class. You'll need nearly straight A's in all your classes to compete with other applicants.