I recently came across an important comment from a parent. She said: “Everyone keeps talking about their straight-A student with high test scores…but how do I help my kid who is average? Or less than average?”

Have you asked yourself this question? If so, this article is for you.

Here are my six tips to keep in mind if you are the parent of a student with average (or less than average) grades and/or standardized test scores!


1. Remember, not every kid has to go to an ivy league or top ranked school

Think about your own circle of friends in your adult life. Think about your friends who are “successful.” Think about your friends who are the happiest. Think about your friends who are the most satisfied with their lives. Did every single one of those people attend an ivy league school? Chances are, they didn’t. The most important part of the college experience is that your child finds a place where he or she will thrive in that particular environment. A place where they are surrounded by like-minded individuals. And a place where they feel comfortable to explore and grow.

2. Research schools that ARE a match with your child’s grades and test scores

Does your kid get mostly C’s in school and have a 1080 SAT score? If so, research schools in which the average admitted student DOES have a GPA and test score in that range. Yale and Princeton may not be right for your kid, and that’s OKAY! Don’t let society tell you otherwise. It’s easy to get swept up in the media blitz of declining admissions rates. We hear stories of students with a perfect GPA and perfect standardized test scores that get rejected from top schools. But keep in mind, fear sells in the media. And there are HUNDREDS of great colleges out there that aren’t being promoted in the news. These schools still offer a fantastic education, and may be an even better fit for your child than the top ranked schools.


3. Concentrate on studying for standardized tests

Perhaps your child is actually quite capable at performing well if they put their mind to it, but they just haven’t put in the effort inside of the classroom. If this is the case, perhaps your child would be willing (for just 1-2 months!) to really buckle down and study for the SAT or ACT. If your child has a low GPA, but can manage to work hard enough to get a high standardized test score, this high test score could boost their application appeal when it comes time to apply to colleges.


4. Alternatively, look for schools with test optional applications

If you read #3 above, and thought to yourself: “That’s not the issue…no matter how hard my kid tries, they just don’t perform well on standardized tests,” then perhaps test optional schools are a good option.  For test optional applications, students are not required to submit standardized test scores as part of their application to that school. Why? Well, schools are realizing that test scores are not necessarily an indicator of natural intelligence, and that high test scores come from coaching. Colleges also find that factors other than test scores can prove as better predictors of a student’s potential. Test optional schools look at a student’s transcript, essays, letters of recommendation, interviews and extracurricular activities.


5. Focus on extracurricular activities

At this point, you may be saying: “Not only does my child NOT have a great GPA or standardized test score, but they’re not very active either.” Maybe your kid isn’t a star athlete or president of their class at school or captain of the debate team. And THAT’S OKAY. Do they sit in their room all day learning how to write code? Help them harness those skills. Does your kid want to rebel against anything and everything, except playing their guitar and writing music? On their application, they can show how they impressively learned to play an instrument on their own. Or that they volunteered to play their music at the local retirement home. Focus on what your kid DOES enjoy, and boost their resume around those activities.


6. Learn how to tell their story

Undeniably, the GPA and standardized test score are the most important factors that schools look at first. But beyond that, the story that your kid tells through other various parts of the application can really make an impact. You’ve probably heard of the high school students with the 1600 SAT score and 4.0 GPA who didn’t get into their top choice of schools. But there are also plenty of students with lower GPAs and standardized test scores who do get accepted. Usually, these students stand out in other ways. These are students who have figured out which activities light them up. These are the students who are driven to participate in something unique, that usually winds up impacting their own life and the lives of others. But most importantly, these are the kids who know how to tell these unique stories through their essays, resumes, letters of recommendation and interviews!


Key takeaways:

The media will make you feel like your kid must attend a top 20 school to find success in life. But this is not the case. There are PLENTY of great colleges out there. And there are plenty of schools in which your kid will both get accepted to and fit in. Do a bit of research to find schools that are a great match for your kid, and do your best not to get caught up in the comparison of other families. Easier said than done, I know. But you can do it!

And please remember: just because your kid has average/below average grades or test scores does NOT mean that they will be unsuccessful in life. Some of the brightest and most successful people in the world got terrible grades in high school…there are many other ways to excel!


Is your kid an average student? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!