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Do Colleges Look at Quarter or Semester Grades?

When applying to college, it’s essential to understand what the admissions team is looking for. The better you understand how colleges will be evaluating you, the more prepared you will be for the application and acceptance process. One topic many high schoolers find themselves wondering about is how closely colleges are examining their grades. 

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Colleges look at your overall grades instead of the individual quarter or semester grades. The exception to this is your senior year. You will show your first quarter or first semester grades to your college of choice, depending on if you apply early or on the regular timeline. 

In the rest of this article, we will dive deeper into the college admissions process and understand how admissions teams are evaluating your application. We will see what they look for in terms of grades and what you can do to improve your chances of being accepted by your dream school. 

Your Transcript and GPA

According to the Princeton Review, the most important factor when applying to a college is your high school transcript and your GPA. Admissions teams consider this the most revealing document in your application bundle and will use it to understand you better as a potential student. 

This YouTube video should explain how this works:

College Admissions 101: What Do Colleges Look For? | The Princeton Review

However, when viewing your transcript, admissions counselors might not be looking that hard at your grades. Viewing the transcript can help them understand how much of a challenge you took on as a high school student. 

Did you take challenging classes, or did you coast through easy options? 

A transcript full of challenging classes with a touch of fluctuation in grades can be more valuable than a perfect GPA with four years of easy classes. Admissions counselors want to see students that took the opportunities to push themselves and grow as learners. 

However, this is not to say they aren’t looking at your grades. 

Grades are a quick way of understanding how you manage the challenges you choose for yourself. Your grades will help the team understand you better as a student and how well you did when faced with different challenges. 

College admissions teams typically view the final grade you received for the course. If you had a single quarter with a low grade but did well for the rest of the year, colleges will typically only see that final average. 

This system gives students a chance to improve throughout the year without being severely punished for any singular rough patch.

The biggest exception to this is senior year grades. Since you will be applying to colleges during your senior year, you will be showing colleges the grades you have received so far in the year. 

This could be the first quarter or first semester, depending on when you apply to schools. 

If you are applying early, you are typically only showing schools first quarter grades. If you apply normally, you could be showing the first two quarters or the first semester scores. 

Information on Your Transcript

It’s important to remember that you will be sending an official transcript along with your application. This is a different document than your report card and contains different information that is most relevant to an admissions team. 

Depending on how your school is set up, your transcript will likely contain only your final grade for the course. If your school has classes that are only one semester, that final grade might be that single semester’s score. 

The college admissions team may not have access to quarterly or semester grades, even if they wanted to view them. 

If you are curious about the specific information that will be displayed on your official transcript, you can speak with your guidance counselor for more specific information.

Do colleges look at semester grades?

Other Top Admissions Factors

Remember that colleges are not just looking at your grades. 

There is a list of other important factors that admissions teams will take into consideration when evaluating your application. Colleges are now attempting to view students holistically and take into account more than just the numbers when it comes to making their decision. 

Standardized Tests: SAT and ACT

That being said, your standardized test scores are still a foundational component of your college application. Although many colleges are looking for alternatives to evaluate their incoming students, the truth is these test scores are still instrumental in the admissions process for many colleges and universities. 

Whether you take the SAT or ACT, your score can impact admissions decisions as well as scholarship opportunities. 

Your Personal Essay

Now that the numerical factors are out of the way, it’s time to discuss the college essay. This personal statement is also an important factor in your application and is a wonderful chance to share something personal with the admissions team. 

By developing a unique and honest essay that helps share your personality and who you are as a learner and as a human, you will be able to connect with the individuals on the admissions committee. 

This connection can help tip the scales in your favor if the team is on the fence with other parts of your application. 

Other Influencing Factors

The admissions team may also be viewing letters of recommendation as well as your extracurricular activities. These may not be as fundamental as the first few pieces of your application, but these soft factors continue to show who you are as a learner and a person in and outside the classroom (source).

Final Thoughts

If you’re currently in high school and feel insecure about a rough quarter you had in one of your classes, don’t fear. Colleges won’t see individual quarter grades. By working hard and improving your scores for the remaining quarters, you can achieve an improved final grade for your course. 

This final grade will be viewed by colleges and will be an indication to them of how you responded to learning challenges in your time as a high school student. 

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