Q: I've been denied by two schools already and now I'm waiting for the decisions from my other colleges. One school has asked me for my first-semester grades as well as an essay that explains why my grades have been inconsistent. Is this a good sign, or not? I have such low confidence now, and I'm worried about being admitted anywhere. Am I on the right track?

A: This will come as news to you, but ALL colleges to which students have applied—even colleges to which they have been admitted early—ask high schools to send first-semester grades. They want to be sure that all applicants are keeping up with their academics.

You have been asked to write an explanation. This is not necessarily a good sign, but neither is it a bad sign. They are giving you a chance to tell your side of the story. It is very important that you tell the complete truth. Being honest and candid is always the best course.

College admissions readers do not intend to be cruel. But they want to be sure that each student they accept will be successful at their college. They are wary of accepting students who are likely to fail classes. Of course, that cannot always be predicted. Asking for teacher recommendations and a student essay is one way of their understanding what may have been a problem in the past. They want to understand a student's learning style and potential for success.

And here is another thing: do you have a "safety" school among your choices? That's not really a good term, because what is "safe" can vary greatly. Do you have a school where you are pretty certain you will be admitted? Everyone needs to have at least one of these on his or her list.

At the very worst, if you do not get into a school you want, register at your local community college and take courses that will transfer. Later, after you have proved yourself academically, you can transfer to a 4-year college.