Will a bad AP Calculus grade significantly hurt me? Ways to make up for this?

Hi!! I’m currently a junior and my GPA is 3.95 unweighted. I’ve taken all honors and IB classes, along with this AP Calculus AB class. 1510 SAT score, and I’m planning on retaking it with an aim for at least a 1550. I have a couple EC’s, nothing crazy but I tutor, I’m in my school’s band (concert, jazz, pit, marching band section leader), codirector of a student led choir, student council president, secretary of a service club, NHS member, and this year I designed a drone with some friends for a competition where we won for our state and will be competing internationally this month. I’m also well liked by my teachers so I’m not worried about letters of rec. I have had all A’s so far so this is really my only troubling grade. Right now, it’s looking like I’ll end calc with a low B or a high C… I’ve been trying to avoid it and I truly spend a lot of time on this class, but nothing seems to work as online learning for this class is not great for me. Other students also seem to be doing poorly, but not everyone. I also was thinking about pursuing a STEM degree, something to do with physics (which I’m taking IB SL this year, I’ll probably finish with an A or A+), so I imagine my calc grade may matter more than other classes.
Should I be worried about this, or are schools likely to understand due to the pandemic and it being one grade?
Is there a way to make up for this? I will try to aim high on the AP test itself, but I don’t know if that’s realistic.

It depends on the level of school that you are looking at applying. At the tippy tops, many students with perfect grades get rejected. If you are looking at something in the math heavy part of STEM, AOs are going to start wondering about a lower Calc grade. You are 2 years ahead in math, most of your peers find AB easy. It should go without saying, that a B is way better than a C.

You have about 15 minutes to find somebody to help you avoid getting that C. Knock on every door you can- starting with your teacher, but including tutors, etc. My (now) physics kid struggled with Calc AB- until a tutor realized that there were a couple of foundational principles that she had missed along the way. He identified the holes in the 1st tutoring session and filled them in the 2nd- and it ‘clicked’. If you are ambitious for a selective college get yourself over any anxiety about asking for help and start knocking on doors stat!


There’s nothing that will “make up” for a part of a student’s record. There’s no “they have a good AP score, so this grade earned for the entire year just doesn’t count”.

You should be aiming for high test scores, AP scores, etc., regardless of other factors. A C in Calc doesn’t make any of them more important.

But when an AO evaluates your application, GPA will be a part of it. An important part, but just a part. And one grade will be one part of it - one of ~20+ courses. So it’s also not “I’ll be rejected everywhere because of this one grade”.

So yes, it will only be one grade.

But no, everyone dealt with the pandemic, so it also will not be an “Ok, we’ll just ignore it”.

An A is better than a B, which is better than a C. So earn the best grade you can. But don’t think it’s either then end of being able to apply to top schools or something that will just go away.

1 Like

What do you plan on majoring in? I’m reading between the lines based on the drone project that engineering might be a possibility. If it is, even robotics/mechatronics needs a lot of math. That class is the beginning of a long sequence. If engineering is a possibility, you need to figure out why you struggled in Calculus. Good luck!