Important Questions About Your High School Student's GPA, Answered

Your student's GPA is important to college admission, but it can be confusing and certainly isn't the only factor. Here's what parents should know, plus a Q&A.

Let’s talk about grade point averages! Why? Because there is so much confusion around them when it comes to college admission. GPAs are complicated, and context is important. At One-Stop College Counseling, we work with students from all over the world, and we review a variety of transcripts and educational systems. Even in the US, we’ve seen schools with GPAs out of 16 points, 12 points, and some with 4.0, 5.0, and even 6.0 as their top marks. Other schools use numerical grades out of 100, and there are even a few that just write descriptions of how a student is progressing without assigning a grade. So how does all this play into getting into college?

How colleges really use GPA in admission

Because there’s so much variability, about half of the colleges in this country don’t even use your student’s high school GPA as it is—they recalculate it to place everyone on the same playing field. Some recalculate it to include only core classes, and others include core and electives but eliminate physical education. Some colleges measure weighted GPA, while others  add another category to evaluate the rigor instead.

Colleges that do lift the GPA right from high school transcripts usually spend time reviewing each individual School Profile, which is a document high schools send to colleges to explain how they grade courses and what options they offer. Some high schools will weigh honors and AP/IB courses equally, perhaps adding a point above a non-honors class. And there are also many high schools that weigh honors classes slightly higher than non-honors, then provide an even bigger bump to AP, IB, or dual-enrollment courses.

Related: How Important Is GPA in the Admission Process?

COVID-related GPA complications

What about the high schools where everyone received A’s in spring 2020 due to COVID-19? Or schools where quizzes and tests became group events where students ask friends for help? The fact of the matter is those students have an advantage compared to students at schools that didn’t adjust their grading during the pandemic. It’s confusing, but admission officers are acutely aware of the non-universal grading systems, varying curriculum offerings, and inconsistent COVID-related adjustments, and they’ll factor these into their analyses. That’s why colleges read “in context” when making admission decisions.  

A GPA Q&A for inquiring parents

Here are some of the most common questions we’ve heard from parents about GPA that you may be asking about your student’s college admission process as well.

Q: My student has a 4.0 GPA. Are they a strong candidate for an Ivy League university?
A: It depends. Is their GPA weighted or unweighted? What’s the highest possible GPA at their school? What was their course schedule? How rigorous are the classes they chose? What percent of the class has the same (or higher) GPA? You need to ask additional related questions to really get an understanding of your student’s standing for Ivy League admission.

Q: My teen isn’t taking honors English or honors history in high school because they’re focused on STEM. If they get an “A” in the college prep (non-honors) English and history classes, they’ll be eligible for the most selective colleges, right?
A:
No, they won’t. The most selective colleges want to see students challenging themselves across  all the core subjects, regardless of their intended major. Their weighted GPA will be lower due to the non-honors classes, and while their unweighted GPA may be identical to a student with a more difficult class load, their rigor won’t be considered as robust.

Q: Isn’t college admission random? I’ve seen a senior at one high school get accepted into Northeastern with a 4.8 GPA, while another student at a different high school get outright denied with a 5.4 GPA.
A:
Admission isn’t random, and it’s not always based on GPA. When considering GPA, admission officers consider the courses the student took—were they AP, IB, or honors? And how many of these were accelerated courses? Was there an upward or downward grade trend from ninth grade to 11th grade? What major was the student applying for? It’s impossible to compare GPAs from different high schools when so many other factors play into admission.

Related: Should I Ace Easy Classes or Push Myself in Hard Ones?

Our overall advice: Students should challenge themselves with rigorous classes and try to earn the best grades they can. They just shouldn’t overwhelm themselves and know what their limits are in terms of course load. We always tell our students, “You can’t do better than your best. Give it your all, and that will be good enough!”

Want to read more from this author? Laurie Kopp Weingarten has a lot more admission advice where that came from for you and your student!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Laurie Kopp Weingarten

Laurie Kopp Weingarten

Laurie Kopp Weingarten is a Certified Educational Planner as well as Co-founder and President of One-Stop College Counseling. She meets with students in her New Jersey office and virtually throughout the United States and Asia. She graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Working with eighth to 12th graders, Laurie guides students through each stage of the college admission process. She’s passionate about helping students reach their full academic and extracurricular potential; there’s nothing more rewarding than their excitement upon acceptance to their top-choice schools!

Laurie is a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) as well as a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling (NJACAC), and the Pennsylvania Association for College Admission Counseling (PACAC). She’s also a proud member of the Character Collaborative.

Follow One-Stop's Facebook page for daily articles on the college admission process.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace

High School Class of 2019

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is that it features student writers so I get an inside perspective from students slightly older and farther along than me. I realize that other college websites also utilize student writers; however, I relate the most to the college writers that I read articles from on CollegeXpress.

Jeannie Borin, MEd

Jeannie Borin, MEd

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.

Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.

Mimi

Mimi

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has provided me with tips that were for college students, but as a high school junior, they were still very useful. Not only that, it also gave me an idea of what to expect when it comes to going to college or already being in college. I want to say thank you to CollegeXpress, and I hope you continue the wonderful tips until I hopefully get into college and throughout my college journey.

Sierra Carranza

Sierra Carranza

High School Class of 2022

I had absolutely no idea where I wanted to go to school; I was considering colleges in almost every state. CollegeXpress was an amazing resource and helped me compare all of my top schools. Without the help of CollegeXpress, I probably wouldn't have made such an informed and confident decision.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Ohio University

Athens, OH

SUNY Oneonta

Oneonta, NY

Manhattanville College

Purchase, NY

Sacred Heart University

Fairfield, CT