By now, you know it's important to make a good first impression on your college applications. But what if there are problems with important parts of your applications-like your GPA, test scores or student record? We asked four admissions counselors how to improve the weak parts of your application.
Let's say you've worked hard and earned good grades-during your junior and senior years. Unfortunately, you didn't work as hard during your freshman and sophomore years, and your GPA shows it. Now that you're applying to colleges, you wish you could do the first part of high school over. What now?
First, realize you're probably not the only applicant with this problem. Matthew Yoder, an admissions counselor at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, says it's not unusual for many students to take a year or two to "warm-up" to high school and figure out that their grades will have a long-term effect.
Matthew says the most important issue is the pattern of grades over time. "Ultimately, we're looking for a positive trajectory," he explains. "Let's say a student's GPA is lower than what we require. If we can tell that low grades in the first couple years of high school caused this low GPA, we will take that into consideration. In that case, the senior year is what's going to show us the student's academic ability."
Matthew is currently considering Daniel's* application. Daniel didn't take much of anything seriously early on in high school. He turned away from God, hung out with the wrong crowd and blew off his classes. Late in his junior year, Daniel got plugged into a youth group and dedicated his life to Christ. He started getting As and Bs in school instead of his usual Cs and Ds. But it was already too late. His cumulative GPA was really low.
Here's how he handled his weak grades: In his personal testimony, which is required as part of the application, Daniel admitted to messing up. But he didn't stop there. He went on to explain that when he got serious about his faith, everything started falling into place for him-including his grades.
Daniel also made his application stand out by getting extra recommendation letters from his pastor and teachers.
"All of his references are giving us a positive impression of him," Matthew says. "His recommendations address the problems we saw in his application." Despite his low GPA, Matthew says Daniel's chances of getting into Trinity are good.
Most Christian colleges ask for personal testimonies and recommendations so the admissions counselors can better understand you and get a sense of your character. So what happens if you have a disciplinary problem on your record? "Although you've probably got some explaining to do, you won't necessarily be rejected," says Luke Cureton, an admissions counselor from Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas.
Luke recently received an application from Jason, who had a suspension on his school record. Jason explained that he'd gotten into a loud, confrontational argument with a teacher and was suspended for his inappropriate behavior. He accepted the consequences and learned a lesson. Most importantly, Jason admitted that he'd been wrong. That was the first time he'd had a disciplinary problem at school, and he hasn't since.
Luke encourages anyone who's had disciplinary problems to talk about them with their admissions counselor. "I just like to find out what the incident was about and if the student learned his lesson," Luke says. "I want to give them a chance."