Preparing for College

Tiny Dip or Downward Trend in Grades?

Question: My daughter had all A's in the most rigorous courses in 9th and 10th grades, but received one A- in an AP Spanish course first semester of 11th and a B+ in Honors Precalculus second semester of 11th. The remainder of her grades are all A's. Will the A- and B+ in her junior year be viewed as a "downward trend," or will colleges see that her overall record is still extremely strong? After 10th grade, she was ranked first in her class of 700, but she's probably now dropped a few places.

Colleges will not see a tiny tumble such as the one you describe as anything close to a downward spiral. Certainly your daughter’s overall record is strong, and it will be viewed that way.


I do, however, feel compelled to point out that, once your daughter drops off the valedictorian’s throne, she will lose a bit of her competitive edge at the Ivies and other hyper-selective schools, but that’s not to say that she’s out of the running. The top colleges like to count valedictorian and salutatorian heads like notches in gunfighter’s belt, so even if your daughter is only a couple rungs below that, she won’t have quite the same allure as she would if coming from the number-one or number-two slots.

I now feel the urge to climb upon my soapbox and expound on how much I hate to say things like that. Indeed, a student with your daughter’s record should feel nothing but proud, and I have many problems with a system that would suggest to her that she has failed in any way. My local high school just did away with class rank, and—while there are clearly pros and cons to that decision—at least it should take a lot of unnecessary stress off of high-achieving kids and also enable them to choose classes based on their passions and goals and not on what will pump a GPA a few fractions of a point higher.

Keep in mind, too, that when it comes to elite-college admission decisions, many factors are in play. A good rank or GPA and test scores are required, but they are just the tickets to the ballpark, and a student needs a lot more to get into the reserved seats. Your daughter could have talents and passions and other desirable traits that will make her a more sought-after candidate than those who may end up a few ranks ahead of her when the dust settles.

So, don’t sweat the “downward trend.” Colleges won’t see it because indeed there’s nothing to see.