How much emphasis do admissions committees put on grades when evaluating applicants? The truth is that grades and GPAs are good long-term indicators of an individual’s performance as a student. Grades do not necessarily reflect intelligence; however, they do show a student’s ability to produce good work — or not-so-good work — over an extended period of time.

Typically, admissions committees focus on grade trends. The best indicator of this is the grade point average, or GPA, which is a numerical way of measuring how a student performed over the course of a year or even throughout high school. As such, a few poor marks here and there won’t affect that overall trend.

However, if students are concerned about any unusual marks in a given semester or with respect to a particular class or subject, they should outline the circumstances in the application (most applications include a section specifically for such explanations). Students should be candid as to why these marks fell outside of the trend and assure the admissions committee that similar problems won’t affect their performance in the future.

On a more positive note, if students used poor grades to show how they overcame a challenge and then show how their grades improved, such grades may actually be used to their advantage.

Finally, while admissions committees do focus on overall grade trends, they tend to put more weight on grades earned in the latter half of high school. Committees know that many students struggle at first to adapt to the rigors of high school. They also know that junior- and senior-level courses are more comparable to college-level courses. So students who struggled during their freshman and sophomore years shouldn’t fret.

Remember the committee is looking for trends, and even more important than the overall trend is where the trend is heading at its conclusion — hopefully up.


Kari Whitaker is a technical as well as creative writer. In addition to articles on education and careers, she also enjoys writing short stories, essays, and poetry.

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