Hard High School: How It Affects Your College Chances

by | Feb 2, 2022

by Vero Lecocq

Attending a tough high school can certainly affect some of your performance statistics. It’s natural to wonder whether these shifts in your numbers are going to affect your chances of college admission. This article covers what colleges are really concerned with when they look at your record, and we explain why you don’t need to be worried if your high school is especially hard.

What Is a “Hard” High School?

There are a few reasons a high school might be considered “hard.”

Usually, it’s because the school is competitive within the student body; there are a lot of students taking the really tough classes and doing well in them.

Grading policy is also a consideration. Hard schools are slow to give out A’s, whereas others practically chuck them at any student in sight.

Size can also impact how hard a high school appears to be. At a large and competitive school, it’s hard to get a top class rank—you’re competing against a lot of other people. At a small and competitive school, it’s hard to get a good percentile ranking because a slight difference in rank can translate to a relatively large percentile discrepancy.

A hard high school is one where students who would otherwise get top grades and top-ranking have a hard time doing so, either because the grading is so tough or because their peers are so competitive.

What Colleges Look At

Many students worry that the relatively lackluster grades or ranking they achieve at a hard school may seem unimpressive to colleges. Basically, they’re afraid they won’t look smart. They think they won’t be able to get into their desired college(s) because they didn’t a perfect GPA and graduate as valedictorian.

As it turns out, colleges, especially the more selective ones, do their best to view you within the context of your high school environment. When colleges receive your transcript, they also receive a brief “school profile” which summarizes the school in terms of courses offered, the grading scale, average grades and tests scores, and the class size. Admissions officers will see that your school has tough grading policies and that an imperfect GPA doesn’t imply a lack of understanding in your courses.

Colleges are looking to see whether you sought out the most rigorous courses available to you and whether you excelled in them.

Also, remember colleges are looking for the whole package. Grades are a huge part of it, but they’re also looking at test scores, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, and personal statements.

Colleges won’t assign (or dock) you points based on how difficult your high school is—they’ll do their best to be fair to students from all backgrounds.

Questions? Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil

Weil College Advising, LLC


Weil College Advising

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