Getting Into College With A Low GPA

The average GPA for U.S. high school students is a 3.0, but the average GPA for U.S. college-bound students is between a 3.5 and 4.0. College acceptance is a competitive market, and although your GPA is important, it’s not everything college admissions counselors consider. If your GPA isn’t what you need it to be, here are some tips to help you get back on track for college admissions.

SAT & ACT Scores

One of the best ways that you can prove that your GPA isn’t representative of your abilities is to take both the SAT and ACT and do a killer job on them. Many colleges are no longer requiring those standardized tests, but that doesn’t mean a stellar score won’t show a college admissions team that your GPA doesn’t define you. A good way to prepare is to take an SAT Prep Course like the one offered by Excel High School. Even taking a prep course is a significant sign of responsible behavior that you shouldn’t keep to yourself during the admissions process.

Last Ditch Efforts

You can make some final efforts to improve your GPA if you’re still taking classes. Whatever amount of time you have left in high school needs to be dedicated to earning the highest grades you possibly can. Especially if your lower GPA is due to a rough start in high school and not indicative of your junior or senior years, proving that you know how much work it takes to earn higher grades can be solid evidence to present to college admissions. 

Colleges often admit students under a conditional status as long as they can show that they understand the work it takes to do well. They might require that you take some study skill or remedial courses, or they might ask that you meet with an academic advisor more often. You might even have to meet certain GPA criteria for a while as you prove yourself capable of college life. 

If you have time and can do well in them, take a few AP Classes and then do your best on the AP exams for each class. Advanced Placement classes are challenging and push students in their ability to use analysis and critical thinking skills. Successfully completing AP classes and passing their corresponding exams can help you show that your past academic history doesn’t define you. 

Essays & Applications

When it’s time to write your college essays and fill out your applications, be honest about your shortcomings. Don’t try to make excuses. If you didn’t take high school seriously until senior year, explain what that attitude was, explain where it came from, and then explain what happened that made you turn it around. However, if you experienced something that actually caused you to lose sight of your goals or your background somehow influenced your behavior, be honest about that too while still acknowledging your role and your own personal decisions.

Before submitting your application or your essays, have a couple of trusted adults read through them. When they give you constructive criticism, listen to and consider it, keeping an open mind about any changes they suggest. 

Recommendation Letters

Your recommendation letters will be an important support for your application. If you have a teacher or mentor who has known you well throughout your academic career, then ask them to write a recommendation and address the positive changes you’ve made. It’s important to show that you have experienced some enlightenment in regard to your academics. 

On the other hand, a recommendation that speaks about you in glowing terms doesn’t hurt either! Be sure whoever writes your recommendations understands the situation you’re in and is willing to stand in your corner despite a lower-than-average GPA. If they explain the reasons why they have faith in your abilities, then the college admissions staff might be convinced to do the same.


Playing up your extracurriculars, showing any initiative or leadership roles you took, and explaining what you learned from participating in them will increase your chances of acceptance as well. Remember that extracurricular activities aren’t restricted to in-school activities. If you played on a community sports team, volunteered at your church, or participated in a food drive, add it to your list.

Even though working a part time job doesn’t count as an extracurricular, if you were busy working, make sure that you mention that somewhere, too. Showing that you are responsible is important information to include to offset a lower GPA.

Take an Alternative Route

If nothing works and you still don’t get into your top choices, go ahead and feel how you need to feel, but don’t stay in that place of disappointment. Consider community college or a career certificate program like those offered from our accredited post-secondary institution, Washington Technical Institute. Both of these options are less expensive while still offering you a clear path to a career that you’ll love. Attending a vocational school or community college will give you time to mature and find out what it is you truly want to do with your life.

College is a wonderful time to learn about who you are as an individual while you hone your strengths and make plans for the future. Give these tips a shot and aim for your dreams. As long as you are taking the steps available to you, none of it will be a waste of time and effort. Every effort and every lesson will move you forward toward your goals.

Ready to start your journey with Excel High School?

It's simple. Just click the button below and we will help you begin!