My first semester of college was extremely rough GPA wise. I am an otherwise almost straight 4.0 student (up to -0.02), but my first semester of college I got a 3.46 because of both adjusting to a new environment and an extraordinary amount of personal/familial issues that came up simultaneously (it really was an inordinate amount - I even got 4.0 during Covid-19).

Would it be wise to notate this separately on my CV/grad school application? If so, how would I do so? I don't see how to do it without making it look like an excuse and it would be taking up valuable space (although more of a problem on the CV than on the application).

To clarify, I understand that for most applicants, this would be ok. However, I am trying to get into extremely competitive programs (ex. CS@Stanford/Google), hence the concern.


I think you can probably safely ignore your first semester grades if you've done much better later. At most a single phrase, somewhere, about quickly learning and recovering from early mistakes is enough. Your latest work is also more advanced and is what most reviewers will look at in most applications.

If you don't mention it at all, but are later asked, just something like the phrase above is enough. I stumbled. I got up. I learned to do better.

Not big deal and certainly not a career killer.

There is another factor that you should think about.

There are people who sort of breezed through their education, getting good grades without apparent effort. They have a nice record, but may never have learned how to deal with a challenge. They might just collapse when the going gets really hard. And they might not have learned very deeply, finding exams to be no big obstacle and so didn't really internalize the education or reach any deep insight.

There are other sorts of people who learned early on that learning was hard work and rose to the challenge. They may, in fact, be better situated for new and bigger challenges since they know what it really takes to succeed in difficult situations. I was like this. I did relatively poorly early on in my (primary and secondary) education but eventually learned what it took to succeed and was self-driving from then on, accepting any challenge.

  • Would this also apply for top level schools/companies (ex. CS@Stanford/Google)? May 20 '20 at 23:09
  • I would think yes. Competition is stronger, but very old issues have little importance unless it represents a pattern.
    – Buffy
    May 20 '20 at 23:11

I got a 3.46

In general, a 3.46 is reasonably good. Given your otherwise excellent performance, it is not necessary to make excuses or explain. In fact, I recommend not doing so, for two reasons:

  • Grades are only one part of your application. You are clearly a "check" in that box, so there is nothing to gain by dwelling on it. In fact, this is likely to come across unsympathetically ("I'm a millionaire, but listen to my explanation about why I'm not a billionaire....")
  • The explanations/excuses you would offer (transition, personal conflict) are not particularly compelling, and are largely aligned with what the reviewers would have assumed in the absence of any such explanation.

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