How and Why Colleges Look at Senior Year Grades

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…


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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