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What to Do If Your Academic Performance Drops

Stephen Pemberton/FastWeb

Not all people have a smooth experience in high school. It takes some people longer to adjust, and others make choices that could have been better. And some students have to deal with serious life issues while in school: death, divorce, athletic injuries, or an end of a serious relationship.

Whatever the situation, it might have meant a bumpier road rather than the one expected – and students may think they’ve ruined their chances of getting into a good school. Not true. There are ways to deal with the circumstances and salvage your college hopes.

Deal with It Directly

The professionals who read your college application are just that – professional. That means they’re almost certainly going to notice the drop in your performance, which means that you have to talk about it. If you don’t, they are likely to make some assumptions that may not be in your favor – particularly if it’s a highly selective school. Use the essay part of the application – or submit an additional brief statement – to describe the circumstances. Be straightforward and succinct when describing the situation; don’t dramatize or exaggerate.

Take Responsibility

By taking responsibility, you show admissions officers that you’re not making excuses and that you’ve learned from the experience. Remember, admission officers aren’t going to high school with you and have no reason to believe that a difficult or unfair teacher is the real reason for that “C” in biology. So instead of making excuses, briefly describe how you dealt with the situation and the steps you’ve taken to rebound academically. Be sure to conclude on a note of optimism and determination.


The best way to convince an admission officer that your slip was momentary is to pick up your grades. Even a single semester’s improved performance indicates that you have rebounded from the situation and that you possess the inner strength to overcome obstacles. More importantly, admissions officers are likely to believe that you will continue your upward trend as you move on to college.

An academic slump doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t go your first-choice college or that you won’t achieve your goals. Both are possible, as long as you take steps to address the situation and prove to the admissions officers that you have the talent and ambition that their college is looking for.

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