For the average seventeen-year-old (with less-than-refined time management skills), high school can be a balancing act, complete with math quiz mishaps and last-minute college application submissions. Between studying for classes, playing sports, participating in extracurriculars, managing a social life, and making time for family, it’s relatively common to see students’ grades slip. 

With the competitive nature of the modern-day college application process in mind, a few Cs on a report card can trigger panic attacks in students and parents alike. Luckily, a 4.0 GPA isn’t the holy grail for admissions committees. According to recent surveys, admissions officials place GPA in fourth place on the list of application must-haves. 

For those doubting their academic abilities, it’s time to debunk widely-circulated college admissions myths that might be holding you back from applying. Though these committees factor test scores into the college admissions equation, it isn’t the make-it-or-break-it factor like so many aspiring collegiates seem to believe. 

If your GPA has some catching up to do, try an alternate approach to standing out to admissions offices. Even if you’re falling behind in the numbers game, securing a spot at your top-choice university lies within reach. 

Apply to test-optional institutions

Despite the level of importance placed on standardized testing in the U.S., not every college places the same emphasis on glowing SAT and ACT scores. Today, a swelling number of higher-education institutions have chosen to omit their test score requirements for incoming first-year students. 

These test-optional colleges are excellent options for students with talent in an area outside of academics or students with prohibitive test anxiety. With many prominent higher-ed institutions making the switch to test-optional admissions, high schoolers with irrational fears of scantrons and number-two pencils can breathe easier, knowing their less-than-stellar SAT score won’t prohibit them from attending a prestigious university. Curious as to who’s hopping aboard the test-optional bandwagon? As of recently, the University of California conglomerate has decided to phase out all standardized testing requirements for freshman applicants across their campuses.

Take classes over the summer

Though it may be one of the last things you want to do over your vacation, taking classes in the summer can boost your admissions chances. If you received a GPA-tarnishing grade in one of your high school courses, request to retake the class in the summer.

Instead of balancing a full course load, taking a single class can help you concentrate on performing to the best of your ability, upping your chances of scoring a  better grade. Additionally, check if any community colleges or local universities offer concurrent enrollment classes over the summer. Not only will taking college classes over the summer look great on your application, but those credits may also transfer over to the universities you’re applying to, helping you save money and graduate faster.

Fill out the “additional information” section

Many college applications include an “additional information” section that most students ignore. If your GPA is in questionable condition, and your college essay doesn’t address why, use the “additional information” section to your advantage to explain your grades. 

Whether you suffered from health issues or had an incompetent teacher, explain those circumstances and how they affected you. With insider knowledge, college admissions officers will better understand the factors that influenced your GPA and take your specific situation into account as they consider your admission status.

Make your interest known

One of the best ways to increase your acceptance odds is to express interest in the colleges that make an appearance on your top-choice university list. Whether you demonstrate an interest in the form of a college visit or a meeting with an admissions department representative, these higher-education institutions will make a note of your willingness to go the extra mile and account for your eager attitude in your application. 

For those soon-to-be collegiates unsure of how to broadcast their interest, setting yourself apart from your competition can be as simple as signing up for the university’s email list. 

Be warned that cold-applying to a college can significantly hurt your chances of getting in because it shows that you don’t have an investment in applying to that institution. By making your interest known, colleges will see that you’re passionate about being a part of their community, and they’ll be more likely to accept you.

Request recommendation letters

If you’ve developed a tight-knit relationship with a high school teacher or counselor, asking for a letter of recommendation from a faculty member willing to attest to your work ethic and academic chops can make a massive impact on your application. Most colleges even require recommendation letters, so forgoing this critical step may not be an option. 

Consider requesting recommendation letters from a variety of mentors in your life. Volunteer coordinators, extracurricular advisors, and sports coaches are all excellent options. Just make sure you’re asking someone who knows you well enough to write a detailed letter speaking to your good character, as these glowing reviews can increase your acceptance odds tenfold.

The bottom line

Earning a few less-than-perfect grades won’t crush your odds of gaining admission into a reputable university. Don’t let your GPA or test scores prevent you from applying to colleges and feeling excited about the next chapter in your life. Focus on other aspects of your application that help you stand out, and you’ll be on the road to higher education in no time.