“Is my GPA good enough?” is a common refrain in my line of work. I wish it were easier to answer this question conclusively, but it depends.
College selectivity, intended major, rigor of high school course load — for example, did the student move up to higher levels such as calculus and AP physics — and competitiveness of other applicants affect what GPA is “good enough.” In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know.
How colleges assess GPA
There is inconsistency in how colleges assess GPA since there are different types of GPA that colleges consider. In general, the differences are due to the following:
1. Weighted vs. unweighted: Weighted GPA rewards students for taking accelerated classes by providing additional points for each honors/AP class taken. Some schools fully weight GPA whereas others like the UCs cap at eight the number of additional points awarded. An unweighted GPA contains no additional points for accelerated classes.
2. Which years count: University of California and California State University count grades earned only in 10th and 11th grades. Private colleges tend to count grades from ninth grade through fall of senior year.
3. Which courses count: Many colleges include grades from only core subjects, but there is variation in what is considered core. The UCs and CSUs count grades only from classes that satisfy a-g subject requirements.
Why are there differences in GPA calculations?
The reason for this maddening array of ways to calculate GPA is primarily because high schools do not use a uniform system to calculate and report grades — some include every class, some don’t use pluses and minuses, etc.
Additionally, grades from one high school are not necessarily comparable to grades from another. In order to compare apples to apples, many colleges actually recalculate students’ GPA based on their own college-specific guidelines … information not readily available to applicants. Also, to help provide context for GPA, colleges require high school counselors to submit a school profile that details, among other things, the school’s grading system and number of honors/AP classes offered.
The bottom line regarding GPA
Nowadays, most colleges and universities conduct a holistic or comprehensive review of both personal and academic achievement that encompasses grades along with test scores, extracurriculars, etc. However, transcripts are an integral part — if not the most important part — of a student’s application because they show a student’s determination, motivation and time-management skills over time. Studies show that high school grades used alone are the single best predictor of success at most colleges, although there are exceptions. (For more information, see http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/docs/ROPS.GEISER._SAT_6.12.07.pdf)
GPAs at various colleges
Most highly selective schools with single-digit acceptance rates have an average weighted GPA of more than 4.0. For example, 74 percent of Stanford’s 2013 freshman class had a 4.0 or better.
The UCs (and most public out-of-state schools) require a minimum GPA of 3.0 for eligibility, but applying with a 3.0 doesn’t guarantee admission. The CSUs use an eligibility index that combines high school GPA with standardized test scores. The lower the GPA, the higher the test scores required. (See the chart at https://secure.csumentor.edu/planning/high_school/cal_residents.asp.)
Community colleges do not consider GPA aside from requiring a high school diploma or its equivalent.
To be specific, here are some average high school GPAs for admitted students at different colleges/universities based on the most recent data available.
* UCs: Average weighted GPA varied from 4.18 at UC Berkeley to 4.01 at UC Santa Barbara to 3.84 at UC Santa Cruz (http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/files/uc-freshman-application-data.pdf).
* CSUs: Average weighted GPA of 3.96 at Cal Poly (http://admissions.calpoly.edu/prospective/profile.html);
to 3.76 at San Diego State University (http://arweb.sdsu.edu/es/admissions/facts.html).
* University of Oregon’s average unweighted GPA was 3.57 (http://admissions.uoregon.edu/profile.html).
* USC’s average unweighted GPA of admitted students was 3.82 (http://www.usc.edu/admission/undergraduate/apply/documents/FreshmanProfile2013FINAL.pdf).
Until next time
I feel compelled to apologize if all this talk of grades has “graded” on your nerves. Just remember that with about 2,300 four-year, not-for-profit higher education entities in the United States, there is a right college out there for you!
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.
In a nutshell, there is not always a clear-cut answer to the question about what GPA is good enough. The goal is to balance taking challenging courses with maintaining a solid GPA. What does this really mean?
1. Take classes that demonstrate the ability to handle increasing rigor.
2. Aim for an upward trend in grades.
3. A high GPA with a less challenging course pattern is not viewed as favorably as a mixed GPA with a more challenging course pattern.
4. Do not slack off senior year.
5. Explain on applications any grades that do not reflect your ability.
6. Keep in mind that it’s not just about GPA. Get involved, be yourself, try to enjoy high school.