While your GPA is certainly not the only thing that admissions committees consider on your college application, it is a very important part of it. For that reason, unless there is a specific reason that you can clearly explain in the additional information section of your application, declining grades on your transcript are not viewed favorably by an admissions committee. Other than the simple reason that colleges want to accept high-performing students, declining grades may suggest that a student is not dedicated to their schoolwork, and in a greater sense, their education. So, even if it may seem like “just” a grade drop to you, to serious colleges and universities it could be the sign of an attitude that is incompatible with their modus operandi – education.

Colleges Will Assume it’s Senioritis

To colleges, grades dropping in senior year is often seen as an indicator of laziness. Colleges will likely assume it is “senioritis” and that you have only performed well thus far in order to get into college. That does not send the message that schoolwork and learning are important to you, and rather suggests that you is interested only in jumping through hoops – going to high school to go to college, and so on. Additionally, your final year of high school is largely indicative of the person and student you will be when you enter college, so you want to show colleges that you are working very hard and are committed to academics, since that is the type of student they want entering their school.

But What About Freshman Year?

While it is certainly admirable to have high grades during your freshman and sophomore years of high school, the grades in your final years of high school are much more important. These later grades much closer in time to when you will attend college, and thus are better indicators of your ability to perform in college – indicators that college admissions committees will be taking note of.

Think about it: a high school freshman is four years removed from college and usually is completing mostly introductory level coursework. Good grades are not as impressive in these easier courses. A high school senior, on the other hand, is only months away from college and is completing the most challenging courses offered at their high school, courses that are a lot more similar to what they will take in college than freshman year classes.

To put it bluntly: if a student can succeed in freshman year but not senior year, colleges do not have good evidence to believe the student will be successful in college. Your grades tell a story – make sure they illustrate how you are a committed and consistently hard-working student.

Legitimate Reasons for a Declining GPA

There are, however, legitimate reasons for a declining GPA. These include the typical extenuating circumstances – mental or physical illness, family issues, and so on. You should learn how to explain exceptional personal circumstances on applications.

If you do have legitimate reasons, a declining GPA is still not ideal, but can be excusable. This is especially true if you are able to clearly and honestly show that the situation was out of your control – colleges tend to be more forgiving when you show that you were not responsible for the root cause of your declining GPA. If this is your situation, you should include your explanation and reasoning in the essays, additional information section, or elsewhere on the application in order to mitigate the negative effects of a declining grade trend.

Carefully consider the best place on your applications to include this information – the personal essays may be better suited as a place to talk about yourself positively and demonstrate your creativity and originality of thought. Often, the “additional information” section of applications is a better place for explanations of this sort – find out how to utilize the Common App’s additional information section.

Be Warned – A Declining GPA After College Acceptance Is Also Bad

Just because you have been accepted into college does not mean you can slack off. You should not consider your admission to be absolute – if your grades drop after acceptance, your admission offer can be rescinded. Just as with a drop in performance in junior or early senior year, colleges may interpret a declining GPA post-acceptance as a lack of dedication and commitment to your education, along with an inability to succeed in college. Though may have you already been accepted, this moment in your high school career is also important in proving to colleges that you should be a part of their incoming class – that you can and will keep up with the work, and that you care deeply about learning, whether or not college applications are looming on the horizon.

Conclusion

To summarize: yes, a declining GPA does look bad on college applications, even if you have already been accepted to a school. If there are exceptional life circumstances impacting your performance in school, it is critical that you explain what happened or is going on. Usually, the “additional information” section is the best place for that. If not, do your best to get your grades together and think carefully about your next steps – our guide “How to Get Into a Competitive School If You Struggled in High School” lays out your options.

And, finally, if you are having a hard time believing that your senior year grades count – especially those second semester ones! – check out these helpful CollegeVine guides for motivation: How Much Does Senior Year Matter for College Admissions?, Will Failing a Class Impact My Application?, and Handling Senioritis: The Value of Second Semester Grades. Keep up your hard work!

Julia Mearsheimer

Julia Mearsheimer

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.
Julia Mearsheimer