Okay, so colleges do take into account why one suffered lower grades.
So what's a legit reason for insufficient GPA?
The one I see the most often, I think, is language problem. One comes to US like, say, in 6th grade, spends the next three years learning english and then going into high school with a very weak middle school backgaround. Even then, he only has 3 years while competing with others who were here their whole life.
And then there are family problems.
Some kind of disease or syndrome or mental illness.
How do admissions officers look at these? I mean, if his GPA isn't good enough then regardless of his grades they won't take him would they, because it would hurt their record?
But then I guess those are the minority so they don't mind. They like "overcame challenge" applicants right?
I'm not so sure about people with disabilities, but regarding the language...
Personally, I came to Canada in grade six.
No offence, but I think you're kind of underestimating people who are determined to make their lives better by trying 2x, 3x harder than others.
Not to show off or anything, but I learned to speak fluent English in less than a year. It came with practice and practice and more practice.
Three years = long time. Perhaps longer than it seems.
If one actually tries, language barriers can be overcome without too much difficulty.
Location: Greensboro, North Carolina ---> Emory '13
Coming straight from another country and having to learn an entirely new language (especially one with a hugely distinct origin from English) will definitely impact grades. I, for one, came to America in the year 2000 from Bulgaria (a country in Eastern Europe for the geographically challenged) and learned English within 2 years. By "learned English" I mean reached full proficiency to a level above most Americans. I don't mean to brag but I have a passion and talent for learning languages and, particularly, writing. I am now an English/Philosophy double-major at Emory. Within those first two years, my grades weren't the best (with the exception of Mathematics- a discipline which is far more advanced in any other country outside of the US barring the 3rd World). Having said this, if I were an admissions officer at any prestigious university, upon noting that a student has come to the US from another country during high school and has subsequently had some low marks during the adjustment period, I would completely disregard the initial stages of his/her assimilation in an entirely new culture and try to delve deeper into the student's actual talent and intellect which will surely have been portrayed through other means.
Location: Greensboro, North Carolina ---> Emory '13
Also, mmmaythe, I am skeptical of your statement regarding English not being a hard language. English is actually considered one of the hardest languages to fully master, seeing as how so many words have multiple meanings and everything is exclusively contextualized. It wasn't very difficult for me to learn it but, in English, you can learn something new and more complex with each passing day. In some other languages, Spanish being the prime example, the formula begins to repeat after about the 200-level in college.
I can't really say anything to that nor can I defend myself for saying that since it's an extremely personal thing. To me, the English language just came with increasing use of it: more speaking, more reading, more writing, more listening, just exposing myself to it as frequently as possible. Or maybe it's because I like languages in general.
Also, I don't see languages as subjects to "fully master" since as you said there is "something new and more complex to learn with each passing day." I loved learning new things (and still do!) and didn't try to get it out of the way. As funny as it may sound, I often think of learning languages as learning music. One has to keep practicing in order to maintain one's skill. Going through a difficult piece of music once without a mistake isn't good enough - more emphasis in practice should lie on going through the piece without a mistake ALL the time, and refine every little almost-inaudible squeaks and unnecessary noises, and fine-tune every note. However, practice should never be forced.
Language is the same - keep using it and keep working on getting better. But no one can FORCE someone to learn a language. The person who has to learn it should open up to it him/herself. No language can be formulaic; every language contains a culture - in my experience of learning English, I think it was easier for me to just "go with the feeling" and not stick to grammar, vocabulary, etc. They just come naturally with reading, writing, speaking, listening more in daily life.
If your exposed to a language entirely- seeing it, listening, speaking, etc. you can become fluent extremely fast.
I know some people who become fluent in Japanese in 1.5 years while living in America (from nothing to job in Tokyo). Their area wasn't Japanese, but they made what they watched, listened to, and read in Japanese.
Great job, mmmaythe. I think maybe if your counselor or maybe you wrote about it in an essay or something, colleges would look "favorably" on it.
I personally had some family stuff, instead of just mentioning it and whining I incorperated it into my essays and stated how I've grown since then and learned from the experience, my rising GPA since sophomore year (when it happened) have mirrored my claims
Yeah, they will most likely take those into account, but you really shouldn't expect them to do so--you are just fortunate if they do. Personally, I also had a hard way through high school, experienced probably no less hardships than you did: came to states in 8th grade from asia, parents divorce and remarriage, transfered 5 times in 5 years...While my GPA is still above average, I would recommend protraying yourself as an opstimistic individual with preserverance and determination. After all, it's the attitude that matters the most at this stage of your life.
That being said, I pretty much did the same thing as jkaplan1212. If your stats don't stand out, make sure your essays shine.