I'm trying to redeem myself but I'm not sure if it's possible

Hello!
I am going to enter 10th grade next year in the Pre - IB program, and I’ve had a dream to attend somewhere like Harvard since I was in middle school. Unfortunately, I’ve dug myself into a predicament that I can entirely claim responsibility for. I’ve always found school pretty easy, and in middle school I was easily able to score all A’s and A+'s in my grades. In 9th grade I was a bit shocked by the environment and didn’t really know how to interact with my teachers or school in general, and didn’t really have any friends and I sort of stopped studying or even taking notes in class at all. To be completely honest, I had felt invulnerable to any academic trouble before and thought somehow I would continue in this vein. And, I had had to deal with multiple family problems that I’d rather not specify. Ironically, what I currently want to study in university is History, and I had a C in AP World the first semester alongside two B’s, and one B in the next semester. I had actually found the AP World class easy, but the teacher disagreeable. To add to this, one of my classes was a standard NJROTC I, a terrible decision on my part. I had also been taking two extra classes (Latin and an extra honors math class) which were really the only things that saved my GPA from tanking completely,(3.83/4 UW, 4.27/5 W, and 88/606 in class rankings, 135 in Pre - IB program in Freshman year), and the source of my only club that year (NJCL). Usually I am very studious and I know that if I break my lack of care I will be able to do a lot better. If I am able to study hard for the three years I have left and take extra classes over the summer, is there any chance I would be able to redeem my college application’s potential? Specifically, would Harvard even consider me, and what would I need to be looked at by big colleges?

  1. You need to clearly identify the reason your grades suffered in 9th grade. Your post is filled with lots of different reasons for this. Figure out what the problem really was and go from there.

  2. An upward trend in grades is acknowledged by many colleges so do the very best you can moving forward.

  3. Broaden your thinking about colleges. Harvard is a great school, but it’s not the only college out there. I assume that by “big school” you mean those elite schools? If so, you need a much broader list of colleges than just schools with very very low single digit acceptance rates.

  4. Before you hone in on colleges, please get an annual college budget from your parents. IOW, what can they contribute annually.

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Perhaps you didn’t mean to title your thread this way, but you don’t need to redeem yourself. You are human, you are young (14 or 15), and you are learning about life. A 3.83/4.0 unweighted GPA is a very good GPA and nothing to be ashamed of. If you make positive changes, then that means you will be learning more information and help you along your path to college.

A not-perfect start will not eliminate you from contention at any school, including Harvard. They will want to see an upward trajectory in your grades, however. And instead of trying to overload on classes, including over the summer, I would suggest expanding your interests beyond school. Get a part-time job, volunteer, engage deeply in extracurriculars, etc. The most qualified students are not those whose best qualities are a 4.0 UW GPA and a 1600 SAT. It’s students who perform at a high-level academically while engaging in other activities, showing initiative, performing service, etc.

Don’t get attached to any college at this point (including Harvard). Just go about making sure that your health (mental and physical) is taken care of, that you try hard in your classes, and that you explore areas of interest. Doing that will help put you on a successful path to college and, more importantly, in life.

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Your biggest issue is not whether Harvard or some other tippy-top school might admit you in three years. It’s this. When school starts this fall I hope you speak to a counselor and find out what resources your school has to help you.

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In addition to what @thumper1 said, you said you didn’t like one of your teachers. Being able to learn from someone you don’t like is an important life skill and will almost certainly be necessary in college.

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It is way too early to think about specific colleges (especially the hyper-competitive ones). You just have one full year’s GPA and you have no standardized testing. You also need to recognize that HS should be an experience in and of itself – a time of learning and growth and not just a 4 year college application prep experience.

It is good to take school seriously and know that college will be on your horizon, but it is too early to start planning for specific colleges or groups of colleges.

In addition, the colleges you are talking about have under a 10% (some under 5%) acceptance rate. Students with perfect GPAs and standardized tests routinely are denied admission as there are simply not enough spots for these colleges to accept all of the worthy candidates. You will need to expand your horizons when the time comes.

For now you should focus on:
–Working hard, learning, and doing as well as you can in the most challenging curriculum you can manage.
–When the time comes study for standardized tests.
–Increase your involvement in activities you care about and work towards making meaningful contributions to those activities.
–Enjoying spending time with your family and friends.

When the time comes (mid-junior year IMO) assess your academic stats (including GPA, standardized tests, course rigor) as well as your financial needs and apply to a wide range of reach, match, and safety schools that appear affordable (you will have to run a net price calculator for each school you consider) and that you would be happy to attend. There are many wonderful schools out there where you can have a great 4 year experience and get where you want to go in life.

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High School is a time to find out who you are, stop thinking about any specific colleges. The things you should do now.

1). Take the appropriate classes for your ability and keep up your grades, develop good study habits, make friends with students in your classes, learn to study and work together.
2) Be involved in your school, join some clubs/teams and support others by attending things your not in.
3) Explore your interest outside of school. This is something you should do because it makes you happy not because it looks good on a college application. It could be a sport, raising cockroaches or collecting mid-century tea sets.
4) Explore jobs and majors. You like math? know the difference between Applied Math, Pure Math, Data Science, Statistics. You like writing? Creative? Journalism, Communications?..
5) Start looking into different types of colleges? LACs, Private Research, Large Public colleges.

Remember the end goal is not getting into Harvard, it’s whatever is after that. Job, Grad School, Medical School, etc. You are not looking for the best college according to some magazine, you are looking for the best college that fits you!!! Best of luck on your Journey!

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First - why? You really are just learning what high school is like, and you really do not have any idea what any colleges is like, much less differentiate between Harvard and any other college out there. So you cannot actually dream about something about which you know nothing. I mean - what about Harvard (or similar colleges) are you dreaming about?

Second - admission to a specific college is a very bad goal for high school. You are, essentially, giving up on anything that you would do for yourself, for the vague possibility that you will enjoy the four years that follow. That is the best case scenario. The worst is that you are giving all of that up for the short moment where you are accepted.

Your goal should be to do as well in high school as you can, find things to be passionate about, develop friendships and social networks, and, in general, learn the first part of being an adult. College is merely the next step in this same journey.

By the time you finish you Junior year, you should have an idea as to which colleges are the best ones for you, meaning the ones that will help you the most to do well in life.

Basically, you should choose your colleges based on what you did in college, not choose what you do in college, based on a couple of colleges which you believe are your “dream” college.

Third - acceptance rates for non-hooked kids to Harvard are around 2%-3%. So, realistically, your chances are pretty slim to begin with. “Dreaming to attend somewhere like Harvard” is a waste of time and an almost certain way to end up disappointed.

Imagine that you spend four years of your life focused on “attending someplace like Harvard”, gave up all of your passions and interests in favor of doing things that you think will increase your chances, ignored stuff that fascinated you, stayed deep in your comfort zone, etc, and at the end, you are one of the tens of thousands of kids who applied and were not accepted to any of these colleges, and had no idea what to do, and the entire previous four years felt like a waste of time.

Finally - you are allowing yourself to be defined by the colleges to which you will be accepted. Even if you are accepted to your “dream college”, you have will have hobbled yourself. If you are not accepted to one of your “dream colleges”, there is a very strong risk that you will define yourself as being "lesser, because you have put all other colleges in the "lesser category. If you end up, like most of the highest achieving high school students attending a college which does not have the reputation of being “an elite colleges”, you run the risk of taking n yourself the mantel of “failure”

Now, imagine that you focus on doing your best in high school. At the end, you will almost certainly have accomplishments of which you can be justifiably proud, regardless of the college you attend. You will have a list of colleges which will allow you to continue to do what you want to do, and you will be happy to attend any one of them, and you will, overall, consider yourself to be successful, even if that college is not a “super elite” colleges.

Even if you end up with an UW GPA of 3.84 for high school, rather than just for your freshman year, 90% of all colleges would be happy to accept you, and many would provide you with great merit aid.

Good luck, and go out a win at high school!

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I can relate. I had an uncharacteristically bad freshman year (thanks Covid) but I really turned things around last year. In a lot of ways I think my less than stellar performance in 9th grade was the best gift I could have given myself. I’m not going to go to Harvard or Stanford or Yale so I have been forced to think about what I really want from my college experience (not just a name). There are so many great schools out there that I never would have discovered or considered if I stayed on my overachiever path. In senior year I won’t have a stressful application cycle and experience a lot of rejection. I will get in to most of my targeted schools and will have many choices. I also learned how to deal with failure. I was able to identify some of my weaknesses and develop strategies so I don’t make the same mistakes.

My advice is to figure out what went wrong, talk to your counselor, and come up with a plan for next year. Continue to challenge yourself and do the best you can. Lastly, instead of trying to make yourself fit what Harvard wants, think about what you want from a college and broaden your horizons. If you get to senior year and still want to include Harvard on your list then go ahead and apply, but put together a good list of schools that fit you (ignore the magazine rankings)

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You don’t need to be redeemed! You are terrific just the way you are; you are going to have a wonderful future and you cannot pin your self-esteem on your grades, your college admissions, or any other external validators.

Agree with everyone else- stop worrying about college, and focus on the here and now and on becoming the best version of yourself.

You don’t need extra classes over the summer- you need friends and interests and activities you enjoy doing, or causes you love to volunteer for, and fun books to read, and cool places to visit (does your town have a historical society? Does a nearby museum run programs for kids or for the elderly? Is there an old cemetery close by-- spend an afternoon with a friend wandering and reading the inscriptions. Go swimming. Get a job babysitting).

You have a fine GPA and class rank, and setting a goal to focus more on school this next year is a worthy and achievable goal.

I hope your family issues have been resolved…

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Of course, big colleges for history include smaller schools, such as Williams, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Haverford, Colgate, Bates, Kenyon, Holy Cross and Trinity. When you actually apply to colleges, you can avail yourself of a list of excellent schools across a range of admission difficulty such as this.

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I think that the first thing that you need to do is to relax. You are young. You are doing quite well at this point.

Most academically strong students start off finding school pretty easy. Then at some point it just is not easy anymore. It might be when they take AP classes. It might be third or fourth year language classes. It might be calculus. It might be when they get to university. It might be upper year university classes. It might be graduate school. It might be something else. However, it hits at some point for nearly every strong student.

I attended MIT for my bachelor’s degree. For many students at a highly ranked university, their first semester at university is when they discover that school is not easy anymore and they need to develop study skills in a hurry. It might help you in the long run to have run into this a bit earlier. I actually had the advantage that I was bad at something in high school, so I at least, unlike some MIT freshmen, had some clue what to do when classes got tough. This is something that you learn over time.

You really will be a stronger student in 3 or 4 years. If you go on to graduate school, you will be a still stronger student in 8 or 10 years. You should understand that there are some classes that you are not ready for, but that you will be ready for in the future. You should think about what classes make sense for you now, or this coming year. Then go from there. I am not a big fan of IB largely because I think that it puts too much stress on high school students, and I think that it just encourages young students to push themselves too far. You do not want to jump ahead too far. Instead figure out what your pace is.

Highly ranked schools such as Harvard or MIT are not a good fit for all very strong students. Some students would be better off at a smaller school such as a liberal arts college. Some students would be better off as an undergraduate student at a less academically intense student, but then get stronger as they get older. I have two close relatives who got their bachelor’s degree at universities that are ranked slightly lower than #100 in the US, but both were a good fit for them at the time. One then got their master’s at an Ivy League university. The other is currently doing well (and working hard) in a very good and highly ranked DVM program. The fact that this program is very good and a good fit for them matters. The fact that it is highly ranked really does not. When the time comes, you will want to find a university that is a good fit for you. Then you do well there, and again figure out what the next step is.

You should relax, do your best, and take classes at your own pace. You get to figure out over the next few years what that pace is and what is the right path for you.

Meanwhile do not worry about Harvard. It will still be there when you are ready. This might be for a bachelor’s degree, but actually Harvard has more graduate students than undergraduate students (and it has many very good graduate programs).

Perhaps this is what I was trying to say with my long winded response.

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All you need is right here:

Applying Sideways | MIT Admissions).

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Why Harvard? I only ask because one hears about students who were fixated on a specific school, only to discover that it was not what they expected after visiting the campus, or even being admitted. Now, if you are intimately familiar with the school because family or friends attended, or you went to a summer program there, that is a different story. If you might fall in the former category, try visiting Harvard and other schools in which you are interested earlier than later. You might be surprised which schools drop off of your list and which ones you love.

I would advise keeping an open mind about schools you plan to attend, and doing your level best to prepare yourself for applications and college. What do you plan to study? Start there, and see what schools are strong in that area. Are you chasing prestige, or the best quality education? You may be better off attending a less prestigious school that by objective measures (class size, access to professors, etc.) provides a better undergraduate education than the Ivies and other big names (think Williams over Harvard for liberal arts). You can then go for the prestigious brand school for your graduate degree.

I’ll also channel my wife who maintains that once you are at certain level, the difference in education varies little (is Physics II much different between Purdue and MIT?). Look at what schools feed into geographic regions, organizations and graduate programs when evaluating universities. If you want to work for a tech startup in Silicon Valley, you would be better positioned graduating from Stanford or UC Berkeley than UIUC or Purdue. If you want to work in the auto industry, apply to UofM, MSU and Kettering.

Harvard and those kind of hyper-competitive schools aren’t colleges to get stressed over. The decision process is 99.9999999999% out of your control. And the one thing you do have control over is a subjective decision…and they never tell you what it is.

My advice…worrying over prestige is not healthy. In fact, it’s emotionally destructive. Not to say that you shouldn’t apply to Harvard…go for it! Keep a healthy attitude. Stay balanced and be yourself. Apply without expectations. If they turn you down…oh, well. If they accept you, be skeptical, because it might or might not be a good fit, and you have a ton of acceptances, and possible scholarships.

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