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College application season is right around the corner! This exciting time is also potentially nerve-wracking, especially if you’re worried about your grades. This week, Jodi Marcus shares some of her top tips for getting into your dream school if your grades don’t quite make the cut.

How can I get into the college of my dreams?

Study materials (laptop, notebook, backpack)

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As you start to think about applying to college, you might be wishing you could go back in time and convince your younger self to take school more seriously. It can be incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re being held back because of decisions from the past. 

The good news? There are countless examples of students getting accepted into schools where their GPA did not fall into the average. You can still gain acceptances to the schools of your dreams… but it will just take some extra strategizing! Here’s how you can make it happen:

If You’re Still in Your Junior Year or Earlier…

Studying to improve grades

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Use Your Last Semesters to Study Hard and Improve Your Grades

Any improvement will show your growth and demonstrate to admissions officers that you’re striving to work harder and do better. Meet with your teachers or school counselors to help you form an action plan and brainstorm some tools for success.

Students study for a test

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Do Your Best on Your SAT and AP Exams

Scoring well on these tests can indicate your academic abilities and work ethic. If you don’t hit your target SAT/ACT scores, keep studying and take them again. Your improved score and additional effort shows colleges that you care!


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Excel in Your Extracurriculars or Other Leadership Opportunities

Find ways to make an impact before graduating! Whether you join the board of your favorite club, plan a protest, or become captain of your sports team, put your heart into your extracurricular activities by taking initiative. Colleges love to see applicants who are passionate leaders. You’ll have many impactful experiences worth sharing about.

If It’s Already Application Season…

Studying in community college

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Consider Attending Community College

Most community colleges are open-access, meaning nearly anyone who applies is accepted. You can attend community college for one or two years to improve your GPA. Then, apply to transfer to the college of your dreams. When you apply as a community college student, your most recent grades will stand out much more than your high school record. Many universities also have higher acceptance rates for transfer students, which can further put the odds in your favor. 

Choosing community college can give you a fresh start. As a bonus, you’ll save money on tuition in the process! 

Similarly, if you won’t be able to gain acceptance into your dream school right now, you can start out at a school with a higher acceptance rate and then reapply to transfer.

Applying to college to study

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Apply for Spring Admission or Alternative Admissions Programs 

Spring admissions often have higher acceptance, rates which gives you a big advantage. Many colleges also have alternative admissions programs, where they’ll accept you based on certain stipulations. Schools might:

  • Require that you take (and succeed in) summer session or other special classes
  • Guarantee that you can transfer in from another college if you earn good grades there first
  • Offer you admission at a later date (like the spring or summer)

Speak with your college counselor or schools’ admissions offices to learn about their options for alternative admissions!

Early for college applications

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Demonstrate Your Interest in the School and Consider Applying Early

You can also increase your chances of admission by demonstrating your sincere enthusiasm about the school. Show interest by

  • Visiting campus
  • Signing up for an official tour
  • Subscribing to newsletters and promotional materials
  • Signing in with the university at college fairs
  • Sending follow-up emails when appropriate 

Acceptance rates can also be higher for early admissions applicants. Check out Verto’s Guide to College Deadline Terminology to learn more about your different options for applying early.

Writing an essay to study in college

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Write Amazing Essays

Your essays are an opportunity to show off your strengths and describe what makes you unique. 

Be sure to start working on your essays the summer before senior year. This way, you have plenty of time to write something great. In the brainstorming phase, reflect on questions like: “What are my best traits?” “What am I most passionate about?” “What are my goals?”

You can also use your essay to reflect on your struggles in high school and demonstrate how your perspective has changed or the positive qualities you’ve developed. 

Have your essays reviewed and edited by your college counselor or other trusted mentors to make sure they are well-written and clearly convey your strengths.


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Explain Yourself

The Common App and most other applications provide a section for students to elaborate upon any information not otherwise reflected in the application or personal statement. You can describe personal circumstances or other obstacles that impacted your studies.

If extenuating circumstances that hindered your ability to do well in school, you can explain them here. Demonstrate your resilience and work ethic by phrasing your experiences as challenges that you were able to overcome. Colleges appreciate when students have faced adversity, so don’t be afraid to speak honestly about your hurdles.

Student taking summer classes

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Utilize Summer School and Online Classes 

Utilizing summer sessions to retake classes can demonstrate your commitment to your education. Depending on your school’s policies, you might even be able to replace your old grade with the new one!

Even if it’s too late to improve your GPA, taking additional classes can demonstrate your love of learning. Online classes can be especially useful for non-traditional subjects that you otherwise don’t have access to at school. Pursue your passions and admissions committees will take note!

College application letters of recommendation

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Submit Stellar Letters of Recommendation

Think carefully about who to ask for letters of recommendation. Your letters should come from teachers or mentors who know your potential & skillset. When reaching out for letters, include some points about specific instances of your hard work or success in their classes. This ensures that recommenders will have plenty of great examples to share about you.

Travel stands out on college applications

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Take Time Off Before Applying (and Use It Super Productively)

There are tons of benefits to taking time off before college. This can be an amazing chance to have experiences that set you apart from other applicants. You can use the time to have a meaningful internship, earn course credits, impact your local community, or travel/study abroad. These experiences will give you unique stories to talk about in your essays and interviews. 

Admissions officers will be impressed that you have taken time to expand your skill set and grow as a person and student before applying.

Verto Semester Abroad

Participate in a Verto Semester 

Enrolling with Verto makes it much easier to gain college acceptances and have an amazing start to your freshman year.  When you are accepted to a Verto semester, you are also guaranteed acceptance into at least one of our 60+ partner colleges, streamlining the application process and securing your spot at an amazing school. 

Students who might not gain acceptance to certain schools when applying on their own have a much higher chance when they apply through Verto. Our partner colleges are eager to accept Verto students because they know the immense benefits of a Verto semester and the huge growth students obtain by having their freshman semester abroad. 

A semester with Verto can still increase your chances of acceptance even when applying to schools that are not Verto partners. Colleges love to see students with meaningful time abroad and they will also take note of your hands-on learning experiences and improved academic performance in your Verto classes.

Students who complete a semester with Verto stand out from the crowd because they have gained countless real world experiences, a more developed global perspective, and more confidence and clarity in their goals and passions.

The Bottom Line

Studying in a college library

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The Bottom Line 

Keep in mind that many great schools practice holistic admissions- meaning they consider you as a whole person and not just as a set of grades or test scores. Lucky for you, most admissions committees will be evaluating you based on your extracurricular involvement, talents and skills, personal circumstances, awesome personality, and more. 

So don’t stress too much about your past holding you back. Focus on the present and on the parts of your application you do have control over. Be proud of your growth and sell yourself! An amazing college education is totally attainable for you. 

At Verto, we want YOU to find the perfect post-high school plans for YOU. We’d love to help you plan for an epic start to college with a Verto semester abroad. Reach out to our team to learn more!