When students enter high school, they are often told about the importance of having a high grade point average. In general, GPA is the most comprehensive indicator of a student’s overall performance in the high school classroom — more so than test scores and other measures, experts say.
A student’s GPA helps determine their college admission and qualification for various scholarships, including class rankings and merit-based awards. And yet, experts say the background of a student’s GPA is also important. Colleges look closely at the rigor of students’ course loads and the particularities of the high schools they have attended. Often, admissions officers prioritize rigor over grades.
“When I see someone with a higher GPA, that to me is a better indication of long-term sustained work rather than cramming,” says Colleen Paparella, founder of independent DC College Counseling. which provides guidance to students navigating the admissions process. . “On the other hand, I will say it really depends on where they go to high school and what reputation that high school has.”
Different schools calculate GPAs differently, so it’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison, says Christian Lanser, admissions counselor for IvyWise, an education consulting firm. Lanser was previously associate dean of admissions at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and he estimates he’s seen about 35 different variations of GPA structures in that role.
What is the cumulative grade point average and why is it important?
The most common GPA structure is the 4.0 scale, in which an A equals 4.0 and an F equals 0.0. Some schools use a variation of this, but modify it with a weighted scale that includes additional credits for advanced level or specialization courses. With a weighted GPA, a student can earn more than a 4.0 by performing well in AP or Honors classes.
A student’s GPA is calculated by dividing the grades earned by the total number of courses taken. The table below shows how a 4.0 GPA scale corresponds to numerical and letter grades.
Classification by letter
Cumulative grade point average
A 4.0 scale is common, but education experts say it’s not universal.
Some schools use a 5.0 scale or even a 12.0 scale. Paparella says she’s seen some schools use a 100-point scale, much like a standard grading scale in which a 90-100 would be an A.
“In a perfect world, we tell students that it doesn’t matter what scale your particular school uses, because colleges and universities will receive your full profile along with the transcript,” she says. “On either or both of these documents there will be some type of GPA scale provided to see that your three A’s and two B’s resulted in ‘X GPA’ and compare that to ‘Y GPA” from private school down the street etc. In practice, it doesn’t always work that way.
When applying to colleges, students and guidance counselors need to provide context for the type of GPA used, Lanser says. Some schools do not include certain elective classes in their GPA calculations, and a program at one school may be particularly rigorous compared to another school.
“That’s what we want people to know about our students – that this GPA reflects this school and, probably to some degree, how much they value the things they put into the GPA,” says Lancer.
Students should also be aware that when their GPA lands on the desk of a college admissions officer, it is often recalculated. Some colleges place each student’s GPA on the same scale to see how they compare to the entire pool of applicants.
GPA versus course rigor
High school students and parents sometimes have to choose between enrolling in less rigorous courses that could pave the way for higher grades, or enrolling in AP or dual-enrollment courses that could result in a lower GPA.
According to Sue Rolley, a guidance counselor at Francis Joseph Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, colleges would much rather see students take the more difficult course than settle for an easier class just to get a Higher GPA.
“It’s been a slow message to get across to students and parents,” Rolley says. “They’re still really caught up in the GPA.”
If schools offer AP or dual-enrollment courses, Rolley says she recommends students take those courses, especially those that match the major they plan to study in college.
Students should take advantage of the opportunities available to them at their school, says Mary Wagner, assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina. If AP or other challenging courses are available, students should seek them out — as long as they’re reasonably sure they’ll pass, she says.
At schools with a weighted GPA scale, passing AP courses can give your GPA an extra boost. But students must determine the right combination of courses themselves.
“Colleges of course want to know that you’re going to be intellectually curious, that you have a desire to learn, that you’re not afraid to take on challenges and push yourself harder,” says Wagner. “But we don’t either. I want you to use bad judgment and just take these courses to play GPA, and we see some of that happening as well.
The rigor of the courses a student takes and their performance in those courses is a “much better” predictor of a student’s performance when they get to college than GPA, says Lanser, because AP and dual-enrollment courses are structured as college courses.
This is especially true for students who might not test well, he says. In general, a student with poor tests but enrolled in AP or dual-enrollment courses will still have a more attractive resume than one with a less rigorous course load, even though their GPA may appear lower on their transcript. of grades. Lanser reiterated that the context of these notes is critical.
GPA and college application process
- Grades in all courses.
- Grades in college prep courses.
- The strength of the candidate’s high school curriculum.
- Admission test scores (ACT, SAT).
- The submitted essay or writing sample.
“I think a college would have more confidence in a student with a rigorous curriculum and excellent grades and lower test scores,” Lanser says. “They would trust that student more than a student from an average program and, say, a B+ average and really good tests.”