Do my international competitions help make up mediocre grades on college applications?

My grades arent spectacular, I avereged a 2.5 in freshman year because I slept all through online school. My sophmore year I ended up recieving a B in chemistry H in what would otherwise be straight A’s. I know that they’re less than stellar, but I participate in piano international competitions and I’ve won four, and numerous local competitions (but I don’t think they matter all that much tbh).

I’ve recieved, second place, gold placement, and two first place prizes. One of which will result in me performing at Carnegie hall. I have three AP’s scheduled for junior year, in addition to makeup classes for freshman year. If I realistically do pretty well for junior year and senior year with hard classes and good grades, can I still be considered for top teir colleges?

I will of course, participate in more competitions, so I’m wondering if these awards and EC’s will make up for my GPA.

The short answer - no.

But if you’re a world class player then you never know.

What type of schools are you thinking ??

But generally no…

The most selective colleges expect top-end grades in hard courses in high school, in addition to high level of commitment and achievement in extracurriculars, and essays and recommendations that excite admissions readers.

Looks like all A grades in 11th grade will bring your GPA up to about 3.4. While an upward trend is certainly better than a downward trend, it may not compensate for an overall 3.4 at the most selective colleges, unless the college is one that heavily de-emphasizes 9th grade course grades (e.g. California public universities).

A music conservatory may more heavily weight your music achievements relative to the rest of your high school academic record. Of course, that is only suitable if you want to major in music.


I generally agree with @tsbna44. ECs are a way that the very top ranked universities choose from among a very long list of applicants whose GPA is nearly perfect. However…

Your sophomore and junior years will matter quite a bit more than your freshman year of high school. If you have one B and otherwise all A’s your sophomore year, and if your junior year is similar, then you are going to get accepted to quite a few very good universities. They might not be called Harvard or MIT, but they will be many very good universities that you could get accepted to.

Also, among the very top ranked universities there are some that do not consider your freshman year at all. The various Universities of California (but not all CSUs) and universities in Canada come to mind as examples. I have heard mixed messages about whether or not Stanford and Princeton will look at your freshman year grades.

Also, many students messed up during the pandemic and online classes. Even students who held it together and got good grades have in some cases told me that studying online during the pandemic was not pleasant.

Also, you cannot change the past. Do the best that you can from now on and do not worry about it. There are hundreds of very good colleges and universities, and you should be able to do well when it is time to choose one to attend.

Finally, I like your EC. One of my regrets in life was not learning to play the piano when I was young. I think that it is a great and very versatile instrument. I think that this is worth doing for its own merit.

First, if your username is a version of your name in real life, you should change it immediately.

I agree with both respondents above. If you consider a top tier college one of the top 10 universities in the U.S, your chances are slim, although the competitions & Carnegie Hall performance (if you’re a featured soloist…not as part of an orchestra) might make admissions officers take a second look.

There are many very good universities where you will be able to do well and have a successful life. If you would like help in developing a list, let us know what you’re looking for in a college and what your budget is, without you or your family taking out loans.

ETA: Just realized you’re a rising junior. You don’t need to worry about a college list at this point. Just do your best and know that there will be a good school for you in the end.

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haha thank god its a fake name, its a name i like to go by online. thank you so much for your insight, i think youre right. Ill do my best junior and senior year. tysm!!

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thank you sm! i was thinking of a uni in california so its good that some of them don’t look at freshman. you’re right that i can’t change the past, thank you for reminding me. I have been so regretful and upset over what had happened freshman year. I’m think on taking retakes for my courses which is availible to me to take on top of my classes. would you say its more worth it to retake my chemistry class that I got a b in in sophmore year than the D i recieved in one of my classes freshman year then? And thank you! I have grown quite a passion for piano over the years and I’m very grateful I can keep music as a part of me for the rest of my life, competitions or not.

IMO, if your school offers grade replacement I would retake the classes with the lowest grades. One B sophomore year is fine, especially if you do well your junior year.

Emory is another uni that does not look at 9th grade GPA.


Are you a CA resident?

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There is an old saying about Carnegie Hall

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Pay the rental fee.

Lots of events happen at Carnegie Hall. There is a huge difference between playing at the hall and playing as part of event that tickets are sold to the general population. AO’s know that Carnegie Hall does a good job monetizing their name.


Calling @parentologist for weigh in.

To your original question, no these competitions do not “make up” for your freshman grades. Sufficient accomplishments and a strong supplement can help your application stand out, but you need to craft your application list to schools that fit based on your GPA/stats.

Conservatories are a different conversation so let us know if you are considering that route.


@compmom too. If you are a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall esp if you live in California that is a big deal. There are many competitions now that result in a performance there but not all. Are you entering YoungArts this year? Being a winner is a big deal.

I think posters on this thread are being too negative. A huge spike makes up for weakness in other areas for sure, but it has to be a huge spike.

I think it depends on your target colleges. Yale, MIT and Harvard, for example, have many many talented musician apply for admission. This might not help you as much there as at other colleges.

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You can still make it to a top tier college. Don’t give up hope. Colleges like stories of kids who overcome obstacles and improve upon themselves. But your grades from first two years will still matter. Its unlikely with a 2.5 you’ll be taken seriously at any of the top 20 colleges.

Once you’re out of high school the clock gets reset. So anything you do afterwards is going to be looked at. Going to a community college and transferring is one way. 3-2 programs is another. If you’re interested in a military career then consider enlisting, you’ll get the GI bill. Some colleges love transfer students who are vets (look at Columbia GS).

What are you interested in studying and what can your family afford? “Top tier” is not the goal here. College is a short period in your life. Getting the best affordable education in the major you want to study is the goal. Stop focusing on prestige.


I’m not sure if you are applying to California public schools or privates. Are you looking for a school where you can study music or is that more of a hobby/passion?

On the UC application, there is a place where you can include additional information relative to academic history. I wouldn’t write that you slept through online classes. Instead, make a positive statement such as, “I struggled starting high school online but grew/thrived/found I learned better when I was able to attend classes in person.” For the UCs, they see classes and grades from your freshman year but don’t use the freshman grades to calculate your UC GPA.

Regarding your competitions, a few years ago, Berkeley shared stats about their entering class. In it, they said, “At least 100 students who have performed at Carnegie Hall — either solo or as part of a group — and at least 170 students who participated in the Science Olympiad, a national science competition, are in the admitted class, which also boasts about 50 Eagle Scouts and at least 50 Girl Scout Gold Award winners.” In the same article, they shared, “This year’s freshman admitted class is academically strong, with an average unweighted GPA of 3.92” So, while they are noting accomplishments such as performing at Carnegie Hall, they are also looking for top UC GPAs.


You might also post on the music major forum, even if you are not going to major in music.

If colleges accept supplements, you can submit a music supplement with recording/video, music resume and one or two letters of recommendation relating to music.

I am not sure why you want “top-tier” colleges. You can thrive at all sorts of schools. Look at the Colleges that Change Lives site. Google “little Ivies” as well (those are also top tier for the most part.

It is still early in high school and your goals may change. Do you want to study music? Or something else with music lessons and performance as extracurriculars.

You can do a BM, or a double degree, or a double major or a major/minor- all of which can include music. Or major in something else, and continue music, as I described above.

Do you have a good teacher? Do you do summer programs?

We also don’t know what your international competitions were.

If you want a BM, the answer to your question is different than if you want to go to college and major in something else, so we need to know more.

It seems important to consider schools that don’t look at freshman year grades. What happened exactly? Did you get help for whatever happened? You don’t need to tell us but your guidance counselor might be able to help you explain.

It is true that music achievements can help admissions but often, at “top” schools, that is in addition to great grades. I think there are many great schools that would love to have you. Wait a year and come back!


Winning high-level competitions for anything, including music, does help to establish a “spike”, which can make a highly competitive school want you. It also speaks to a good student’s ability to manage their academic work competently while also spending many hours a week on a demanding extracurricular activity. So yes, it does help. It also helps for that achievement to be in something that the school seeks. They want students who are going to contribute to campus life. But the main reason for you to be doing music is if you’re still enjoying it - otherwise, it’s not worth the many hours of practicing required.

You cannot go back and fix freshman year, and I wouldn’t bother trying to. Everyone knows that some students had a really tough time adjusting to on-line schooling. You did very well in sophomore year! Only one B, and that in an honors chem class? That’s very good! The best thing that you can do is move forward, work as hard as you can in junior year, in the most academically challenging classes you can take, and get good grades this year, to cement your upward trend.

Is there any way that you can do any ensemble playing? Accompanist for the school musical? Play in trios, or other small ensembles? Keyboards for jazz ensemble? The reason that I say this is that schools don’t need a concert pianist, but they do need pianists for musicals, dance, and ensembles. This addition to your repertoire would make you a more attractive candidate, but if it’s not something that interests you, of course you shouldn’t do it. You don’t have to win competitions in ensemble playing. It just tells the school that you might be their go-to keyboardist for performance ensembles, which might vault you ahead of someone with similar academics to yours, but no campus life enriching talent.

If there is a prestigious conservatory with a pre-college program near you, consider participating in that. Top schools do seem to like the graduates of these programs, especially those from big name conservatories.

A stellar standardized test score would help in your situation, since it shows that 9th grade was most definitely a pandemic-related aberration for you, and I believe that it’s also considered as a contributing factor in the Presidential Scholar Young Arts competition. So try to prep for SAT or ACT, shoot for a high score in that. It’s an opportunity for you - you don’t want to just go test optional, unless you’re applying only in-state in CA.

Forget freshman year. The world is open again. Concentrate on your schoolwork and the extracurriculars that you love - if it’s your music, great. Just look forward. Continue along the path that you’re on right now, and it’s all going to work out well for you.


ps I don’t think you need any more competitions, nor do you need to play in ensembles unless you want to. Take lessons, practice and perform if and when you can. Submit a supplement when possible. Enjoy high school and choose colleges to apply to next year, with a wide range of selectivity, making sure you can afford them. In the meantime, work hard, enjoy music and other EC’s and enjoy friends…