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How to Figure Out Your GPA and Why It Really Does Matter

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Student pumping his fist as he  gets a good test score back from a teacher.

You know that grades are an important part of college applications. You might wonder, however, which grade point average or GPA will get a nod from admissions officers and which will make them place your application in the reject pile. You might also be wondering where you fit in compared to other applicants.

As you might imagine, it’s a complicated question. A good GPA for one student or at one college, might be different for another student at another college. Each college uses GPA guidelines in their admissions process but you should know where your GPA fits in at the colleges you are applying to. You can figure out your GPA by using a GPA calculator or asking in your guidance office. Then, it’s easy to find the information for the average GPA of admitted students at the college websites or by using College Navigator.

What is a good GPA?

Nationally, the average unweighted high school GPA is about a 3.0, which is a B average. This is, however, the average for all students in the country, which includes the 34 percent of high school students who don't go on to college. The average high school GPA for college-bound students, if measured, would likely be higher than a 3.0.

A 3.5 to 4.0 GPA, which means an A- or A average, is expected for admission to top colleges. However, you may be able to gain acceptance to a less selective school with a GPA that’s as low as a 2.0 or C- average. Since every school is different, a 3.7 GPA at one school could potentially look better to admissions officers than a 4.0 GPA at another school. If your GPA isn’t perfect, but you are attending a highly competitive high school with a rigorous course curriculum, a lower GPA might beat out a higher one from a high school with easy classes.

Another factor to consider is whether your school uses weighted or unweighted GPAs. When the GPA is weighted, schools use a scale that goes over 4.0 so they can give AP and honors classes a higher number. If the GPA is unweighted, colleges will consider the student who takes higher level courses to be more qualified. An A in a non-AP or Honors course is not as impressive as a B in an AP or Honors class.

What is a good GPA?

How do you decide whether your GPA is good enough based on your plans for college? Take a look at the average GPA for incoming freshmen at the colleges you are considering. Remember, of course, that this statistic isn’t set in stone. It’s simply a guideline to shoot for. Some students with lower GPAs are accepted and some with higher GPAs could be rejected. Follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of colleges of interest.
  2. Make a spreadsheet of the GPAs and admission rates.
  3. Compare your GPA to the average GPA of admitted students assuming you are looking at unweighted GPAs.
  4. Look at the admissions rates for each college. This will tell you how competitive the applications will be and indicate if you might need to work harder to raise your grades.

Why does the GPA matter?

The GPA is the standard colleges use to determine your ability to handle college level coursework. It’s also your roadmap for determining where you should apply to college. The goal is to be at the top of the applicant pool. A GPA above the average for admitted students, will not only improve your chances of admittance, but could also mean a generous merit-aid scholarship from the college.

For example, you have a 3.0 GPA and find a college with the average GPA for admitted students at 2.8. You would be at the top of the applicant pool. Conversely, a college with an average admitted GPA of 3.5 might be a stretch.

Because of the importance of the GPA, it’s imperative to concentrate on grades at the beginning of high school. It’s much easier to maintain a good GPA throughout high school than to raise a bad one.

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