How and Why Colleges Look at Senior Year Grades – College Reality Check (2023)

Your high school grades constitute your high school GPA. And your high school GPA is taken into account in the college admissions process. And now, you may be wondering if the colleges and universities you apply to will check out your GPA only or your individual high school grades, too.

Colleges look at senior year grades. However, it’s only when complete high school transcripts are sent to them. In the meantime, the admissions officers decide based on junior year grades or first-semester senior year grades. Having good second-semester senior year grades can secure one’s admission.

Sending applications can create anxiety in teens. Besides not knowing whether or not they will get an acceptance letter in return, they also have to deal with homework, tests, extracurriculars, and personal essays.

No matter if you are happy with your high school grades or doubting that they are enough to get you accepted into the institution of your liking, don’t stop reading now. By the end of this article, you will realize how important your high school grades are in the college admissions game.

But before everything else, let’s check out why your high school transcript is of the essence…

How and Why Colleges Look at Senior Year Grades – College Reality Check (1)

What Do Colleges Look at on a Transcript?

Colleges look at various parts of a high school transcript. Some of them are the GPA, college-level courses, class rank, and disciplinary actions taken against a student. Some colleges look at test scores, while others don’t, depending on if they have a test-optional or test-blind admissions policy.

Your high school transcript is one of the most important documents the college or university you are applying to needs to get its hands on. That’s because it allows for a thorough assessment of your academic performance.

In some instances, it’s you who will provide the school your transcript, while other times, it’s your high school that will send your transcript to the institution needing it.

It all depends on factors such as when and where you apply. In any case, the school you are applying to will mention it on its website, particularly where it discusses the requirements.

And this brings us to this important question…

Two types of high school transcripts

Two types of high school transcripts exist: official and unofficial. Official transcripts are sent by high schools directly to colleges. On the other hand, unofficial transcripts are available for students to request at the registrar’s office. Some can be printed by visiting the school’s website.

Different colleges require students to submit different documents. Due to this, it’s a must to check a college’s requirements. Otherwise, the review process might get delayed or, if you miss the deadline, not push through.

Some of them look for official high school transcripts, while others settle for unofficial high school transcripts. However, it’s for certain that the college you apply to that accepts unofficial transcripts will also need your official transcript sooner or later, usually if they choose to offer you admissions.

Let’s take a look at the key differences between official and unofficial high school transcripts:

(Video) Do colleges only look at grades from Junior & Senior year?

Official transcripts:

  • Printed on a special kind of paper.
  • Watermarked to prevent copying or unofficial use.
  • Mailed by the high school directly to the college.
  • Sealed in a signature-stamped envelope.

Unofficial transcripts:

  • Printed on regular paper.
  • Do not have a watermark.
  • Available at the registrar’s office.
  • A printable version from an online portal exists.

Going back to the things that admissions officers look at on transcripts, there are many pieces of information high school transcripts bear that allow for the assessment of the applicants’ academic performance.

These important factors in the admissions decision provide a clue on the chances of students to succeed in college.

The details available tend to vary from one high school transcript to the other, depending on the institution. However, the majority of stuff college admissions officers consider when deciding can be found on most transcripts, especially official ones, no matter the issuer.

Below are what colleges and universities will check out on your high school transcript:


Your GPA can spell the difference between receiving a rejection letter and an acceptance letter from the school of your dreams. As a general rule, the higher the GPA, the better the chances of getting accepted.

It’s not unlikely for your GPA to have a massive impact on the decision of college admissions officers.

However, your fate cannot be sealed based on your GPA alone.

That’s because colleges and universities are aware of the fact that different high schools compute GPAs differently and use varying GPA scales, too. This is why many institutions have a holistic admissions process, which involves taking into account more than just an applicant’s GPA.

Related Article: How Bad Do My Grades Have to be to Get an Admission Revoked?

College-level courses

Besides having a phenomenal test score, there is one more thing that can prove to admissions officers, especially those at competitive institutions, that you cannot be more ready for college. And it’s none other than taking challenging AP or IB courses in high school.

It is also imperative that you are able to get good grades while in any advanced class.

It’s not just increased chances of gaining admission into your preferred institution that taking AP or IB classes brings. It can also help you save time and money by allowing you to finish college at a faster rate (for schools that accept credit).

But keep in mind that you won’t be disadvantaged in the admissions process if there are no college-level classes in your high school. Colleges compare you to your circumstances. If there were no advanced classes offered at your high school, then the college can not discount your application.

(Video) Do senior year grades count?

Related Article: What Happens If You Fail an AP Exam? Two Things You Need to Know

Class rank

Based on the State of College Admission report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), only 9.1% of colleges and universities said that class rank is of considerable importance in the admissions process.

On the other hand, 29.1% of them said it was of moderate importance.

While it’s true that the influence of class rank in the admissions process has waned considerably in recent years, some higher education institutions still consider it.

The Ivy Leagues and other prestigious institutions like it when high schools rank their students, which is why class rank is part of their academic index.

However, if your high school does not rank its students, fret not — the college or university you are applying to will simply use other figures on your transcript to gauge your academic performance.

Disciplinary record

Some other things that may be used in the admissions process may appear on a high school transcript. One example is any serious disciplinary action taken against a student.

As a matter of fact, 89% of higher education institutions admit to using high school disciplinary information in the admissions decision.

Just because your high school transcript does not include a disciplinary record doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

As of the year 2021, the College Board (if you use common app) will no longer ask students any disciplinary questions when applying to college, but individual institutions can ask a student if they want to know about the applicant’s past behaviors.

It can be tempting to lie to avoid jeopardizing your admissions status, but the school is bound to know the truth sooner or later. Just in general, don’t ever lie on your college app.

Related Article: Do Colleges Care About Suspensions

Do Colleges Look at Freshman Year Grades?

Colleges look at first-year high school grades. Most admissions officers will not forgive and forget low freshman grades. However, they will be more understanding of them. Senior year grades, in contrast, are taken seriously. In fact, colleges can rescind admission based on senior high school grades.

It was mentioned earlier that colleges and universities check out the GPAs of applicants — it’s one of the main reasons why the schools you apply to will ask for your high school transcript.

However, it’s not just your GPA that their prying eyes will zoom in on. They will also take a look at your individual grades, from the first semester of your first year in high school to your latest.

(Video) The Lowest GPA Someone Got Into Harvard With

What admissions officers will be looking for are trends that can help give them an idea of whether or not you will succeed in college.

But, as stated above, they are more likely to allow low grades obtained early in high school to slide than low grades earned just before you transition from a high senior into a college freshman.

While it’s true that some colleges and universities may be lax about low freshman grades, they will not be that forgiving when it comes to your GPA, which is something that your grades in your first year of high school can affect.

If the goal is to gain admissions into a top-notch institution, it’s a good idea to get good high school grades from the get-go.

Do Colleges Look at Senior Year Quarter Grades?

Colleges look at senior year quarter grades. In some instances, quarter grades are not as important as semester grades and final grades. However, they can affect admissions decisions for students who apply Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA). They can impact Rolling Admission (RA) outcomes, too.

Many high schools, including those in the US, use the semester system. This means that every academic year is divided into two halves or semesters. One is from about September to January (fall). The other is from February to June (spring).

Within each semester are two quarters. Each high school calculates GPA differently based on how they choose to structure their classes.

For example, in my high school, each quarter for each subject makes up 20% of my final grade and both my midterms and my finals make up 10% each. In the end, whatever my cumulative grade comes out to be is the grade that is reflected in my GPA.

In freshman year of high school, I received a B in math first quarter, but A’s in every other quarter plus my exams. In the end, my final grade came out to an A, which is why my GPA is still 4.0 despite the B first quarter.

When applying ED or EA and the high school you are attending uses the quarter system, the institution you have sent an application to may decide based solely on your grades in your junior year of high school.

But keep in mind that it may request your high school counselor to send in your senior year first-quarter grades before sealing your fate.

Applying to a school with an RD plan may also allow you to hear from it even before its admissions officers get their hands on any of your senior high school grades.

Do Colleges See Senior Year Grades for Early Decision?

Colleges may or may not see senior year grades for ED I. It depends on factors such as whether the high school operates on a quarter or semester system and the time of application. ED I may keep colleges from seeing senior year grades, but ED II may allow them to see quarter or first semester grades.

Applying ED is a smart move for high schoolers who are committed to certain colleges or universities. The same is true for those who wish to increase their chances of getting accepted. As a matter of fact, at many institutions, ED applicants are accepted at rates 10% to 12% higher than RD applicants.

That’s because applying ED is a form of demonstrated interest, which is something that can be advantageous for students waiting for an admissions decision. And when a student applies earlier, there are still plenty of slots available.

(Video) College Admissions: Inside the Decision Room

But because the deadline for applying ED is usually in early to mid-November, your senior year grades won’t be around yet.

However, it’s a different thing if you apply ED II.

Since the deadline for applying through the second round of ED is usually in early to mid-January (sometimes the same date as RD), it’s very much likely for your senior year grades for the first quarter, second quarter, or first semester to be available for submission to your first-choice college or university.

Related Article: Early Decision Strategy for Getting Admitted to Best College

Do Colleges Look at Second Semester Senior Year Grades?

Colleges look at the second-semester grades of senior high school students. However, they do so not during the application process. That’s because it is unlikely for them to be available at that time. Instead, colleges request high schools to send second-semester senior grades to them later.

When applying to colleges and universities, even by means of RD, admissions officers take into account the first-semester senior year grades, mainly because those are the only most recent grades they have access to.

Typically, the deadline for RD applications is around the beginning of January.

Acceptance letters or rejection letters are usually given out in March. Accepted students have until the first of May to make up their minds, which is why the date is known as National College Decision Day — it’s the day students pick their college.

Because admissions officers carry out the admissions process for incoming first-year students at a time when the first-semester senior year grades are the only ones around, they have no choice but to decide based on those.


The best time to start to strive to have good grades is the moment that you step foot on your high school campus. And by keeping up the good work, you can keep your GPA from falling below the threshold your dream college has set. The higher your GPA is by the time you graduate high school, the higher your chances become.

Refrain from assuming that you can take it easy after your high school has submitted your junior year or first-semester senior year grades to the colleges and universities you have applied to.

Sooner or later, the school that accepts you and you choose to attend will ask for your grades for your very last semester of high school. If its admissions officers are absolutely unhappy with what they see, it’s possible for them to rescind the offer, thus leaving you looking for another college to go to.

Read Next: How Colleges Evaluate Transcripts

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

(Video) how to get into top colleges with bad grades or low gpa or low SAT I my true story + mistakes


Why do colleges not look at senior year? ›

Colleges look at the second-semester grades of senior high school students. However, they do so not during the application process. That's because it is unlikely for them to be available at that time. Instead, colleges request high schools to send second-semester senior grades to them later.

Do colleges care about senior year classes? ›

Senior Year: It Still Counts

Colleges do consider fall grades, and even after admission your high school classes and grades still matter. Though it is far more common for a school to request a senior year schedule, there are many colleges that will ask for final grades.

Do colleges look at first semester senior year GPA? ›

If you apply through regular decision, then the universities will take your first-semester senior year GPA into account.

Do colleges look at senior year second semester grades? ›

Regular Decision Applicants

Though admissions boards mainly refer to first semester senior year grades while reviewing your application, they can request your second semester grades. In fact, you might not even know if a college or university makes such a request for additional information from your high school.

Do colleges care about end of senior year grades? ›

The important thing to know is that colleges do look at your senior year grades. So, performing worse in senior year than in previous grades can impact your application and college admissions decisions.

What grade year do colleges look at the most? ›

Your first year and sophomore year affect your cumulative GPA, which is important to most colleges. However, a solid academic record in your junior year is likely to carry more importance with an admissions committee.

Do Ivy Leagues look at senior year grades? ›

All ED, EA, and SCREA acceptances are provisional meaning that if you bomb out with grades 12th grade, they can easily rescind your admittances. This is not just for Ivy League schools but for State colleges as well.

Do colleges look at 12th grade grades? ›

Absolutely all colleges will see your 12th-grade course lists, your grades, and your UWGPA and WGPA. When you apply to college either ED, EA, RD, or SCREA on the Common App or Coalition App or their own app, you have to provide your course list and your self-reported UWGPA.

Does UCLA look at 12th grade? ›

All UC schools look at 12-grade grades.

Do colleges look at junior or senior year GPA? ›

They think that colleges will only see their grades through junior year and make their admissions decisions based on this transcript. However, many selective colleges require you to submit senior grades. They might also admit students on a preliminary basis and make their final decisions when senior grades are counted.

What grade does your GPA start to matter? ›

When do grades start counting? Colleges look at grades starting in the first year of high school. As part of their application, students submit a transcript with the grades and GPA from the first three years of high school.

How many classes should I take senior year? ›

Most colleges want to see that you've been able to excel in your classes given a relatively difficult course load. This means that, during your senior year, you need to set a goal of at least 5 rigorous courses from the five core academic areas.

What happens if you get an F in senior year? ›

In the US educational systems, if you get an grade of “F”then your GPA drops. If however, the “F” is for a required graduation class, then you messed up and can be held back from graduating with your friends.

Does semester 2 senior grades matter? ›

Sure, the hardest part is over, but it's still important to finish the year strong because your second semester senior year grades really do matter. Though you've already submitted your application, institutions care that you are able to maintain the quality of your work.

What year do grades matter for college? ›

Pretty much every college will see your teen's grades from the first year of high school as part of their transcript review. Even universities that emphasizes tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade grades when they evaluate applicants for admission will still see ninth grade marks on transcripts.

How much can GPA change senior year college? ›

Your GPA depends on how well you do compared to your previous years of school. GPA is short for Grade Point Average. If your GPA in freshman and sophomore year was 2.0 and your GPA can improve to a 3.75 in your junior year and 3.5 in your senior year, you'll end up with a 2.8 which is equivalent to about a C+.

Does your final transcript matter? ›

Colleges require a copy of your final year transcript to ensure that you have graduated and successfully passed all courses—dropping or failing even one course can hurt. Generally speaking, you also want avoid any misconduct, including cheating and getting arrested.

What GPA do colleges look at? ›

Colleges consider your unweighted or weighted high school GPA alongside other grades, including your semester GPA and cumulative GPA. Admissions officers look at your official transcripts to contextualize your GPA and understand which classes you thrived.

What year of college is the hardest academically? ›

Some consider sophomore year to be the most difficult, just because it's a huge adjustment period for many students. While some students experience difficulties during their sophomore year, some experience a slump during a different year, and some don't experience a slump at all.

Do your senior year grades matter? ›

Your first quarter or mid-term grades from senior year are not considered official and therefore do not impact the GPA. It is only the mid-year or first semester grades that can influence a student's GPA. That said, the potential impact of a single marking period on a cumulative GPA is minimal.

What happens if your grades drop senior year? ›

If your grades drop significantly during senior year, colleges may decide that you aren't ready to attend, and rescind their offer. However, some colleges will choose to send a warning letter instead.

Does Yale look at senior grades? ›

Remember, the admissions committee is primarily concerned with what kind of Yale student you will be. So it is very important that we see a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor and success throughout your high school years. This includes your senior year.

Does Stanford look at senior year GPA? ›

When we review your early application, it is important to have a strong transcript through grade 11 because we will not have your grades from the first semester of your senior year; You have enough time before the November 1 deadline to write a thoughtful application.

What is the lowest GPA accepted to Harvard? ›

Continue to work hard, take difficult classes, and show your passions outside of school! To get to Harvard your GPA has to be at least a 4.0 and even then if you get in your lucky but they require at least a 4.18 GPA only .

What year in high school is the hardest? ›

While junior year is often the hardest year of high school, the transition from middle school to 9th grade can also be tough. To make it easier, don't feel afraid to reach out to your teachers and counselors, and take advantage of the support resources that are available.

What grades does Harvard look at? ›

What GPA do I need to get into Harvard? To be considered for admission to Harvard, you must earn top grades in high school. The Harvard Crimson reports that the average reported GPA of entering freshmen in the class of 2022 was 3.90 on a 4.0 unweighted scale.

Do colleges look at total or 10th 12th grade GPA? ›

MOST colleges, at least the ones ive looked at, only look at 10th and 11th grade gpa. they'll likely watch your grades/classes senior year to make sure you continue to challenge yourself, but the focus is on 10/11 grades.

What is the lowest GPA UCLA has accepted? ›

Students must have a 3.0 GPA or higher, while out-of-state students must have a 3.4 GPA or greater.

What is a good GPA for a 12th grader? ›

So, if your school uses an unweighted GPA, you want to be at or near a 4.0, the highest GPA. If your school uses a 5- or 6-point GPA scale, you want to be closer to those values instead. The average grade for high school students in the United States is around a B, which means the average high school GPA is a 3.0.

Does UC Berkeley look at senior year grades? ›

UCs do look at courses you take in senior year and take the rigor into consideration when evaluating you for admission; but as long as you maintain satisfactory grades (typically an unweighted B average, with no non-passing grades, is sufficient), your performance in your senior year courses will not affect your ...

What GPA is required for Harvard? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application.

What GPA do Ivy League colleges look for? ›

According to a series of self-reported surveys done by students that use US News, during the application for Fall 2020, more than half of the students admitted to Ivy League schools had a 4.0 GPA. The number of acceptances drastically decreases once you go lower than 3.7, although still a handful can be seen.

Can I raise my GPA junior and senior year? ›

Yes! During any semester students have the opportunity to raise their GPA by earning top grades or grades that are increase over previous semesters.

What is the average GPA in America? ›

The average high school GPA in the US is 3.0, which also accounts for roughly 35% of students who don't end up applying for college. However, for college applicants, the average GPA is more likely between 3.5 and 4.0.

What is the lowest good GPA? ›

In most cases, a high GPA is somewhere between 3.50 and 4.00, and a low GPA is somewhere between 1.50 and 2.00. Understanding what constitutes a good grade point average (GPA) is important.

Do grades really matter in college? ›

Yes! Grades matter in college. For one, if your grades are consistently lower and not meeting the academic standards of the school, you may be put on a probationary period. If your grades do not improve the following semester, you could even be dismissed from school.

What are the easiest classes to take senior year? ›

That being said, here's a look at some college classes that tend to be easier than some core classes.
  1. Film History. ...
  2. Creative Writing. ...
  3. Physical Education. ...
  4. Psychology. ...
  5. Public Speaking. ...
  6. Anthropology. ...
  7. Art History. ...
  8. Acting.

Is senior year the hardest year? ›

While each year of high school will have its own stressors, many will say junior year is the most challenging. Junior year can be the hardest for several reasons, but with the right prep and expectations, high school students can make the hardest year just a little easier.

Is taking 4 classes in college too much? ›

The standard course load for full-time students is 12 to 18 hours which usually comes out to about 4 to 6 courses per semester.

Will one C get you rescinded? ›

Colleges will not rescind for a single “C" (although a “D" can be a different story). Students who are REALLY in trouble (i.e., those with multiple C's or worse) should write to the colleges that admitted them (or to just the one they plan to attend) to “explain" atypically low grades.

How much do colleges look at senior year? ›

Senior Year

Senior grades substantially affect your cumulative GPA and can help you get off the waitlist if you happen to be placed on one. Colleges consider your fall and final semester grades even if you've already received admission; that's how much your final year grades matter.

Can you recover from an F in college? ›

Over 90% of colleges allow undergraduates to take a failed class again to improve their grade. Depending on the school, the new grade may replace the F on your transcript — or both grades may appear, with the new grade replacing the F in your GPA calculation.

Do colleges look at senior year grades for early action? ›

But what happens if you've applied to college as an Early Decision or Early Action applicant? Most colleges will still want to be sent grades from your first quarter of senior year. However, their decision to accept or reject you into their institution will have already been made based on your grades from junior year.

How often do colleges rescind admissions? ›

As stated in the standard acceptance letter, admission is contingent upon satisfactory completion of high school, and colleges reserve the right to reverse their decision at any time. In a typical year, colleges revoke about 1 percent to 2 percent of their admission offers.

What happens if you fail a semester as a senior? ›

If you are a senior, that failing grade WILL delay your date of graduation. Definitely talk to your academic counselor. Many high schools will let you walk with your class but withhold the actual diploma until all credits are satisfied.

What is the most important year of high school? ›

  • Doing well freshman year significantly affects whether or not you graduate on time.
  • Colleges look at your freshman year grades just as much or more than your senior year grades!
  • A successful freshman year shows that you can meet or even exceed academic requirements.

Can grades on an official transcript be changed? ›

Upon the award of your degree, your academic record is permanent and cannot be changed. This includes changes made through a retroactive drop.

Do Ivy Leagues look at senior year? ›

Ivy league admissions offices will see a students' final grades, so even the work done in their senior years' courses in the final year will be included in the admissions application. Students should be mindful of this final transcript and be sure they are performing consistently up until their high school graduation.

Do colleges look at junior and senior year more? ›

Your junior year grades are essential: it's the grade a college will look at most, along with your senior year. Your grades predetermine your academic performance for your final year.

How much do senior grades matter? ›

Colleges and universities focus on the first three years of an applicants' high school performance. No, they do not ignore senior year! However, the likelihood of your student improving a test score or raising their GPA enough to make themselves more competitive for an elite university are slim.

How do colleges look at senior grades? ›

The grades colleges see when you're applying are your junior year grades. However, your final transcript with your senior year grades is the final piece of the admissions process (they could revoke your admission or reverse their decision if your grades are bad).

Do colleges look at senior year grades for early decision? ›

Yes, if you don't have an apparent upward trend in your grades and course work rigor. This means if your 10th-grade transcript looks better than your 11th-grade transcript.

What is the lowest GPA accepted at Harvard? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application. We'll cover those details next.

What is the most important year in high school? ›

The freshman year is the most important year of high school and a crucial chance for a fresh start. Strong students can quickly fall off course if they start cutting classes and blowing off homework.


1. Your GPA Doesn’t Matter
(Gohar Khan)
2. Why Harvard Might Reject You
(Gohar Khan)
3. How Do Colleges Check for Lies on Your College Application? What I know after reading over 2700 apps
4. The Secrets of Elite College Admissions (MUST WATCH)
5. Don’t Fall Into This College Application Trap
(Gohar Khan)
6. former college admission officer tells all, college application tips & secrets
(Angelica Song)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated: 04/26/2023

Views: 5359

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.