college admissions

As a college admissions consultant, I always encourage students to succeed at the highest level in both their classes and on the standardized tests required for acceptance at most colleges. But given that success is measured differently for every student, I want to provide some guidance for those who have a mid-range or lower GPA.

In looking for schools that are the right “fit” for your child, we suggest broadening the criteria to include more than just the basics of a “good education” or “schools I have heard of.” Balancing what students think they want with what they need to be successful is challenging. There are a few guidebooks available, such as America’s Best Colleges for B Students and one of my personal favorites, Colleges That Change Lives, which can help mid-range students get started on their college search. Talking through some of the following introspective questions also may help the process to move ahead.

  • What am I personally hoping to gain from attending college?
  • Do I perform better when I am in classes where I am challenged or where the material comes more easily?
  • Do I know how to ask for extra help or do I just accept my grades as they are?
  • Do I contribute in class? If not, why not?
  • Do I work well in groups with my peers?
  • Do my grades suffer if I spread myself too thin and join too many clubs or activities?
  • Do I do well on tests but my grade is lowered because I do not hand in all of my homework?
  • Do I enjoy talking with my teachers and seek out extra help or would I hide out in a lecture hall and possibly skip classes if not held accountable?

The point of most of these questions is trying to get a sense of where students will be their best self and where they will also be happiest. Would a small college environment with lots of personal attention from professors allow them to be more vocal or active in classes? Does wanting a rah-rah spirited campus life have to be traded in for a serious academic environment? It’s often a balancing act.

Unlike many students where an undecided major might be ok to start off with in college, I have found that many mid-range GPA students often perform better when they have a more focused plan for why they’re going to college beyond the social experience. A college that is the “right fit” for a mid-range high school student can often set them up for success at the highest level because they are engaged, focused and excited about what they are learning.

The good news is that the biggest trend that I have noticed among students with a mid-range or lower GPA is that they are often the students who can see the most sizeable jump in their performance if put in the right environment for college. If they seek out colleges which encourage students to combine classes with internship experience or even participate in a co-op program such as those offered at Drexel University or The University of Dayton , the combination of learning and application often allows students to better understand what they are studying and therefore perform at their highest level.

Even though so much attention in the news and even in high schools is given to the highest achieving students, I have found that working with mid-range students can be the most satisfying as we uncover opportunities and options families never thought possible. Rest assured, our experience is that there are lots of options for every type of student. Keeping an open mind, eyes and ears to see and hear what a diversity of colleges offer may be our best tip to help your student find success.



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Written by Kara Courtois
Kara Courtois is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Kara holds degrees from University of Notre Dame and University of Portland; she completed her graduate coursework at Teachers College, Columbia University and Steinhardt School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Kara was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College.