average-gpaCalculating the average GPA for college acceptance is more complicated than it seems. It is not just a matter of averaging all of the high school GPAs of accepted college students. Self-reported GPAs come from such a wide variety of scales and calculation methods that a single number really doesn’t tell you much. While many colleges may set a target GPA at around a 3.0, it is important to know how that GPA is calculated in order to make a meaningful comparison. As it turns out, GPAs are not one-size-fits-all.

Not All GPAs are Created Equal

Every high school calculates their student GPA a little differently. There is wide variability in the scale used to calculate GPA. GPAs can be based on a 4.0, 5.0 or 6.0 scale. Also, there are different weights applied to grades used in calculating a GPA. Some schools give plus/minus grades and some do not. For example, at one high school an 87 might be a B+, which is given a 3.5. At another school, the same 87 may only be given a 3.0. Some students may have honors, AP or IB courses weighted when calculating GPA. An A in an AP class may be given a 5.0 at one school, but given a 4.0 at another school. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when comparing GPAs from different high schools.

Resource: Do Online Colleges Give College Credit for AP Courses Taken in High School?

Leveling the Playing Field

Most college admissions offices, faced with such a variety of GPA calculations, have developed their own system to recalculate reported GPAs to allow a fair comparison. So, if we were to average this recalculated GPA, could we get a meaningful average GPA for college acceptance? Not quite, because each college uses a different method to recalculate the GPA. Once again, the numbers are not particularly meaningful when compared with each other. Some colleges use only core GPA which uses grades obtained only in academic subjects such as English, Science, Social Studies, Math and Foreign Language. Other schools may also include some electives. Some may give extra weight to AP and IB classes and some may not. Many schools give extra weighting to honors classes, but the weighting given can vary from college to college. Even recalculated GPAs vary widely from school to school.

Rigor of Curriculum

When deciding which students to admit, most colleges will look beyond the GPA to the whole transcript to get an idea of the rigor of curriculum. College admission counselors understand that a student who has straight As but has never challenged themselves is vastly different from a student who has consistently taken the most difficult courses offered and may have a few Bs in the mix. The only way to fairly interpret the reported GPA, is to look at the transcript as a whole. One GPA number is not enough information to get a fair picture of a student’s high school performance.

There may be a way to calculate the average GPA for college acceptance, but that number is not likely to give you much information. In order to assess your likelihood of getting into a college, you need to understand how that particular college evaluates students. Colleges understand that students are much more than their GPAs.

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