Are Grades Really That Important?

We all know that grades are important for many different reasons, especially in post-secondary aspirations. But really how important are they? What if you are a national baton twirler? Or captain of your school’s Drama Club?

The National Association for College Admission Counseling did a study that, in part, broke down how admission representatives ranked the factors in a student’s application. Here’s a summary:

o let’s look at the list and see what we can find out.

1. Grades in college preparatory courses, like Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, IB, etc. top the list.

This shows you are prepared to enter college, take academic challenges, and are prepared. Be careful, grades in these courses do not always show mastery of the content. If there is a final test to earn the college credit, you will need to do well on that as well.

2. Also important is the curriculum, or content you took.

I know you love Physical Education- but having ⅓ of your credits come from there isn’t a good sign. Admissions wants to see a balance of core content (math, science, literature, social studies, and foreign language) and electives that show your interests? Did you take the bare minimum? Or did you take courses that make sense given your aspirations? Aspiring business majors: did you take economics, finance, and/or accounting? Art majors: you need art classes. Get it? Go light on the “fluff” courses, focus on core content and sprinkle in your interests.

3. Then comes your ACT and SAT scores.

These are important because this test shows if you are “college-ready.” Can you read a book passage, synthesize the information, and give an articulated, evidence-based answer?

4. Grades in all courses are different than your core courses.

Did you take them all seriously and put forth your best effort? Even if you were put into photography, as that was the only thing open, did you pass it because you buckled down and did it, or just give up and fail? Be sure you always choose ALL your classes wisely as they do all matter.

5. The essay is very important to sway admissions for schools.

This can tell a lot about you: your academic strength, your creativity, your analysis, and even a personal story that lets your personality come through. Please do not just whip something together. Take your time, edit thoroughly, and be sure it is exactly what you want. For schools where it is not required, talk with your school counselor if you should submit something anyways (some will take a personal statement).

6. I’ll finish with this one- recommendations.

Once the admissions committee has looked at your application, your scores, your grades, and your essay, the recommendations from your teachers and counselor ends up playing a part in your admissions. If they have nothing good to say about you (trust me, we know how to say things without them being apparent to the student!), it will show and can reflect negatively on your application. I have had teachers deny students because as one teacher said, “You really do not want a recommendation from me. It won’t do you any good.” Start building these relationships early so they can actually speak to your strengths, and then your recommendations will be much better!

So overall, I think this list is very useful at seeing how admissions looks at you, as a student. The more you can strengthen in these areas, the better!

Full reference: How Colleges View a Student’s Application (Weismann, 2013) take from Clinedist, M. & Hawkins,D. (2012). 2010 state of college admissions. National Association for College Admissions Counseling,