Anyone applying to colleges knows how important it is to have a good GPA. Your grades show the college that you’re ready for work at their level, and the average plays a major role in a college’s admission decisions. Of course, GPA isn’t the only thing they’re looking at, so it’s smart to position yourself in the best way possible.
Here we are taking a look at various factors that play a role in evaluating your high school grade point average.
GPAs for All Programs
When you’re applying for college as a high school student, most colleges will look at your high school GPA. As you apply for higher-level degrees, such as a Master’s or a Ph.D., your college GPA starts to become more important.
Terminal degrees are college degrees at the end of the road for a particular profession. For instance, if you want to become an elementary school teacher, the Master’s degree would be a terminal degree for you. A doctor, on the other hand, will need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Most Associate and Bachelor programs are “non-terminal degrees” or just degrees. When you’re applying for a terminal degree program, the stakes may be a bit higher, and you might need a higher GPA to get into the program of your choice.
The Problem With GPA
The trouble with comparing GPAs is that it’s hard to compare apples to apples. Some schools, for instance, use the traditional 4-point system while others score students out of 100. Additionally, one school might have teachers who are more lenient than another school.
Even when you’re comparing GPAs between students from the same school, it’s difficult to get an accurate comparison. For instance, if one student is taking Calculus and other AP classes, it’s not fair to compare her GPA with a student taking basic-level courses. Some schools reward students by “weighting” grades for advanced classes – adding points – but others don’t. Fortunately, colleges take all of this into consideration.
In general, colleges require a 3.0 GPA for admissions. However, that’s just a baseline to consider. At the top schools, like the Ivy League and many other small, liberal arts colleges, you’ll need a GPA that approaches 4.0 to be competitive. Furthermore, students at many mid-level colleges have GPAs that are higher than 3.0.
Remember, though, that when a college lists the average GPA of an incoming class, it’s just an average. Some of the students were higher. Some were lower. A lower-than-average GPA won’t necessarily land your application in the “denied” pile.
The Full Picture
Fortunately, colleges understand that you’re more than your GPA. In fact, USA Today reports that some schools, such as Swarthmore College and the University of Virginia, don’t consider GPA at all during the admission process.
They look at a variety of factors as they review your application, including letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, extra-curricular activities and your personal essay. Any one of these factors can offset a lower GPA.Your current GPA may not be an accurate reflection of your ability to succeed in college.
If you feel that you have extenuating circumstances to explain your lower GPA, feel free to talk about those in your personal essay. Things like an illness, a death in the family, a learning disability or an untreated mental illness could all have had a significant impact on your GPA. If you’re taking this route, be sure to present your background as a story of triumph. Colleges don’t want to hear your excuses for poor grades unless you’re going to turn the story around with how you have overcome those challenges.
Grade Inflation and Deflation
Over time, there’s been clear evidence that GPAs at colleges have steadily increased. According to a detailed report at GradeInflation.com, students started earning a lot more “A”s around the turn of the century. To counter this, some colleges have enacted strict grade policies that limit the number of “A”s that a professor can give to his or her students. These colleges believe that an “A” should be for work that stands out.
Unfortunately, this discrepancy between schools can mean that highly qualified students look bad when compared to students from schools where grade inflation is present. If you attend a school with a grading policy like this, see if the school includes an explanation when they send your transcripts. For instance, Wellesley College attaches a cover letter explaining the grading policy when it sends along transcripts for graduate school applications. The college has stated that there has been no decrease in the number of students being accepted to graduate programs.
Is My GPA Too Low? Countering a Low GPA
If your GPA is low, you still have some options. Those graduating from high school would do well to start their education at a community college, then apply to transfer to a better 4-year college. Those years at a community college will give you the opportunity to prove your dedication to studies. Many people find that they’re ready to get more serious about school once high school’s ended and the stakes are higher.
Anyone who’s been in the workforce for a while shouldn’t fret about the low high school GPA from years past. Working a job for a few years also shows the type of commitment that colleges are looking for. In your application, explain how your perspective on education has changed since you’ve graduated and how you’re ready to tackle the challenges that college will offer.
Finding a Good Fit
Essentially, applying to colleges is all about finding the right fit. It’s natural to fret if your GPA isn’t that great, but there’s a college that’s appropriate for everyone. Your mediocre grades might not get you into Harvard, but they could get you into a local state school or a smaller private college. As you fill out your application, think about what makes you shine and let the college know how wonderful you are, no matter what your GPA is. A well-rounded application means a lot more than a strong GPA on its own.