Turning the Page: How to Overcome Blemishes on Your High School GPA

High school should be a period of growth, self-discovery, and learning. It’s also a time when your grades can significantly impact your future.

If you have grades from 9th or 10th grade that are blemishes on your high school GPA, don’t freak out. There are proactive steps you can take to improve your academic record and set yourself on a path to success. In this blog post, we’ll explore several strategies for addressing these flaws and achieving your academic goals.

Self-reflection and Goal-setting

One of the concepts I fell in love with during my undergrad degree is metacognition, which is understanding your own thinking, how you process information, and learn. The first step in addressing poor grades is to understand the root cause(s). Did you do poorly because of personal issues, lack of motivation, or was it a simply that you struggle with a specific subject? Once you pinpoint the reasons, set realistic goals to prevent the same issues in the future and, perhaps, improve the grades you’ve already earned.

Seek Academic Support

After two decades as a student and two more advising students, I’ve learned there are three requirements for success in high school and college.

  1. You have to be smart enough (and nearly everyone is).
  2. You have to be motivated enough- no matter how smart you are, you will fail if you don’t write the paper or study for the exam.
  3. You have to be resourceful. Every student encounters challenges they can’t overcome on their own. Most of us have lots of them. You absolutely must seek academic support when you’re facing those challenges. Your school probably offers resources like tutoring programs, study groups, or after-school help from teachers. If it doesn’t, take time to talk to your teacher between classes or create a study group with friends who are doing well in the class.  

Develop Effective Study Habits

Create a structured study schedule, find a quiet and comfortable place to work, and stay organized. Experiment with different study techniques to identify what works best for you whether it’s note-taking (and rewriting them), group study sessions or teaching the material to a friend.

Replace the Poor Grades with Better Ones

Enroll in summer school or a credit recovery program to retake classes you earned poor grades in. Raising a “C” to a “B+” improves your overall GPA the same amount as keeping the “C” and adding two “A’s” to it. It also demonstrates to your teachers that you have a commitment to improving.

Show improvement Over Time

One of the most powerful ways to address low grades is to show improvement over time. If 9th grade was not-so-hot, it’s especially important to use the advice above to excel in your remaining high school years. Good news- colleges and universities often consider your trend of improvement when it comes to admission.

Use Extracurricular Activities to Impress

Academics are essential, but college admission officers and scholarship reviewers also value extracurricular involvement. Join clubs, participate in sports, or engage in community service activities which align with your interests. These activities can help balance your application and show a complete picture of your character.

Consider Standardized Test Scores

When your grades aren’t as high as you would like, strong SAT or ACT scores can help demonstrate your academic potential to colleges and universities. Caution: Test scores alone will not impress admission officers; they must be combined with an upward trajectory in your grades, too.

Write a Compelling Personal Statement

Even if it isn’t a requirement from the colleges or scholarships that you apply for, a well-written personal statement can show your personal growth and commitment to academic improvement. Share your journey and how you’ve learned from past mistakes and how you will use what you’ve learned to ensure success at the particular schools where you have applied.
When you are ready to get started, our partner Gail from The Savvy Red Pen is an amazing resource! She can help you overcome writer’s block, get organized, stay on track to hit deadlines, and most importantly, make exactly the right impact.

Apply to Colleges Which Will Admit You

Apply to less-selective colleges which place less weight on GPA. Most community colleges have open-enrollment policies, which means your high school diploma is enough to earn admission. Some colleges have holistic admissions policies which consider other factors, such as extracurricular activities, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.


Don’t let a poor grade or semester from 9th grade or 10th grade define your academic future. With the right strategies, you can overcome these challenges and set yourself on a path to success. Learning from your past mistakes and demonstrating growth can be just as important as your academic record.
Remember, Complete College Advising is committed to helping you achieve your college goals regardless of past academic setbacks!

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