I got a C+ in AP Chem. How can I still get into top colleges?

By Maxine Seya

I got a C+ in AP Chem semester 1, as well as a B in AP Stats and AP Psych. I originally wanted to major in something related to engineering, math, or stats, but now with these grades, I doubt I can. I’ve always had straight As, so these grades were a shock to me. I was spending over 30 – 45 hours a week training for The Nutcracker ballet production and an Indian dance competition. I’m having trouble even adjusting to the thoughts of ever going to a prestigious college with a C+ on my transcript.

– Anonymous student

I know that shocking feeling. I started my first quarter of college with a 4.0 and ended my freshman year with a 2.9. Whoa, right? I proceeded to take off a whole year off from college.

Now for some facts. You can still get into a prestigious college with a C+. I got into Northwestern with a C-minus (69.9% — whew, barely escaped a D!) on my high school transcript. Certain admissions priorities have changed since I applied a decade ago, but not so much in regards to grades.

College admissions officers of the schools you describe as prestigious find grades and test scores to be one of the more “boring” aspects of the application. Deborah Foell-McDowell , an admissions director at Carnegie Mellon, one of those prestigious engineering schools, told us this:

“It’s more interesting if there is that C on the transcript and the teacher talks about how it wasn’t your favorite subject and it was a challenge for you, but you still showed up, you did the work, you went above and beyond. You might not have gotten the grade that you wanted, but you knew that it was important information. You started a study group and then you decided to move on with the next level in the next year.”

As long as your transcript shows academic rigor, mainly As, and improvement over time, they’ll want to consider the other aspects of your app.

Here’s another example why your C+ isn’t as disastrous as you might think.

Taylor got into Harvard this year with a D on her transcript. In her interview with us, she said:

“I received a D in a calculus class that I was taking on-campus at a local university, alongside several B grades. Trust that this lead to many tears. I specifically remember saying to my mother that now I had destroyed any chance that I had of getting into Harvard, my dream school. Using my essays, interviews, and extra space allowed on the Common App, I explained why this all occurred.”

If students can get into super selective schools with imperfect grades, then what actually matters? For certain admissions officers, extracurricular activities are the most important. Here’s what Riley Harris, an admissions

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.