Students begin preparing for college much earlier than they did twenty years ago. At one time, grades earned in junior high or middle school weren’t a consideration in a college application. That has changed. Some experts even recommend beginning to think about college in elementary school so that there is less “catch up” pressure in high school. All colleges require a high school transcript as a requirement on an admissions application. Some allow students to self-report the GPA until the student is accepted, but then require that the high school send an official transcript to the college or university. So, what is the average GPA reported on a college application?
Calculating 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.
What is GPA?
The acronym stands for grade point average. Sometimes this is calculated from letter grades and converted into a numerical score, but it might also just be expressed as numbers to begin with. The traditional conversion chart (which isn’t followed by all schools) is:
• A+ 97-100
• A 93-96
• A- 90-92
The scale has the same parameters until a student reaches 65 and then awards no credit at all for grades lower than that. So, based on the 100-point scale, a student who averages 90 percent in all classes ( at the juncture between A and B) would have a GPA of 3.5 and one who scores an average of 92 in all classes would have a GPA of 3.7.
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.
Why are GPAs so Important?
There are a couple of reasons for the importance of a GPA in relation to college application.
Colleges Getting More Selective
An article in the US News and World Report says that the top-level colleges are becoming more selective. That is because of the law of supply-and-demand. Put simply, there are more applicants to these schools than there are openings. The census shows that the number of people in the US who are between 18 and 24 years of age has risen dramatically, so there are more people applying to the schools. The University of Pennsylvania had an acceptance rate of 40 percent in 1990. In 2014, it was 10 percent and today averages closer to 18 percent.
The same US News and World Report article notes that because of inflation and higher costs of living, having a four-year college degree is necessary to maintain even a lower-middle-income-level standard of living. That is, people are spending more on homes and expect more from leisure time than they once did. Real estate, travel and even food are more expensive than they were a few years ago.
More Employers Requiring Degrees
Technology-driven jobs have exploded in our culture and require a higher degree of education. It isn’t just that degrees are needed for jobs in technology, research and other such areas; few businesses are not rooted in technology today. Even industries like agriculture rely on computers to manage crops and even to drive tractors. Employers equate college degrees with greater aptitude and more skills in these areas.
Does a Low GPA Lower Chances for Admission
It certainly doesn’t help matters. An article in The Classroom.com says sometimes low GPAs can be traced to a student’s lack of initiative or ability, but they can also be the result of major stress like the death of a parent or the break-up of a family through divorce, for instance. GPAs are very important, but they can be mitigated, and mitigate, other factors.
A High GPA
A high GPA, earned through challenging classes, shows admissions committees that a student has both initiative and ability. So, an applicant who has mediocre SAT or ACT scores may be viewed favorably if their GPA is high, especially if the student has a 6.0 GPA. That advantage, however, disappears when standardized test scores are low because, while they are not the only factor in consideration on an application, the test scores are important. Additionally, if a student has a GPA higher than most students in his class, he stands out from the crowd. That score tells the college that he was willing to work harder than his peers. If, however, most students in the graduating class have high GPAs, colleges may look at whether the school has lower standards, and the GPA will be less meaningful.
A Low GPA
Still, a comparatively low GPA doesn’t necessarily disqualify a student from college admission. In the same way that a high GPA can bolster lackluster standardized test scores, a low GPA can receive a boost from impressive SAT or ACT scores. A GPA of around 2.0 will be acceptable at some colleges. A score below that will probably disqualify a student from admissions, or at least make it more difficult to get in. If you have a GPA of 2.0, but many of your classes were more challenging, admissions committees may view your application more favorably.
Boosting a GPA
We have already said that starting to consider college earlier is important. That doesn’t mean taking calculus in fifth grade. It does mean planning to go to college and allowing that plan to influence attitudes and practices such as high class attendance. Here are a few more ideas about how to raise your GPA.
Take Easier Classes
You might take easier classes to ensure getting better grades. Though you shouldn’t take classes you could sleep through and still do well, you should be realistic and choose courses that you enjoy and that are more in line with your abilities.
Take Harder Classes
If you can meet the challenge, you could also take honors or advanced placement courses. Those course grades are typically weighted and are usually graded on a five-point scale instead of four points, so if you get a “B, it equates to a 4.0, and an “A” would give you a grade of 5.0. At some schools, honors classes and advanced placement courses would be figured on a 6.0 GPA format. Those schools often allow students to opt out of courses such as music and art, replacing them with the IB or AP classes. Getting a grade of 100 percent in those classes would raise your GPA significantly.
Take More Classes
Often, upperclassmen in high school can opt for an earlier daily dismissal time or a study hall. This would be a great opportunity to take an additional class. It is best for students to choose these classes wisely and to make them something enjoyable, while not taking a class for just an “easy A.” There are often opportunities for summer classes and workshops as well. Some colleges offer summer campus weekends that allow students to take courses for credit. Most of these have entrance requirements, but they are one way of earning more and higher grades to raise your GPA.
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.
Average Acceptance GPA
This all brings us back to the original question posed by this article. What is the average GPA for students accepted into college? The average high school GPA is 3.0. The GPA students need to have a good chance at getting into college varies, but averages 3.15. A lot depends upon where you apply. For instance, we noted that the University of Pennsylvania is very selective, accepting between 10 and 20 percent of applicants. It also has a recommended application GPA of 3.86.
Ivy League universities, which are historically selective, have varying recommendations for GPAs at admission. Duke University suggests a GPA of 3.94. Colombia recommends 4.14 and Harvard and Yale both recommend applicants have GPAs over 4.0.
Private universities that are more selective may have high GPA standards for admission as well. Moorhouse College, for example, recommends a GPA of 3.24. Public universities and state institutions tend to have the lowest GPA recommendations at a little over 3.0.
We use the term “recommended” about the GPAs listed on applications. That is because the number mentioned on the application is not a hard-and-fast requisite, but a suggested level at which students should be successful. Student GPAs could be mitigated by other factors. Still, schools favor GPAs of 3.0 over a 2.5 on applications, and very few schools will accept someone with a GPA of under 2.0. There is an exception. Sometimes a college or university will accept a student conditionally, or provisionally. What that means is that they offer the student, who usually has other positive qualities such as community service and high motivation, a chance to prove he can succeed in college. If his first semester, or whatever provision is made for him, is unsuccessful, he may be expelled.
Not every job or profession requires a college education. Most high-paying jobs that don’t require having a skill set, however, and some form of training. If you want a career in finance, medicine, business and other technology-rich areas, you will need a degree to get beyond an entry-level position. Children with aptitude and abilities for these types of careers should be encouraged early to see college in their futures. Students in the last years of high school should work on improving their GPA scores by selecting courses in areas where they have both an interest and an ability. They should take courses that stretch them without stressing them and add courses when possible to include weighted classes that can raise their GPA numbers. While the average high school GPA is 3.0, successful college applicants usually have GPAs of 3.15 or higher. That number, for the student and the school, is a good predictor of success in higher education.
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.