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5 Tricks to Get Accepted with a Low GPA

Is it possible to get into a top college with a low GPA?

July 10, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | How To, GPA, Admissions, Chances, B Student, Ivy League, AP Exams, SAT, Essays

Can low GPA (i.e. "B" students) get accepted into a top school?

The answer is a bit more nuanced than a hard "yes" or "no."

Are you a "B" student, or have you gotten B's?

Though these questions sound the same, their answers have very different consequences for the purposes of college admissions.

I went through every top university that reported the distribution of unweighted GPAs for its admitted students, and plotted them below.


The small black sliver at the top represents students with a “ B ” average or worse (3.0 GPA).

These are students with extremely extra-ordinary circumstances, so unless you have a building named after you or can throw a 95mph fastball, a “B” average is likely disqualifying. Thus, averaging a straight “B” is likely a death knell for top colleges.

All is not lost, however, if you generally do well in school but have a handful of B’s (e.g. a GPA between 3.6–3.8).

Having a lower GPA will require you to play your cards more thoughtfully, but you are still very much in contention for a spot at a top university.

Here are 5 tricks for making your application stand out despite a lower GPA.

1. Take more APs

Since they are graded on a 5-point scale, you can raise your weighted GPA to appear more in-line with a college’s admissions standards. The average weighted GPAs of Ivy League admits, shown in the USA Today chart below, is quite attainable:


2. Ace your standardized tests.

A high SAT or ACT score can help offset a lower GPA by demonstrating that you have the intellectual ability to perform at a high level.

3. Shine elsewhere in your application.

Your essays, for example, are a fantastic place to explain or indirectly shed light on personal circumstances that may have caused your lower GPA.

They also allow you to directly frame your application and convey why you — and only you — can add something uniquely meaningful to the incoming class.

As Logan Powell, Dean of Admissions at Brown University, writes:

“The essay is one of only two places where the student can tell us exactly who they are, in their own words (the other place is the interview).”

And Mitch Warren , Director of Admissions at Purdue University, adds:

"We receive about 54,000 applications from high school students each year, and despite that really large number, [the essay] truly is an individual and holistic review...[it] helps us to better understand the life of the applicant, especially things with grit, humor, motivation. I think also it helps tell stories that we may not have picked up on elsewhere in the application."

This is something that our Ivy League mentors specialize in.

4. Show an upward trajectory

If you got straight B’s freshman year but gradually worked your way up to consecutive semesters of straight A’s as a senior, then colleges will look much more favorably upon your transcript, as it demonstrates growth as a student.

As Dartmouth Assistant Director of Admissions Ariel writes,

[W]hen we review an applicant's transcript, we look at grade trends that will help us understand a student's academic trajectory in his or her secondary school.

We see transcripts that show steady grades throughout a student's high school career or a positive/upward trend from 9th-12th grade. We see transcripts where a student has bounced back from a transition or dip in grades. We also see downward trends in grades.

We use the rest of the application to try to fill in WHY the trend looks the way it does. If you have a particular reason for, say, a dip in grades in your junior year, please let us know about it in the "Additional Information" section of the Common Application.

Keep in mind that we will be looking to see how you have done in your most recent coursework since this will be a good indicator of how ready you are to move into a rigorous academic environment at Dartmouth.

5. Take the hardest classes offered

The negative impact of lower grades can be partially softened if they occurred while taking the hardest classes your school offers.

In the eyes of admissions officers, taking a rigorous course-load and challenging yourself, even if you do get a B or B+, can be equally as important as acing your classes.

An aside: These high GPA cut-offs are largely due to (1) increasingly high numbers of applicants and (2) rising grade inflation at the high school level.


How much do SAT scores matter?

September 23, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | SAT, ACT, Testing, Common App

The importance of your SAT score depends heavily on what type of school you apply to.

  • Community college? Yes.
  • State school? Yes.
  • Selective College? A fair amount
  • Ivies? Not much.

The more selective the college, the less your academic qualifications matter in deciding whether you’ll be admitted.

Having a high SAT score is just the first step in getting into a selective institution. It won’t be what tips the admissions decision in your favor. (Image Source)

Why is that?

Well, once you get to the level of applying to Yale/Princeton/Stanford/Harvard, almost every applicant has a high SAT score, high GPA, and high AP/IB scores.

For example, in 2018 over 28,000 students scored a 2200+ on the SAT, which is equivalent to a 1520 on the new SAT.

There are roughly 2,000 acceptances at each Ivy League university. Thus, there wouldn’t even be enough space for all students who scored a 2200+ on their SAT even if Ivy League colleges only considered applicants with at least that score.

Average SAT score of enrolled students at America’s top universities. (Image Source)

Selective colleges don’t want to admit a class of academic grinds. They want students who are capable of excelling intellectually, sure.

But, more importantly, they want to admit students who will change the world and become the leaders of tomorrow.

Scoring highly on your SAT checks the first box — it’s a great start.

But it’s just a start. 10,000’s of other students have also checked that box.

You won’t be admitted to a selective college based solely on a list of numbers. Otherwise, there would be no point to applying to college — if that were the case, they could just run a computer program that instantly sorted students based on their SAT/GPA numbers and not bother with the whole process of applying to college.

But they don’t.

You won't be accepted to an elite college because of your standardized test scores. (Image Source)

And that’s because test scores only tell part of your story.

Test scores are a reason to reject a candidate, not a reason to accept a student.

What will differentiate your application is everything besides the numbers: the essays, the teacher recommendations, the extracurriculars.

As a friend of mine who’s worked in the Harvard’s Admissions Office told me, an applicant’s "Personal Qualities" rating is the single most under-rated aspect of the Harvard application.