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    Top Tips For Getting Into College With a Low GPA

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 28th, 2023
    Top Tips For Getting Into College With a Low GPA

    If you’re wondering how to get into college with a low GPA, fortunately there’s a few things you can do to boost your chances of admission. Although your GPA is an important part of your application, it’s certainly not everything. 

    Standardized test scores, personal essays, and letters of recommendation also play a big role in the college admissions process. Read on to learn what you can do to overcome your low GPA. 

    Related: College applications: What looks good? 

    What is considered a low GPA? 

    What’s considered a “low GPA” is relative to the colleges you’re applying to. For instance, a 3.5 GPA may be considered low at selective colleges, but high at schools that are less competitive. That’s why it’s important to understand the academic expectations of the schools you’re considering. 

    Check to see how your GPA compares to that of students recently admitted to your target schools. If your GPA is on the lower side, don’t get discouraged! Admission is still within reach by taking the following steps. 

    See also: Top tips to improve your GPA

    What can I do to make up for my GPA?

    You may not be able to improve your GPA at this point, but what you can do is focus on the things you can control. Here’s five steps you can take to move forward in a positive and productive fashion: 

    1. Explain any extenuating circumstances

    If you dealt with difficult life circumstances that were out of your control and prevented you from doing well in school, address this in your application. For instance, maybe you dealt with illness, family emergencies, or economic hardship. Colleges will understand and take this into account when evaluating your application. 

    Even if your low GPA is a result of mistakes on your part, you can still spin this in a positive manner if you worked hard to bring your grades up. Own up to your mistakes and describe what you’ve done to correct them. Whatever the case, just remember to explain instead of making excuses. 

    Avoid taking an accusatory stance and blaming others. Rather, lay out the facts in a straightforward manner, and if necessary, take responsibility for your low grades. 

    Additionally, avoid using your essay or personal statement as a place to explain your low GPA. Most applications leave room for you to provide additional information if needed, so use this space instead. 

    2. Earn high test scores

    Colleges will usually be more willing to overlook your low GPA if you have impressive SAT or ACT scores. Although they don’t count for everything, high test scores can give your application the boost it needs. To get a sense of what to aim for, check the average scores of students recently admitted to the colleges you’re considering. 

    A score within or above the range of your target schools can be an essential asset to your application. Even if the schools you’re applying to are test-optional, you should still take the SAT or ACT if you’re trying to make up for a low GPA. 

    Another option is to do well on AP tests and demonstrate your proficiency in certain subject areas. Keep in mind that AP exams are open to all students, even those who didn’t take the AP course. Acing these exams can also offer you college credit and an opportunity to graduate early!

    Related: How to improve your SAT score in 6 steps

    3. Get stellar recommendations

    Most colleges ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation to gain additional insight into your character and work ethic. Whether they’re teachers, counselors, or coaches, your recommenders can speak to your strengths and even help provide some context regarding your low GPA. 

    For instance, maybe you’ve had a teacher who witnessed your academic growth and knows how hard you worked to improve your grades. A good word from someone like this can go a long way in boosting your application. When requesting recommendations from teachers, it’s best to ask the ones you had during your junior or senior year. 

    4. Write strong essays 

    You’re much more than your GPA, and your college entrance essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate that. Here’s your chance to show admissions officers who you really are and why you’d be a great fit at their school. 

    When brainstorming ideas, think back to the most important experiences you’ve had in your life and how you could shape them into a meaningful essay. By writing a strong and impactful essay, you can greatly increase your chances of admission. 

    We’ve got a great wealth of resources to help you write the best essay possible. You can check out our guides to write an essay about yourself, how to write a 250 word essay, and a 500 word essay

    And to kick you off, here’s our guide on how to start a scholarship essay, which can also be useful for admissions essays! We even have a supplemental essay guide for specific colleges. You can also check out our behind-the-scenes guide to the admissions process that shows you how your application will be evaluated.

    Related: How to answer the Common App essay prompts

    5. Consider alternative paths to college 

    Getting an acceptance from a four-year college isn’t the only path to higher education. Some colleges offer conditional admission, where students take remedial courses and participate in college-readiness programs. Upon successful completion of these classes, students continue on with their education. 

    Another option is to start at a community college and build a GPA that’s strong enough to get into one of your desired schools. You can spend your first two years earning an associate degree before transferring. Plus, community college is relatively affordable compared to the cost of traditional four-year schools. 

    You can also try applying to a branch campus of one of the colleges you’d like to attend or look into trade school. Branch schools typically have lower academic requirements than flagship campuses, meaning admission isn’t quite as difficult. If you get accepted and establish a strong GPA, you can then transfer to the main college. 

    The bottom line is that there’s many paths to college, and they don’t all require an incredibly high GPA. 

    Related: Top reasons to attend a community college

    Most importantly, don’t give up…

    In the end, you shouldn’t let your GPA prevent you from attending college. Having a low GPA can be discouraging when you’re applying for college, but just keep your head up and stay focused on your goals. With some hard work and perseverance, it’s entirely possible to make it into college and achieve a quality education. 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • College options will look different for students with a low GPA, but they can still obtain a great college education by showcasing their other strengths
    • If possible, explain your extenuating circumstances that might’ve led to your grades not turning out exactly as you’d hoped 
    • Emphasize your extracurriculars, write great essays, and earn great standardized test scores
    • Make sure to secure great recommendations, and don’t just ask teachers – try mentors and coaches 
    • If your GPA prevents you from finding an ideal college situation, make sure to consider college alternatives such as trade school and coding bootcamps

    Frequently asked questions about how to get into college with a low GPA

    What is the lowest GPA that colleges will accept?

    There is no rule when it comes to what GPA colleges will accept. With the right essays, extracurriculars, and test scores, any GPA can get you into college. Many students who don’t complete high school and earn a GED still gain admission to college.

    So, remember that no matter your GPA, college is an option for you. Whether that entails starting at community college and transferring into a four-year institution, or lucking out with a college admission officer who finds your application compelling, you can find a way to receive a college education.

    Are there scholarships for students with low GPA?

    There are many scholarships out there that prioritize other factors over GPA, such as community service, demonstrated leadership, and innovation. Try out our list of scholarships for B students and our list of leadership scholarships for starters!

    What colleges can I get into with a 2.5 GPA?

    While a 2.5 GPA will make it difficult to get into the most competitive colleges, it does not actually disqualify you from most colleges! If you have impressive extracurricular accomplishments, great essays, and great recommendations, you could theoretically get in anywhere. Additionally, many schools accept students with 2.5 GPAs even if their extracurriculars are not out-of-this-world.

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