Question: Will a "C" in 10th grade math hurt English major prospects? This class is the second-hardest in our school (nationally-ranked STEM school) but it is not an honors/AP class.
Yes and no. (How's that for an ambiguous, UNhelpful answer?) : -( The reason that “The Dean" can't do better is because the answer:
1. Depends on where you're applying
2. Hinges on all the other components of your application, ranging from your GPA and standardized test scores to how you will stand out in a crowd based on many factors such as your extracurricular accomplishments, your racial/ethnic/family background, etc.
At the vast majority of colleges, one lone sophomore “C" in a tough class in a demanding school will have no impact at all on your admission outcomes two years later. However, the “C" will have at least a tiny impact on your overall GPA and also on your class rank (if your school provides one). If you end up applying to most hyper-competitive colleges, you will be vying for a spot with students who have perfect grades and tip-top class ranks. But, as noted above, if other aspects of your “profile" are intriguing, then the “C" will be easily overlooked. (And if it turns out to be the only “C" on your transcript by senior year, you can ask your guidance counselor to mention in your letter of recommendation that this math course — while not Honors or AP — is reputed to be grueling.)
If you are aiming for an English major and math continues to be your Achilles' heel, admission officials will take into consideration that you are a humanities maven and not a numbers whiz. On the other hand, at the most sought-after colleges, the admission folks typically expect their successful candidates to be firing on all cylinders, garnering the best grades even in academic areas that aren't part of their future plans.
Bottom line: This grade is either nothing (or little) to worry about. But if you do think you will be applying to the Ivies and their ilk, it's time to start thinking about how you can distinguish yourself in the classroom and beyond. Also keep in mind that the most selective colleges turn down thousands of interesting, qualified candidates every year, and that there are many roads to happiness and success. So when you begin to create your college list, regardless of the grades on your final transcript, make sure it includes a reasonable balance of “Reach," “Realistic" and “Safe" options and that you are excited about all of them.