GPA, or Grade Point Average, is an important and familiar acronym. Ah, your GPA: those three digits that seem to have such an outsize influence on the rest of your life. Used for calculating student performance in a quantifiable (and numeric) way, the GPA reflects a student’s overall academic scores in high school.
But don’t worry: your GPA is just part of a more complicated equation that will be evaluated as you apply to colleges. While it is important to do your best work and aim for high grades, there’s a little more to the picture. Let’s dive in.
The 4-Point Scale is Imperfect
Once upon a time, a 4.0 student was a straight-A student. But today, many schools award an extra half point for honors-level courses and a full point for AP-level courses.
The whole GPA metric is further thrown off by the fact that not all “A”s are created equal. Some high schools are much more academically rigorous than others, and some classes are easier to earn high scores than others.
While your GPA is a decent metric of how you are doing in relation to your high school classmates, it’s not so cut-and-dry how it will bear on your college applications. There are plenty of other variables that are taken into account.
If You Don’t Have a 4.0
It’s important to keep in mind that a less-than-perfect GPA is not a life sentence to misery. On the contrary, many students with less-than-impressive GPAs go on to do spectacular things. (For example, Simon Cowell, Al Gore, and Walt Disney were all grade-challenged in high school.)
Inc. reports that many “C” students end up being the most successful because they are more likely to be unconventional thinkers. They also point out that the working world does not evaluate employees by their grades, but by their productivity. So try not to let this number define your worth.
Larger Universities and the Numbers Game
As a loose rule, your GPA will tend to hold more weight when applying to large state schools.
Big universities have thousands of applications, so they simply cannot offer the same kind of personalized admissions review that you might find with, for example, a small liberal arts college. This will also hold true for your SAT/ACT score.
At smaller institutions, application readers may be able to take more time per application and therefore weigh other elements equally.
The Bigger Picture
Your candidacy for college is based on a matrix that includes your GPA, SAT/ACT score, extracurricular activities, personal statement, and recommendations.
As such, trying to generalize about the impact of your GPA on your college options is a challenging exercise, because the calculus involved is so multi-factorial.
Empowerly’s team of experienced counselors can help you assess how your GPA relates to your overall college candidacy with the Empowerly Score®. Schedule a free, 30-minute video consultation today to learn more about how this responsive tool will elevate your whole college application strategy.
Why Your GPA is Important
Bad test scores are easier for admissions departments to take with a grain of salt because some students simply don’t test well. (Also note that some schools, such as the University of California system, are no longer using SAT/ACT scores.)
Your GPA, on the other hand, is your academic resume for years of work. You cannot explain a low GPA by saying “I don’t test well.” Rather, GPA often reflects the amount of effort a student is willing to expend in each class to fulfill the teacher’s assignments.
Colleges Look for General Competency
Some future engineers might ask: why do my English grades even matter?
No matter how brilliant a future CompSci major may be, consistent “Ds” in classes like English and History suggests other potential issues. A solid GPA suggests — among other things — a solid work ethic.
At the undergraduate level, colleges are looking for candidates that meet standard thresholds of competency in high school curricula. (In graduate school, this is not the case; your college grades may be more important.)
When Your GPA Is Less Important
Your GPA may have less impact on your college candidacy if:
- You ace the SAT/ACT
- Your extracurriculars recommend you for a specific college; e.g. a music program
- Your personal statement profoundly touches the admissions department
- You wow the admissions representative in your interview
- You apply to a nontraditional college, like U.C. Santa Cruz or Evergreen College, which weigh GPA less significantly
If You’re Concerned About Your GPA
If you are concerned about not having as strong a GPA as you would like, you can always focus on the other areas of your college candidacy.
You can definitely improve your ACT and SAT scores by taking practice tests, sitting for multiple tests, and taking practice courses.
You can also maximize your extracurriculars, starting with Empowerly’s Guide to Extracurriculars.
Empowerly’s team of experienced college counselors can walk you through how your GPA may affect your choice of college. Schedule a free, 30-minute video consultation with Empowerly today.