Do Colleges Look at Freshman Year Grades?

August 2, 2023
7 min read

Are you wondering if colleges look at freshman year? Read on to uncover the importance of freshman-year grades and extracurricular activities in college admissions. 

As you embark on your academic high school journey, a common question often arises: Do colleges look at freshman year? It's completely natural to be concerned about the influence of your early high school performance on your college admissions prospects. 

In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll dive into the significance of freshman-year grades and extracurricular activities from the perspective of college admissions officers. 

By addressing the most common questions surrounding this topic, our goal is to give you a deeper understanding of how colleges evaluate your freshman year and guide you toward making informed decisions. 

Freshman year is a pivotal time in your high school career since it sets the foundation for the subsequent years of your academic journey. Understanding the importance of this formative period and its impact on college admissions can help you navigate the path to higher education more effectively.

If you've ever wondered, “do colleges look at freshman year?” or thought about the implications of freshman year for your future college applications, this blog post provides the answers you seek. Let's get started and unravel the mysteries surrounding the role of freshman year in the eyes of college admissions officers.

How Important Is Freshman Year for College Admissions?

Two male students sitting at their desks

Colleges tend to emphasize students' grades more during their junior and senior years than their freshman year - but it does not mean colleges don't look at freshman grades!

Freshman grades contribute to your overall GPA, a key factor in your college application. 

However, it is important to note that colleges do not assign equal weight to every element of an application. For example, extracurricular activities have a role to play. Still, your test scores and GPA often hold greater significance and carry more weight. Consequently, while freshman grades count, they are less influential than senior grades.

Do Colleges Look at Freshman Year Grades?

Simply put, freshman year sets the foundation for the rest of your high school career. The courses and grades you receive freshman year determine your courses next year. 

For example, if you do well in freshman year, you might take AP classes in your sophomore year, and so on. Similarly, getting involved in extracurriculars early on will help you earn a spot on a club's board in the future. 

Moreover, if you received a low grade but consistently improved the following years, colleges are often understanding. Although low grades in freshman year will not drastically decrease your chances of getting into colleges, low grades in other years might. 

Plus, low grades are never ideal—even if you do improve as your high school career professes. So, if you can, try to keep your grades up in freshman year (and beyond)!

What to Do If You Got Bad Freshman Year Grades

Frustrated student

As mentioned above, one challenging year does not define your academic career. So first, staying calm and looking into your study habits is important. See where you can improve and create a study plan. Do not be shy to ask for help! For example, you can form a study group or seek tutoring. 

Lastly, although grades are important, and you will want to focus on improving them, remember that colleges admit well-rounded individuals, so you can also invest time into extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and community service.

We highly recommend striving to excel in honors and AP courses if possible. These courses not only demonstrate greater academic rigor but also often carry additional weight in terms of grading. This means that instead of the usual four grade points, you would typically earn five grades towards your GPA for receiving an "A" in an Honors or AP course.

Moreover, college admissions officers typically review applications regionally, meaning that the officer evaluating your application will likely be familiar with your high school. They often know the difficulty levels associated with various classes. This is another reason not simply to opt out of more challenging courses.

In addition to taking more AP or Honors courses, you can enroll in online courses or those offered by a local community college. You can either retake previous courses to improve your grade or explore new subjects to gain a head start on your graduation requirements. By taking classes outside of your regular school hours, you demonstrate your dedication to education and personal growth.

Moreover, if you’re a high school junior whose freshman year was affected by the pandemic, the Common App provides a specific section to share your experiences with the universities and colleges you are applying to.

Lastly, if you prefer not to write about your hardships but still want colleges to understand this "anomaly" in your transcript, you can contact your school counselor. They can explain these extenuating circumstances when writing their recommendation letter for your college applications. This way, colleges will better understand your situation when they review your freshman year.

Freshman Year Extracurriculars

Engaging in extracurricular activities during your first year in high school sets the stage for a well-rounded and accomplished academic career.

Girls basketball team

Do Freshman Year Extracurriculars Matter?

In short, yes! Showing early involvement and genuine passion for a club or cause will increase your chances of securing a position, potentially even the presidency, on a school organization's board during your later years in high school. 

However, as with your grades, do not be too hard on yourself if you did not sign up for any extracurriculars in your freshman year; colleges like to see self-improvement, so do sign up the following year.

FAQs: Do Colleges Look at Freshman Year?

Curious about how colleges evaluate freshman-year grades? Find answers to frequently asked questions in the following section.

1. Will Colleges Care About Freshman Year?

Colleges consider freshman-year grades but prioritize the overall trend and progression of your academic performance throughout high school. Admissions officers understand that students undergo significant growth during their high school years.

2. Do the classes I take during my freshman year matter?

The classes you take during freshman year are important when colleges review your academic record. These classes provide valuable context to your GPA, allowing colleges to assess the rigor of your coursework.  

The term "academic rigor" refers to the difficulty and complexity of the classes you undertake. Generally, colleges consider Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses more academically rigorous than their counterparts. Colleges seek students who challenge themselves academically. Thus, excelling in AP or honors courses can indicate to colleges that you are better prepared for college-level work. 

The courses you take during your freshman year provide context for your GPA. They allow colleges to determine whether your grades reflect your performance in easier or more demanding classes.

3. Can I Recover From a Weak Freshman Year and Still Get Into a Good College?

Yes, you can absolutely recover from a weak freshman year academically and still have a chance to get into a good college. Admissions officers value resilience, determination, and the ability to learn from challenges. If you had a challenging freshman year, focus on improving your grades in subsequent years and demonstrate an upward trajectory in your academic performance.

4. What if Unforeseen Circumstances Hurt My Freshman Year?

Education can be challenging, requiring constant studying, exam preparation, essay writing, and more, which can take a toll on young students. However, some individuals face even greater hardships during school, affecting their ability to concentrate and perform at their best. 

These hardships are commonly referred to as "extenuating circumstances" by colleges. They can range from dealing with chronic illnesses, serious accidents, and family issues to losing a loved one.

If you experienced any of these challenges during your freshman year of high school and they impacted your academic performance, consider sharing these experiences. 

You can discuss them in the Common App Essay, the Additional Information section, or supplemental essays. However, it is important to note that this is optional, and there is no obligation to explain or apologize for lower grades during your freshman year.

5. What Colleges Do Not Look at Freshman-Year GPA?

While each college has its own admissions criteria, some institutions may place less emphasis on freshman-year GPA. However, it is important to note that even if a college de-emphasizes freshman year, other factors like standardized test scores, extracurricular involvement, and essays still carry weight in the admissions process.

6. Does Harvard Look at Freshman Year?

Like many other highly selective colleges, Harvard takes a holistic approach to admissions. While they consider various aspects of your application, including freshman year grades, they also assess your performance throughout high school, standardized test scores, extracurricular involvement, recommendations, and personal essays.

7. How Many Extracurriculars Should I Take in Freshman Year?

To increase your chances, focus on getting deeply involved in two to six extracurricular activities that align with your passions and future goals. 

Do not overcomplicate selecting extracurriculars; if you have a strong passion for a specific area like sports, music, or a subject, it is perfectly fine to center multiple activities around it. For instance, if you are passionate about basketball and already on your school's team, consider volunteering at a children's basketball camp.

8. Are There Specific Extracurricular Activities that Colleges Prefer?

Colleges value diverse extracurricular activities, recognizing that each student's interests and passions are unique. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Admissions officers look for genuine engagement and dedication in your chosen activities rather than a specific checklist. 

What matters most is your level of involvement, impact within the activity, and ability to articulate the skills and lessons learned through your experiences. Pursue activities that genuinely interest you and allow you to grow personally and intellectually.

Final Thoughts 

In college admissions, freshman-year grades and extracurricular activities carry weight. Still, they are not the sole determining factors for acceptance. Admissions officers take a holistic approach, considering your entire high school experience. 

This includes assessing your academic progress, personal growth, character, leadership potential, and the impact you have made within your school and community.

It's important to remember that one challenging year does not define your entire academic career. Admissions officers understand that students undergo significant growth and development during high school. 

If you faced academic setbacks during your freshman year, take proactive steps to improve your grades and demonstrate a positive trend in subsequent years. Show resilience, determination, and a commitment to personal growth.

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