I'm finishing up my degree at one of the top undergraduate engineering schools in the country. Applicants are typically at the very top of their high school class and have great SAT and ACT scores. I did pretty well during the last few years of high school and worked extremely hard to get into the school.
My first quarter, I took Calculus II (out of III), Rhetoric and Composition, General Chemistry I (I started out as a Chemical Engineering major gasp), and College and Life Skills. Calc II was a nightmare for me. I "skipped" Calc I because of my AP Calc score, and there seemed to be this insane assumption that I was a calculus expert at this point. I got lost so fast.
As for Rhetoric and Composition, I did fairly well for most of the class. The very last paper was supposed to be Wikipedia-style, but I honestly had no idea how to write a research paper. Small, country high schools don't really prepare you to write a college-level paper. 😳 Even after the professor questioned me about my ability to write the paper, he still reported me for plagiarism and I got a 0 on the paper.
Know what the next part of the story is? I failed both of those classes and got a D letter grade, meaning I had to retake them at some point. This was absolutely devasting at the time. My GPA was a 2.0 after only 1 quarter at this school where I was expected to perform much, MUCH higher. I questioned whether or not I should be there because who knew if I could even make the grades?
That was the fall of 2013. Since then, I've had internships every single summer and have also been working full-time since last summer while finishing up my last few classes. This isn't typical for graduates from my school. Most people finish "on time" (4 years), and some even do it in three years or with two majors. Bravo to y'all, there's no way I could have done that.
So, how did I manage to still lock-in great opportunities? First of all, I feel very fortunate for the number of companies that come to the fall career fair on campus—somewhere around 300 of them.
Second and most importantly, in my opinion, is that I've always been honest about my situation. For whatever reason, my personal life outside of classes was regularly a living hell. I'm mostly grateful for those times, because they led me to get help with my mental health and I would not be where I am today without the things I learned back then.
Anyways, I always made sure to be transparent with people about my life. I wouldn't go into every single detail, but just enough to let them know that I came from a different background than most of the other students and had to fight harder for what I wanted.
I also always emphasized the fact that I had a plan for correcting my path. When I failed a class (it happened quite a few times), I made sure to tell them exactly when I was taking it over again. This had a huge impact on how I got my third internship. The HR gentleman flat-out said, "Good, you have a plan for fixing this and you've already begun."
My GPA never even reached a 3.0. I tried so hard to get it there. But things just kept happening. Life got in the way over and over again, but you know what? I'm almost there, and I'm doing just fine. GPA is not the only factor to the kind of person someone is, and if a company filters you out based on what that number is? Forget them. There's a 90% chance they aren't the kind of company you want to work for anyways.
You have a story. It is important. Anyone who isn't willing to listen to it before shrugging you off isn't worth your time.