What Grades Do Colleges Look at the Most?

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Perhaps you’ve started to prepare beforehand for the looming college application season and are wondering what grades are required to help you secure admission into your dream school. Do colleges look at middle school grades? Do colleges look at senior year grades?

You might feel the pressure if you’re asking yourself these questions, especially since your grades play a significant role in the selection process. But fear not, because in this article, we’ll explain what grades do colleges look at the most and other important aspects for high school students.

Do High School Grades Matter for College?Do High School Grades Matter for College?

Colleges are especially interested in a student’s senior and junior year grades, even though they take all four years of high school grades into account. These two years are the most relevant and recent, representing your current maturity level. By the time you reach junior year, you will have two years of high school experience under your belt and will be aware of how to manage and navigate your academic education.

For this reason, maintaining strong grades in your senior and junior high school years showcases that you understand the value of education. Additionally, you have to take the following core subject classes when starting high school:

  • English
  • Foreign Language
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Try to score at least As or B+s in these courses and carry them forward to more advanced courses since colleges will look at your core classes, senior, and junior year grades upon making admissions decisions.

What High School Grades are Most Important for Colleges?

What High School Grades are Most Important for Colleges?

If you’re unsure what grades do colleges look at for GPA and which ones are the most important, let’s delve into the answer by breaking down each high school year:

Do Colleges Look at Freshman Year Grades?

Some universities tend to consider freshman-year grades, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be prioritized over the junior and senior year ones.  Still, don’t worry if you haven’t performed your best during this school year; admissions teams understand that students need time to adjust to the workload and the transition from middle school to high school life.

Use the next three years to improve your studying habits, even if you achieved stellar first-year grades. Continue receiving impressive grades until you get your acceptance letters, as your academic transcript dictates how ready you are to attend college.

Consult your guidance counselor about establishing the best possible schedule to ensure you take desired courses timely and can identify the ones whose material you struggle with, if any. Staying on top of your game is in your best interest, so you don’t fall behind or risk the possibility of failing classes.

Do Colleges Look at Sophomore Year Grades?

Colleges often give more weight to grades from a student’s sophomore year compared to their freshman year. They rely on grades from the second, third, and fourth years of high school to gauge a student’s academic potential in a college-level environment. An upward trend or consistent high GPA in your sophomore year signals commitment and progress. To avoid considerable stress in your final year, we recommend  prioritizing solid academics and active involvement in extracurricular activities early on.

Luckily, starting from the sophomore year, many high schools offer the opportunity to enroll in AP courses. This allows students to tackle any foundational classes needed for more advanced courses in their junior and senior years. However, if a foundational course feels overly demanding, you should reconsider enrolling in its advanced counterpart in subsequent years.

Do Colleges Look at Junior Year Grades?

As for the question of do colleges look at junior year grades and whether junior year grades are the most important, the answer is yes! Since college applications typically kick off in the beginning of senior year, the transcripts sent mostly comprise junior year grades. For this reason, junior year serves as a forecast of your academic trajectory in your last year.

Universities hold these grades in high regard. A consistent record of high achievement or noticeable improvement from sophomore to junior year can be a testament to your readiness for college. You can boost your college prospects by enrolling in advanced courses during this period, such as:

Taking an AP course and achieving a B often reflects the same rigor and understanding as securing an A in a standard class. So, don’t hesitate to challenge yourself with advanced courses. Given the weighted grading scale many schools adopt for these classes, it’s possible to boost your GPA, sometimes even beyond the traditional 4.0 limit.

Do Colleges Look at Senior Year Grades?

Your senior year grades play a crucial role in the eyes of college admissions committees. Good grades during the first semester of this year can leave a lasting positive impression on your application and significantly boost your overall GPA. For example, if you find yourself on a college’s waitlist, strong senior grades might just tip the balance in your favor.

Additionally, even after granting admission, many colleges continue to review your end-of-year grades. This emphasis means that it’s in your best interest to maintain consistent academic performance throughout high school.

What Do Colleges Look at Beside Grades?

What Do Colleges Look at Beside Grades?

Here are some aspects colleges consider in your application other than grades:

Standardized Test Scores

According to experts, even if universities have a test-optional policy, that’s not really the case. Colleges use ACT and SAT scores to gauge the applicants academic aptitude above and beyond their transcripts. According to recent admission trends, top colleges such as Colgate, Vanderbilt, and Emory accept more students who have sent in their test scores.

While taking standardized tests is stressful and time-consuming, they should be taken seriously as they can make a huge difference in acceptance and rejection into colleges.

Community Engagement and Extracurriculars

Universities are interested in more than just what you do in the classroom; they wish to nurture vibrant communities of activities, artists, athletes, innovators, volunteers, and so much more. Sure, every teen has interests, but how you channel them to enrich your community and contribute to the world will help boost your college application.

We advise bringing 100% of your effort, teamwork, and ideas to the table, whether you’re involved in clubs, community-based organizations, teams, or other school-related activities. This way, you can get the most out of your extracurriculars and show colleges that you’re committed to making a positive impact.

Compelling Essays

Another way to impress college admissions officers is by showing off your writing abilities through your college essays. As one of the most significant college application components, you can make a compelling case for yourself by painting a picture of your interests, passions, personalities, etc. This aspect is where you let your personality shine and let your dream school get to know you better.

Does it sound like a major undertaking? Yes, but there’s no reason to panic because with proper diligence, preparation, and reflection, you can easily learn how to use your essays to your advantage.

Recommendation Letters

In most cases, college counselors can spot the difference between a letter of recommendation written by a coach, community leader, or teacher who knows you well and one who barely does. Keeping this in mind, students need to develop meaningful relationships with leaders who can write impressive rec letters for them. And no, this doesn’t entail detailing your favorite beverage or color.

You should ask for pointers and feedback from your coaches, engage with teachers during office hours, and show your great qualities in a way that makes a difference in the field or class. Investment and effort in the areas that matter the most will help your recommenders describe your talents and characteristics in detail, which is what makes a good recommendation letter.

Leadership Experience

Most colleges also take your leadership potential into account. This means that students should demonstrate the times they’ve overcome challenges, taken the lead, collaborated with others, and pushed out of their comfort zone. Just showing up doesn’t cut it, so don’t hesitate to tell your interesting stories of how you tackled adversities and came out stronger on the other side.

Do Colleges Even Look at Your Middle School Grades?

Do Colleges Even Look at Your Middle School Grades?

So, do colleges look at 8th-grade grades? What about even lower-class grades? Luckily, no college, even Ivy Leagues, doesn’t consider your middle school grades as part of your college application. By the time you’re applying to university, your middle school grades are old news and won’t be an accurate representation of you as a current student.

For instance, a C in science when you were 13 years old doesn’t provide any insight into your study habits and grades as an 18 or 17-year-old. Since middle school happened too long ago to be useful, colleges understand that penalizing you for poor grades during this time would be unfair. Additionally, these grades are more subjective than high school ones, with some teachers giving As to everyone while others are stricter.

Wrapping Things Up: What Grades Do Colleges Look at the Most?

Now that you’ve gotten a rundown of which grades to prioritize for college, you’ll better understand the importance of maintaining a high GPA throughout high school. Do colleges look at average grades? Yes, but a strong academic portfolio and standing increases your chances of getting into the schools you apply to. We recommend planning beforehand, practicing time management, and studying regularly to make your life easier by the time college admissions season comes around.

Did you enjoy this post? Check out our other helpful college admission related articles here.

> Do Absences Affect Your College Acceptance?

> How Good is a 2.5 GPA? What Colleges Accept a 2.5 GPA?

> Is Senior Year Important for College Admissions?

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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