Originally Posted: Feb 16, 2016
Last Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Founder & College Consultant
Access Success LLC
The first thing to distinguish in answering this question: There’s a difference between grades and GPA. Your high school's calculation of your GPA is rarely considered in the admission process because most colleges and universities recalculate GPAs based on their own criteria and algorithms. In other words, a college's calculations may be based on the reputation of the high school from which you're graduating as well as whether or not you took the most rigorous courses available at your school and doubled up on core classes as electives. So, colleges will pay particular attention to the courses you chose and your grades in those courses, and they’ll use that information to calculate your GPA to consider for admission. However, this doesn’t mean your high school GPA is useless. There are some schools—larger flagship universities—that may consider it, and most schools use your high school GPA to determine merit-based grant and scholarship aid. As long as you’re taking the most rigorous classes available that are appropriate for your skill level and are earning A's and B's, there's no need to worry about your GPA.
High school grades are a huge part of the college application process because they show academic consistency (or lack thereof). The majority of colleges look at grades from sophomore to senior year of high school because they know students are still transitioning as freshmen. However, some highly competitive schools will consider grades from all four years.
It’s true that grades are very important in the college admission process—but that doesn’t mean you need to have a perfect GPA to get into college. Admission criteria vary considerably from school to school (that’s where the notion of “reach, match, and safety schools” comes from). In any case, your best strategy is to work hard and do your best in your high school classes.
If you’re worried that a low GPA will hinder your college search, you'll probably find it more fruitful to spend your time and energy determining what’s stopping you from earning high grades and looking for potential solutions. Many students lose points if they hand assignments in late or don’t understand the assignment in the first place. Procrastination is also a big issue. I recommend asking yourself the following questions to start: Are you as organized as you could be? Do you tend to leave things to the last minute and cram for tests? Are you taking more than one AP class? Are extracurricular activities such as after-school sports, volunteer activities, or a part-time job taking up a lot of your time? Most colleges do tend to look at applications holistically (meaning they consider everything, trying to get a sense of who you are as a person, not just a set of statistics), but your GPA should be just as impressive as your résumé.
Director of College Counseling
Collegewise of Millburn
No matter what your GPA is, you can still get into college. That being said, college admission officers will look closely at your transcript, your classes, your grades, the level of academic rigor you have pursued, and more in order to find evidence that you can manage the academic demand that will be placed upon you in college.
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)
If you have a low GPA, you need to include it on your applications—but you should have an opportunity somewhere on the application to explain why your grades are low. Think about your application; if there is a question raised that you do not answer, the person reading it will come up with an answer for you. You want to give the admission committee the answers to their questions before they ask them. Thus, if you think they'll wonder, “Why does this student have a low GPA?” then you should take the opportunity to respond.
For more answers to your admission questions, visit our Ask the Experts section!