College Admission and High School Grades: Turn Plusses into Minuses

When it comes to college admission and high school grades, there are a multitude of misconceptions. Many high school students think that freshman year grades don’t matter. Others think they’ll get a grade bump (also known as a weighted grade) for every AP, Honors, and IB class they take. Some believe that, with college acceptances in their back pockets, they can let schoolwork slide when an epidemic of “senioritis” breaks out during spring semester.

What Grades Count in College Admission?

The truth is that some college admission offices count every grade from every year of high school, others consider grades only from certain types of classes, and some treat the same class differently depending on when or where you take it. The University of California (UC), for example, counts only “A to G” courses taken from the summer before sophomore year through the summer after junior year. In other words, only specific types of classes (no PE, for example) for sophomore and junior year, plus three summers.

The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) college admission office counts weighted grades from only 13 classes. If you live in Louisiana and want guaranteed admission to Tulane University, you need to have an unweighted average GPA of 3.6 or above in English, science, foreign language, social science and math.

Plusses and Minuses

The other factor to keep in mind is that some college admission offices only pay attention to the grade letter and ignore the plus or the minus. When that’s the policy, a B+ is no better or worse than a B-. For that reason, it’s always a good idea for student to try and turn their “plusses” into “minuses.” If a student has a solid B+ in a class, they should double down and try and get an A-. If the student’s grade has sunk to a C+, it’s time to hit the books and bring it up to a B-. Studying for tests, participating in class discussions, and turning in on-time assignments can help flip a plus to a minus, as can asking the teacher if the student can do an extra credit paper or project.

Weighted vs. Unweighted Grades

What about those grade bumps from Honors, AP, and IB courses? UNR will count them for specific courses, but Tulane won’t. UC only allows eight semesters worth of weighted grades, with no more than four semesters from sophomore year. In other words, a student who takes two honors classes in sophomore year, two AP classes junior year, and two AP classes senior year will have 12 semesters of weighted grades – but UC will only count eight of the 12.

College Acceptances are Conditional

It’s also important to remember that every acceptance from a college admission office is conditional. A student may commit to the college, but they’re taking a wait-and-see stance. If the senior has a meltdown and their grades tank (or if the student gets into some other kind of trouble), the college can withdraw its acceptance. This is all the more reason for seniors to keep their eyes on the prize.

Grades matter in college admission. Keeping on track from freshman year until the moment the student steps on stage to receive their diploma keeps doors open and ensures that the student will be as competitive as possible in their college applications.

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About the Author:

Sally Smith is a college and scholarship coach who helps families navigate the path after high school. She facilitates in-person and online group workshops, and provides one-on-one coaching on a variety of topics. Sally can help families gain an understanding of the college selection, application, and decision process; pinpoint scholarship opportunities; write effective college admission and scholarship essays; decipher the FAFSA and CSS Profile; gather stellar letters of recommendation; and develop strategies for college entrance testing and test preparation. To learn more about the services she provides and to schedule a free 30-minute consultation, visit

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