January 18, 2023
GPA in college admissions
A student's GPA matters in the admissions process and helps determine college admission. GPA also determines qualification for scholarships and grants alongside other key student metrics. This post will help you understand your GPA and the role it plays in admissions.

Introduction

When a student enters high school, they are usually told about the significance of achieving a high GPA. For years, two important numbers have signaled and dictated whether students could hope to get into a top college: their test score and their grade-point average (GPA).

A student's GPA matters in the admissions process and helps determine their college admission. The GPA also determines many other aspects of the student’s journey after high school, including scholarships they receive, programs they are eligible for, and more. Read on to learn about GPA and its importance in the college admissions process.

What is a GPA?

GPA stands for Grade Point Average, and it is the number or letter that your school places on your transcript to show your overall achievement in classes. Your GPA represents how well you have done in your courses. There are lots of types of GPAs, but let’s talk about two important ones: weighted and unweighted.

Weighted GPA

This means that classes vary in important to your GPA based on criteria established by your school. For many high schools, that means that an A in an AP or IB course worth more than an A in an honors course, which could in turn be worth more than a standard course. This is how students can have a GPA of over 4.0.

Unweighted

This means that all classes or courses are considered equal in the calculation. For example, an A in an AP course is given the same value as an A in an honors course or an academic course. If you have an A in all your courses, for schools that use a 4.0 scale, you'd have a 4.0 GPA.

GPA in your college application

There are many ways that high schools calculate GPA: 4.0, 1-100, 1-12, and more. On Loper, you can input your GPA in any of those forms. For admissions, this can make things very confusing. In lots of cases, colleges recalculate a student's GPA to fit a standard. After that, they may use the one that they've created to compare student applications from across the country and the world. Many colleges will also recalculate your GPA based on what matters most to them. For instance, they might only look at your grades in core classes. For these colleges, electives may matter less in viewing or evaluating your academic work. For others, AP or IB electives might also be included.

As examples, The University of California system, the CSU system, and Stanford don't even include freshman-year grades in a student's GPA.  They consider the rigor of freshman courses, but grades from 9th grade are not a factor when calculating GPA. The best way to find out what a college does is to research. Visit their admissions website or ask if you're on tour or in a virtual admissions session. While you’re not going to find the exact formula to predict your acceptance, colleges will often provide descriptions of how they consider GPA.

How important is GPA in college admissions?

According to Dean J from the University of Virginia:

"It's impossible to know and gauge an applicant's academic story from the GPA. Two students with identical GPAs could have very different coursework and grades on their transcripts. This is why we talk about the transcript being the most important factor in understanding your academic preparation. The GPA attempts to summarize the work you've done, but we use the courses and grades on the transcript to fully understand your academic strength."

Generally, GPA is the most comprehensive and reliable indicator of a student's overall academic performance during high school. Sometimes, it is more crucial than test scores and other metrics. But do not forget that your GPA is a summary of your transcript - any information housed in your transcript, if admissions teams take time to review it, is more valuable that the single number provided in your GPA.

Going beyond the GPA with your transcript

Samantha Rose-Sinclair wrote in Georgia Tech admissions' phenomenal blog:

"...in holistic review, context is everything. Using your transcript to unpack your full course history and performance gives far more insight into your academic preparation than the GPA summarizing that performance.”

So the transcript is really important. What’s more, colleges will also receive a school profile from your counselor about your high school to give context. You can see sample school profiles here.

This profile provides details about your school, like size, AP or IB courses offered, course weightings, graduation requirements, and more. It gives admissions offices important context to help them understand your transcript. Admissions offices will view students from a high school that offers 28 AP courses and one that offers 2 very differently! So, the context of your high school is one of the factors, too.

Using transcripts to understand academic rigor

Rigor is a common term that is bandied about in the admissions process. However, people don’t necessarily even know what it is! Rigor indicates the difficulty level and challenging nature of your courses.

As you've progressed through your high school career, have you taken increasingly more difficult courses? If your high school offers many AP courses, how many have you taken? If your high school offers an IB program, have you chosen to pursue that path? You should know that colleges now look closely at the rigor of students' course loads as well as the particulars of the high schools that they attended. In many cases, admissions offices prioritize rigor over grades. This is because your rigor reflects the kinds of courses you took over your entire high school career -- not just one single number.

Also, remember that colleges want you to have balanced rigor. So, you don't have to take every AP course. If the IB program isn't right for you, that's fine. If you've been especially interested in drama, there is nothing wrong with taking four years of theater classes.

Colleges will also look at your trajectory in high school. Did you take more challenging classes increasingly as you progressed from 9th grade through 12th? Did you challenge yourself to the best of your ability? For some students, that may mean taking many AP courses. For others, that means taking honors courses and doing very well.

Closing

The admissions process can seem mysterious, complex, arbitrary, and even unfathomable. It’s important to understand that the context of your high school matters and that GPA is only one of many factors that most colleges consider important.

When you start researching college of interest (on Loper!), look into a college’s admissions site to get detailed information about what that school is looking for in its potential students. You might even learn whether or not the school plans to recalculate your GPA. You can find admissions websites on a school’s profile on Loper’s app at the bottom of the screen.

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