Will 9th-Grade B and C in Math Hurt Engineering Prospects?

Question: If I had a C (in a half year, minor math class) and a B in geometry freshman year, but sophomore and junior year have been getting straight As in math classes, what are my chances of being accepted to a fairly competitive engineering school (given that my SAT score surpasses their average, as well as my regular grade point average, and I got above a 700 on the math Sat2), such as UMich or Purdue?

Although your C and B in freshman classes might have some negative impact on your overall GPA (and on your class rank, if your high school is one that provides rank), the college admission committees are going to be focused on your grades in your later, more rigorous classes and thus your 9th grade math grades will definitely not keep you out of competitive engineering programs, if you continue to earn the top grades that are you are earning now.

But do keep in mind that standardized test scores can play a bigger role in engineering admissions than they do in other academic areas. The more selective engineering programs will expect SAT math scores that are well over 700. At the U. of Michigan, for instance, the median SAT score is 1410. So any math score of 700—while certainly nothing to sneeze at and impressive at first glance—would actually put a student below the average there! And even when an engineering program doesn't require Subject Test scores, if you can submit high scores in Math II, Physics, and Chemistry, this will work in your favor.

So, when it's time to apply to college, don't worry about those two atypical freshman grades but do make sure that your college list includes a balance of “Reach," “Realistic" and “Safe" options, and pay attention to how your math and science test scores mesh with the medians.