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What Should You Do If You Have a C Average GPA?

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Nov 4, 2018 10:01:00 AM




If your grades have been on the lower side in high school, you might be wondering what steps you can take to improve your situation before you appy to college. With a C average, you may run into some trouble in the application process, so you should start taking measures to mitigate these problems now.

In this article, I'll go over what a C average means for you and how you can make smart changes to your academic strategies to end up with better prospects for college.


What’s a C Average GPA, and How Will It Affect Your Chances for College?

If you have a C average, your GPA is a 2.0. This is significantly below the average for high school students, which is a 3.0 or a B average. A GPA that's this low will put you in jeopardy when it comes to college admissionsThere are only a couple of schools where your current GPA would make you a competitive applicant. 

If you’re still an underclassman, you may be able to improve your grades enough to have a better chance at college by the time you apply to college your senior year. If you’re an upperclassman, you're in a more difficult position, but don’t freak out yet! There are a couple of measures you can take to mitigate the impact of a low GPA on your admissions prospects. In the next section, I’ll go over different ways you can improve your chances of college admission based on where you are in your high school career.


How Can You Improve Your Chances for College Admission With a C Average GPA?

As a freshman or sophomore, there are steps you can take to end up with a better GPA by the time you apply to college. Here are some tips that may get you on the right track:

Ask for Extra Help and Extra Credit

You need to be proactive about getting help if you’re stuck at a C average. If you’re struggling in any of your classes, let your teacher know as soon as possible. Most teachers will be happy to answer any questions you have about the subject and explain things in a way that’s easier for you to understand. It can be helpful to prepare a list of questions that you have or problems you'd like to go over before you meet with your teacher. This way, you'll be getting the most out of the session. Sometimes all it takes is a slightly different explanation to give you that flash of total understanding. If you clear up these comprehension issues as soon as they emerge, you will do better on tests later.  

Extra credit is another avenue to consider if you're hoping to improve your grades dramatically. Of course, not all teachers offer extra credit, but if you have the opportunity to earn it, don't hesitate! Even if you don't think you can get extra credit on an assignment, you should ask your teacher about it. I know this feels like you're sucking up, but it will end up being worth it if you can improve your grade by a significant number of points. 

Learn More Effective Study Habits 

With a C average, you almost certainly have some fundamental problems in your study methods. It’s important that you’re getting the most out of the time you spend studying. If you’re just reading over the material you need to know, you might not be retaining it in your mind. When you read something over, look away and repeat it to yourself in your head before moving on to make sure you really know it. You should also ask a friend, parent, or sibling to test you after every study session to verify that you’ve learned the information. You may need to extend your study time significantly in order to ensure that you have solid knowledge of the material. 

In your position, you should also avoid cramming for tests. For a big test, plan out your studying a week in advance so that you can study for an hour a night rather than five hours the night before. You’re more likely to retain information if you learn it gradually over time rather than trying to stuff it in your brain all at once. This will lead to much less stress on test days.  

body_brainbasket.jpgDon't try to fit too many knowledge apples in your short term memory basket at once. Some of them are going to fall out! If you fill up the basket gradually, you will digest some of the apples and store them in your deeper long term memory. You'll end up with a manageable basket by the time the test comes around.


Avoid Procrastination and Stay Organized

As a student with a low GPA, procrastination is your worst enemy. If you have a long-term assignment that’s due in a month or two, you should make a timeline for when you need to finish different components of the project. Aim to complete the most time-consuming parts of the project a week in advance of the due date. This way, you’ll have time to polish your work before you turn it in. You'll also have time to read and reread the directions to ensure that you've included all the right components and have finished them to the best of your ability. An “editing phase” like this can be the difference between a C quality project and a B or even A quality project. 

It's also important that you develop strong overall organizational skills so you can stay on top of both short and long term assignments. Make sure that you always mark the start of a new unit in your notebooks so you can easily refer back to the material when you study for tests. You should also have a folder for each class where you can store important papers. Don't just throw them into your backpack and expect to find them later (trust me, I've been there).

Get into the habit of writing down your assignments every night in an agenda book so you don't forget about anything. Even if you don't have homework for a certain class, write down anything that you could do to prepare for future assessments. For example, you might decide to review what you've learned over the past week in your math class if you haven't been assigned any problem sets for one night. 

body_calculatormath.jpgExtra math!!!!! Woohooooooo!!!

Pay Close Attention in Class

Being mentally present in your classes is critical if you want to improve your grades. If you listen to your teacher’s lectures and ask questions when you don’t understand something, you will have a much easier time studying for tests later. You’ll find that you already know some of the material just by following along diligently in class.  

To facilitate this behavior, you should avoid looking at your phone or getting sidetracked by other distractions. The best way to force yourself to commit to this is to sit near the front of the class so you're always held accountable by the teacher. You should shut off your phone in class (or better yet, don't bring it with you at all) so that you're not tempted to check it. 

For more advice, read my article on how to raise your GPA in high school. Even if you only manage to raise your GPA slightly (say, up to a 2.5 instead of a 2.0), you’ll be a competitive applicant at many more colleges. Don’t let your GPA slip any further! A 2.0 is essentially the lowest high school GPA you can have if you hope to attend a four year college. If you drop down to a 1.8, you won’t be up to the minimum GPA standards at any schools. I only say this to motivate you; as an underclassman you still have time to do much better in your classes if you put in some serious effort!

body_catserious.jpgTime to get as serious as this serious(ly cute) cat.

If you’re a junior or senior, you unfortunately don’t have much time left to improve your grades. In this case, you should focus on other aspects of your application that can have a positive impact on your chances of admission. Here are some measures you can take to give yourself the best shot at attending college: 

Work on Improving Your Standardized Test Scores

Your SAT and ACT scores will play a significant part in most admissions decisions. At many schools, test scores are given relatively equal weight to GPA in the admissions process. This means that you can greatly improve your chances of attending a four year college if you raise your scores. We have written a ton of articles on our blog about strategies for improving your scores on both the SAT and the ACT. Please use them as a resource!

Write a Great College Essay

Your college essay is a chance for you to showcase what makes you unique as a student and as a person. Colleges are looking for high achieving students, but they’re also looking for students who will bring enthusiasm and passion for both academic subjects and extracurricular activities to their campuses. Think about the ways in which you will make a positive contribution to the community in college. What makes you special? What are you enthusiastic about? This is information that can help you to stand out in the pool of applicants despite a low GPA.

body_fingerprints.jpgWhat makes you unique? Try to write an essay that will help you to stand out from the crowd.


What Are Your Options for College If Your Grades Don’t Change?

With a GPA that’s this low, you will have trouble getting into most colleges. Like I said in the previous section, raising your test scores and writing a great essay can help your chances. However, you’ll still only be looking at the least selective schools. If you still have a shot at raising your GPA, you should start working towards that goal sooner rather than later! 

You also have the option of going to a community college for your first year of undergrad and then transferring out to a more selective four year college. This can be a really great option if you have a low GPA in high school, but you have to be willing to work hard during your first year of college. If you can commit to that and to going through the transfer application process, this approach will save you tuition money, AND you will end up with a degree from a more competitive college that might not have accepted you right out of high school.



If you have a C average in high school, you may have a tough time getting into college. A C average translates into a 2.0 GPA, which is far below the national average of a 3.0 for high school students. If you’re a freshman or sophomore, you still have time left to raise your GPA before you apply to college. It’s important that you start adopting better study habits as soon as possible. If you take initiative, you may be able to improve your grades significantly and have a much better chance at attending a four year college.

If you’re a junior or senior, it might be too late to raise your GPA. In this case, you should work on improving your standardized test scores and writing the best application essays possible. In the end, if you’re stuck with a C average, you can try applying to some of the least selective four-year colleges or go to community college for your first year of undergrad and then transfer to a more competitive school. 

Even though your grades are lower than average, you still have a shot at obtaining a good college education. You may be able to make changes before you apply that will dramatically improve your chances of admission. Don’t get discouraged!

What's Next?

If you're working on improving your standardized test scores, read these articles to learn some great study strategies for SAT Reading, Math, and Writing. 

Wondering how much a significant improvement in your grades next year impact your chances for college? Find out which year of high school is most important to colleges in assessing your academic performance.

If you're still working on planning out your schedule for the rest of high school, this guide will help you figure out the best way to navigate those decisions. 


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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