Preparing for College

Will One Bad Grade Damage College Admission Decisions?

Question: I’ve always had a strong GPA and take top courses. My SAT scores are pretty good, too. Now, however, I’m about to finish the first semester of my senior year, and it looks like I’m going to get a D in Calculus BC. Will this affect my college admission decisions?

Admission officers are often willing to give a lot of slack to atypically low grades in Calculus BC because they know it’s a tough course, and they admire those who tackle it anyway. However, how much your D will hurt admission decisions will depend a lot on where you are applying and other extenuating factors. For instance, if you’re aiming for an Ivy League institution or other highly selective schools, your “competition” will include hundreds of other applicants who got A’s in all of their classes—including Calc BC. On the other hand, if you come from a disadvantaged background, are a recruited athlete, uncommonly talented musician or writer, etc., then admission officials may be more interested in factors beyond your math prowess—or lack thereof.


Any chance you can make that D into a C? That could make a significant difference at decision time. Perhaps a chat with your teacher—and the promise to take on an optional assignment or project—might earn you a better grade.

Overall, while it’s hard to make a determination without knowing more, it is very possible that the D could impact final decisions. That's hard to hear after you’ve worked diligently for all these years, but the world of elite admission can be pretty unforgiving. Whatever happens, you are to be congratulated on an excellent high school career, and you should know that there are many, many roads to happiness and success.