As U.S. colleges and universities are becoming increasingly competitive, even students with good grade point averages find the application process to be stressful. Having the disadvantage of a low GPA makes the application process even more difficult. Most schools use a student’s GPA as a predictor of the student’s ability to meet the demands of rigorous college coursework, and this tends to be more challenging than that assigned to high school students. While you might know that you are capable of much more than your GPA indicates, convincing a college admissions committee of this will be a challenge.
Take the SAT or ACT and try for the highest score you can get. Eat and sleep on a good schedule before the exam and consider enrolling in a test preparation program beforehand. Getting a high score on one of these exams will help to offset your low GPA and show that you are able to do college-level coursework.
Ask for strong letters of reference to help the admissions committee get a better idea of your abilities and qualities. Ask your most supportive high school teachers or a guidance counselor to write a letter explaining why your GPA is not an accurate reflection of your academic ability. You may also want to ask a supervisor, a coach, a youth group leader or pastor, or other important people in your community, to write a letter of reference that highlights other strengths you have demonstrated during high school. For example, having worked a job or taken care of a sick family member during high school can help explain why your GPA is lower than it otherwise might have been.
Gain valuable life experience and participate in extracurricular activities. Colleges want a diverse student population, so consider gaining different kinds of experience through volunteer opportunities, learning a foreign language, playing sports, spending time in another country, or working a part-time job. Share your accomplishments and activities in your personal statement to show how your life experiences and perspective will enhance the student population and college.
Apply to several colleges or universities. Research college admissions requirements and make a list of the ones you are interested in. Rank each school based on how high you think your chances are of getting accepted. It is a good idea to apply to one to two schools from your list that you ranked as highly competitive, moderately competitive and easy to get into.
Write an appeal, if necessary, to protest the school’s admissions decision. Students who are denied admission because they do not meet the school's minimum requirements can often file an appeal. The admissions letter should detail the appeal process, but if it doesn't, call the admissions office and ask about the process. Typically, students admitted through the appeals process are initially placed on academic probation and are given specific requirements they must meet within the first year to be removed from probation.
Enroll in a community college or other undergraduate program that accepts students with lower GPAs and do your best to produce good grades during the first year. Apply to other schools you were originally interested in as a transfer student with a better GPA.
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.