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Wait, Do Colleges Actually Care About Your Freshman Year Of High School?

When you’re applying to colleges, it can feel like there are so many things you need to consider: your GPA, test scores, and list of extracurriculars, to name a few. But one of the most stressful parts of a college application, for some people, is their official transcript. Maybe there was one difficult AP class that dragged your GPA down. Or, perhaps you didn’t start off your education as strongly as you would have liked, which begs the question: Do colleges look at your freshman year of high school when evaluating your application?

It’s complicated, but the short answer is: yes. But does this mean you need to be worried if your freshman year grades were less than stellar? Absolutely not!

According to the College Essay Guy, an online resource for college applicants, colleges often take note of what classes you took your freshman year, as an indication of how devoted you’ve been to your studies throughout your entire high school career. If you can demonstrate that you were devoted to your studies even as a freshman — maybe by taking some prerequisites to set yourself up for success as a junior or senior — that can impress college admissions departments, even if you didn’t get straight As in those classes. 

Plus, if you started high school with low grades, but improved as the years passed, that can actually be seen as a point in your favor for many colleges. The admissions team will see that you persevered and found a way to grow and improve in academics. So, if your freshman year grades seem subpar, don’t freak out — you still have a solid chance of getting into a good school.

Even if your freshman year caused your GPA to be lower than you wanted, it doesn’t mean you won’t get into the school you want to go to. In the U.S., most college admissions teams use what’s called a holistic approach to reviewing applications. According to Duke University, “holistic admissions” means that instead of only focusing on your grades, college review teams take much more into account. Your extracurriculars, time spent volunteering, or unique life experiences and circumstances all matter just as much as a good test score or GPA. If something happened that made it hard to get good grades during your freshman year, colleges will also take that into account for your admissions decision.

Of course, this doesn’t mean grades don’t matter — they do, even in your early high school years. But they aren’t the end-all be-all when it comes to getting into college. If you aren’t happy with your freshman year, the best thing to do is reflect on what happened and try to do better in the future.

Jordyn Stapleton has been a National Lifestyle Writer for Her Campus since February 2023. She covers a variety of topics in her articles, but is most passionate about writing about mental health and social justice issues. Jordyn graduated from CU Boulder in December 2022 with Bachelor’s degrees in music and psychology with a minor in gender studies and a certificate in public health. Jordyn was involved in Her Campus during college, serving as an Editorial Assistant and later Editor-in-Chief for the CU Boulder chapter. She has also worked as a freelance stringer for the Associated Press. Jordyn is currently taking a gap year and working at a local business in Boulder, with hopes of attending graduate school in fall 2024. Jordyn enjoys reading, bullet journalling, and listening to (preferably Taylor Swift) music in her free time. If she isn’t brainstorming her next article, you can usually find her exploring coffee shops or hiking trails around Boulder with her friends.