As a former high schooler and the mom to two current high schoolers, I’ve heard over and over, “Junior year of high school is the hardest year of high school AND the most important year for their grades if they are thinking about college.” History has shown me that for the most part, that statement is true; but why?

When our students begin their junior year of high school, they are usually entering into more challenging and rigorous courses. They took the foundation courses their freshman and sophomore year, and are now building upon that knowledge with higher level learning and material. On top of that, their end of junior year transcript (the official high school record of all their classes and grades) containing their most recent grades will get sent in with most college applications in the fall of their senior year.

College admissions officers consistently cite grades in core classes as very important in the college admissions process. This would mean that they are looking at grades in science, math, english and social studies classes as an indicator of what a student has achieved and will continue to achieve in college.

Does this mean that your child’s grades need to be perfect? Not necessarily. A lot depends on the type of college they are intending to attend.

Does Your Student Need Perfect High School Grades? 

If your student is aiming for the Ivy League or other colleges in the “most competitive” category, straight As are usually expected. These schools have very low acceptance rates and will be looking to weed out students based on many factors, but grades will be an easy one.

Most colleges will be looking for an upwards progression in grades over the high school years. So maybe your student struggled a little in core classes freshman and sophomore years. As long as your student shows grade improvement from year to year, this isn’t something to be too concerned about.

Additionally, special circumstances are not cause for alarm and should be explained in the college application. Did your child have a particularly bad semester due to illness or personal issues?  Did COVID have a significant impact on your family situation or child’s ability to learn? There are special sections on college applications where you can explain these things. Make sure it gets documented there.

Strength of Curriculum Matters

Although a college would rather see an “A” than a “B,” a “B” in an honors or AP course often carries more weight (both literally and figuratively), than an “A” in a non-honors course.

Selective colleges want to see that a student took the most challenging and rigorous courses offered at his or her school. The only time it makes sense not to enroll in the most challenging course that your student is eligible for, is if it will be a struggle and your student already has a history of lower grades in that subject.  Most selective colleges want to see honors and advanced placement (AP) or Dual Enrollment (DE) courses on your transcript if they are available at your school.

Target Colleges That Fit Your Student’s Grade Profile

As harsh as it sounds, Ivy League college admissions are probably not likely for a student with a B average. If your student has a B or C average does that mean they won’t get accepted into any college? Absolutely not. Your student should target colleges that have a history of accepting students with his or her GPA. With over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States, there are many options to find the best academic fit for your student. The name or “status” of a school should not be why you choose to apply. Finding a “best fit” school involves looking at financial factors, social factors, and academic factors that meet your student’s needs and wants.

How do you find this information? The best place to start is online with college websites and college search engines. On a college website, you can usually find a page that gives admitted student statistics. This is often on a Fast Facts page or somewhere in the Admissions area of the website. Colleges most often list the GPA range for the middle 50% of admitted applicants. This means that only 25% of students admitted have GPAs below this, but an additional 25% of admitted students have GPAs above this.

If your student falls in the middle 50% or above, it is not a guarantee of admission, but is encouraging enough to continue to investigate the school. If your student falls below the middle 50%, it is probably a sign to look elsewhere, but if your student really has his or her heart set on the school, you could consider it a “reach” school. Just be sure your student is prepared for potential rejection.

MyCAP is a great online resource that allows you to search for schools based on factors such as size of school, distance from home, and major, but it also includes sorting factors such as net cost and funding gaps. These parameters allow you to compare the financial fit factors side by side with the academic and social factors; showing you the full picture for each college. 

When your student is in their junior year of high school, encourage them to do their best in their classes and push themselves, even when it gets hard. High school grades do matter. When your student makes higher grades in high school and maintains a high GPA, they open themselves up to more college choices. Keeping a focus on grades will not only increase chances for college admissions, but can also lead to merit scholarships. A win-win situation for your student and possibly your bank account!

Ready To Start Your Search?

With MyCAP, students and their parents can start to search colleges across the nation to better understand:

  1. The actual cost of colleges including financial aid projections.
  2. Admission standards, and average GPA/test scores for each college.
  3. Available scholarship opportunities for students of every academic level.

And more!

The spring of your student’s junior year is when the rubber meets the road, so to speak. They’ve spent all of high school preparing for this moment – and now it’s time to shine! Sign up for your free MyCAP membership to unlock college information, start your search, and gain access to countless educational opportunities and resources as you continue on your journey. We’ll see you soon!