First Quarter Grades: Do They Matter for Early Decision and Early Action? - Rye & Rye Brook Moms

Back in the day when I was an entry level admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, I wanted to be completely prepared for every single admissions committee. I used to spend hours the night before and in the wee hours of the morning going over every single student I was supposed to present to the committee. Sometimes, I had over 200 students to present in a matter of a few hours. I didn’t want to be unprepared.

One day during my first year, I was presenting a student in the Early Decision round that I desperately wanted to get admitted. He was such a great kid, but I knew the competition was stiff and his grades junior year had gone from all A’s to a number of B’s. When I got to committee that day to advocate for an acceptance, I thought I was ready for anything. As I shared all of the wonderful things about the student, my old boss who was chairing the committee, was flipping through the student’s application. When he got to the student’s transcript and saw all the B’s from junior year, he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Sara, do you have his first quarter grades from senior year?”

I didn’t know what to say. I knew that counselors needed to send in first semester grades for Regular Decision applicants, but I didn’t realize first quarter grades would ever be considered in Early Decision. My boss explained that when things are so competitive, the one thing that can help a student in the early round is a strong showing during the first marking period of senior year. I had no idea that was even an option.
From then on, I would contact students’ guidance/college counselors in advance of the committee session—sometimes by phone and sometimes over email. And, I would ask for the student’s first quarter grades if they were available. Counselors were almost always incredibly responsive. It took me hours to do this extra step for any student that I thought grades would make a difference for, but it was worth it. 

“When the competition heats up, the one thing that can help a student in the early round is a strong showing during the first quarter of senior year.”

Now that I’m on the other side of the desk working directly with students and families, I tell them that first quarter grades can make a difference. But only a few colleges technically require them in Early Decision and Early Action. Can you rely on an overly-ambitious admissions officer to follow up and get the first quarter grades for every applicant they are responsible for? No. Not anymore.
With early applicant pools now double, triple, or quadruple the size of what they once were, admissions officers don’t have the time to follow up. So here’s a plan:

1. If your grades are really strong first quarter of senior year, ask your guidance/college counselor to send them to all of your “early” colleges, whether you applied Early Decision or Early Action.

Colleges with Early Decision and Early Action will be making decisions into early December (or later) before notifying applicants of admissions decisions. So even if your first quarter doesn’t end until Thanksgiving, there’s still time for the grades to make a difference.

2. “Really strong first quarter grades” translates into getting all A’s or almost all A’s.

If you get a B or lower in a class that is important to your intended major, don’t voluntarily send your grades.

3. Your counselor can upload the grades as an additional report or send them via email to the main admissions email account or directly to the admissions officer handling your area.

4. If your counselor refuses to send your grades for you, then you should send them!

Craft a short email and carefully type in your senior classes and the grade you received for each class in the body of the email. Put your name and high school in the subject line of your email. You can also update many colleges with grades through an admissions portal if they have it.

5. If you send your grades, make sure to copy your guidance/college counselor on the email.

This is a signal to the admissions committee that these grades are valid. In other words, why would a student lie about their grades if their counselor is copied on the email?
I have been preaching this plan to my Application Nation and Application Nation – Senior Year Facebook groups for months now. They know how important their child’s senior year classes and grades can be even for Early Decision and Early Action. The other day, one of the AN moms shared with our group that her child’s guidance counselor indicated that first quarter grades weren’t necessary and that colleges would “throw them in the trash.” The mom was so upset that she contacted her child’s Early Action colleges to see if this was true. She learned that not only would these colleges like first quarter grades, one college even required them.
Be one step ahead. Juniors, remember how important senior year classes and grades are. Seniors, if your counselor isn’t willing to send in grades for you, take the bull by the horn and make it happen if you’ve got something good to share. A strong set of first quarter grades from senior year might be the reason you end up getting admitted to your dream college!
Sara Harberson

About Sara Harberson

Sara Harberson is the founder of, which provides personalized advice to college applicants and their families, and, a free, on demand video membership that demystifies college admissions. She is the former associate dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and the former dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin & Marshall College. Sara’s philosophy is that every kid applying to college deserves the best advice.

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