Preparing for College

Waiting for First-Semester Grades Before Applying to Rolling Admission Colleges--Smart or Dumb Move?

Question: My school just sent my transcript to three universities that have rolling admissions. I waited until now to apply because I'm trying to show an upward trend. By holding off until mid-February, admission officials will be able to see my entire first semester. My test grades were fine for these rolling schools, but my GPA was the real issue. My marks in 9th and 10th grade were disappointing. I had no work ethic then, but my junior year went very well (3.6 unweighted in tough classes). So I wanted to show colleges that this upward curve has continued in 12th grade as well. I am, however, wondering whether or not I'll have a tougher chance getting in as the rolling schools have fewer spots this late in the season. Thanks for any help in advance.

That's a tough call because there are advantages to waiting until you have the strongest possible transcript but there are also advantages, as you suggest, to the "first-come, first-served" approach, and classes do fill up quickly at some places. However, if you were a borderline applicant (or perhaps even below that) before you got your latest grades, then waiting was probably the best strategy. I'd need a lot more information about your overall profile in order to weigh in responsibly on your admission odds and on whether or not you were wise to wait till now to apply. But, from what I do know, it sounds like you did the right thing.

One other thing you can do to help your cause would be to write to each of those three colleges immediately and explain why you waited. Tell each admission official** that this college has been on your radar screen--and high on your list--since last year but you wanted to prove that your 9th/10th grade transcript was not reflective of what you're capable of achieving. Ask them to please not construe your February application as any indication that they were a last-minute choice. Emphasize that your latest grades confirm your continuing upward trend, so that you're happy to be able to submit these new grades and you hope that you won't be penalized for waiting.

That's a best-of-both-worlds solution, in my opinion. The colleges will see your "upward curve," and they'll also view you as a thoughtful and committed candidate, not an 11th-hour slacker.

** Ideally, you will call each college and ask for the name of the admission official who oversees your high school and geographic region, if you don't already know it. Then send your letter directly to him or to her. Snail-mail is preferable, but you can also do an e-mail duplicate to make sure the message is received. First write the snail-mail letter. Then copy it into an e-mail message but add a preface along the lines of, "I already sent this letter to you via snail-mail, but because time is of the essence, I'm pasting it into this e-mail as well to make sure it reaches you as efficiently and promptly as possible. If you do get both versions, I apologize for the overkill."

Good luck and let me know how you make out.