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You will get into college AND get a degree...even after a C!

Written by Alinor Smith, University of Virginia, College Contact Counselor


Hi, my name is Alinor Smith and I stand before you not only as a successful college student but also as someone who once found themselves with dreams shattered, teary-eyed, and nauseated, staring at their first ever C on their high school transcript.



What might surprise you, or perhaps not, is that my experience isn't as unique as we often pretend it to be. In fact, it's a narrative shared by many. And more importantly, it's a narrative with a hopeful twist. You see, that C, that momentary stumble, did not define my journey then, and it most certainly won't define yours now.


Let's travel back in time a bit to my AP Physics class. The sheer complexity of its subject matter alone would have been a challenge, but sadly, that was just a fraction of my commitment. Five other AP classes vied for my attention, soccer dominated my daily schedule, personal matters added their weight, and somewhere in the midst of it all, I clung to the notion of a social life and the occasional taste of sleep. It wasn't an equation that balanced easily. So yes, I emerged with a C. But that C was not a catastrophe; it was a chapter, a lesson, and ultimately, a catalyst for growth.


What I've learned from this is that a single grade is not the grand finale. It’s a taste of failure that many don’t get the privilege – yes, privilege – of knowing until they’re a full-blown college student. I have seen many straight-A students get discouraged by their first C, but if you also got a C in high school, that won’t be you. You will know how to keep pushing after a fall. And colleges that you apply to will know this as well. Luckily for us, your C is a snapshot, a still moment in a moving narrative. In the grand scheme of college applications, it's a pixel in a much larger picture. Your journey, your potential, your resilience, your story – these are what truly matter. When you embark on the college application journey, that C doesn't travel alone; it's accompanied by context.


Consider this: at the beginning of this piece, when I simply mention that C, interpretations may have flooded your thoughts, attempting to put into context something that was my story alone to explain. But when I add the layers – the complexity of AP Physics standing alone, the parallel AP courses, the commitment to soccer, the personal hurdles – it transforms from a mere letter to a part of a story that's relatable, understandable, and perhaps even inspiring. And that's the magic of college applications. They're not meant to be rigid judgments, and you can make them dynamic conversations.


It’s nothing short of amazing that college applications give you the chance to paint the canvas of your life with vibrant brushstrokes of circumstance. You can include addendums, offer extra information, and showcase your multi-dimensionality.



This is what the additional information section looks like on the Common App. Use it if your context hasn’t already been covered somewhere else in your application or if you would like to highlight it.


So, let's come back to where we started. Yes, I got a C. But in the greater narrative, it's a stepping stone a taste of failure that you are lucky enough to know this early. A bad grade is a testament to the human experience and it’s a testament to trying. If you take anything from my story, let it be this: a single grade, a solitary letter, does not predict your fate. You possess the power to shape that fate, to craft a narrative that's compelling, multidimensional, and uniquely yours.


As I stand here, a successful college student, I invite you to embrace your journey fully. Embrace your story. Embrace the fact that you're more than a transcript, more than a collection of letters. Should you choose to embark on this partnership with me or any one of our counselors, know that we’re here not to fit you into some predetermined mold of excellence, but to guide you toward your definition of it. We’re here to help you step confidently, contextually, and unapologetically into your future—no matter where a single letter might have placed you in the past.


Hi! My name is Alinor Smith, I got a C in high school, and yet I am in my third year at the University of Virginia majoring in Public Policy and English! I went to high school in Alexandria but grew up in Florida watching Florida State football during its prime so I am a big fan of the East Coast and sports! I have loved helping students find their perfect schools ever since I was in high school (isn’t it so exciting to see where people end up going to college? I think so.) by editing essays, arranging lists, and talking through the application process with my peers and their parents. I attend my favorite school and I hope that I can help you find your favorite school too! Here’s a link to some of the services I provide: https://www.yourcollegecontact.com/book-a-lesson

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