GPA for college

What GPA Do You Need to Get into College

There are many parts of the college application, such as having summer jobs, participating in clubs and other activities, writing essays, volunteering, and displaying leadership skills.

However, GPA, or grade point average, is one of the two most important college admission factors. The second is academic rigor, or how challenging your classes have been.

The lowest GPA high schoolers will have to earn to graduate from high school is 2.0. The highest they can get is 4.0 in the case of an unweighted GPA, or sometimes higher in the case of a weighted GPA.

Below, we will talk about some of the most important things you need to know about your high school GPA as far as the college admissions process is concerned, thus allowing you to aim for the right number.

Why Is GPA Important?

Your GPA is the sum of all your high school courses divided by the total number of all the courses you took.

In most cases, it’s the most important factor in college admissions as it serves as a measure of your overall academic performance — it lets college admissions officers know how well you can handle coursework.

Also important is the rigor of your high school record, which, combined with your GPA, gives insight into your ability to succeed in college.

Do Colleges Look at GPA or Class Rank?

Most postsecondary institutions, particularly those with any other policy than open enrollment, look at an applicant’s GPA, which is widely considered the single most important factor in the admissions process.

On the other hand, not too many colleges look at class rank, which, after all, is no longer being used by many high schools in the US.

Although college admissions officers will take your GPA into account, it’s not the only thing they will consider when reviewing your application, especially if a holistic policy is in practice.

Depending on which college you apply to, your class rank, if available, may be looked at as well.

Up to 71% of institutions surveyed by US News consider class rank when making admissions decisions.

Class rank facts
Class rank facts

However, they will not hold it against applicants who graduated from high schools that do not rank students. A National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) report says that more than 50% of high schools no longer report student rankings.

Do Colleges Look at GPA or Standardized Test Scores?

While the vast majority of institutions of higher education look at the GPAs of applicants, more than 80% of colleges currently do not require standardized test scores, according to Forbes.

On the other hand, test-optional schools consider SAT or ACT scores if submitted by applicants.

Those who prefer not to report their test scores, meanwhile, will not be disadvantaged in the admissions process.

Different colleges have different policies when it comes to standardized test scores.

Test-required schools make it mandatory for applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores. On the other hand, test-optional ones allow applicants to decide whether or not they will submit their test scores.

Applicants applying to colleges with a test-optional policy should be strategic — it’s generally a good idea to submit their test scores if they are high and can thus improve their applications, while it’s probably much better to keep their test scores to themselves if they can do more harm than good to their chances of getting in.

Test-blind colleges neither require nor consider standardized test scores when reviewing applications.

Do Colleges Look at Your Core GPA?

Also sometimes known as core-course GPA, core GPA is the sum of all grades in a student’s core classes divided by the total number of core classes taken.

Some colleges and universities disregard an applicant’s grade in elective courses, thus considering only those from core classes. So, in other words, they consider only the core GPA.

Not all classes in high school are the same.

Some are referred to as electives, while there are also college-level classes such as AP and IB courses. However, some are mandatory for all high schoolers: core classes.

Core classes are mandatory classes a high school student has to take to graduate.

Typically, core classes are the following: English language arts, math, science, foreign language, and social studies.

Core classes
Most colleges care about core academic subjects

Some postsecondary institutions prefer to look at an applicant’s core GPA only as grades in elective classes may muddle the results to a certain extent. College admissions officers may sometimes recalculate your GPA as they deem fit.

Do Colleges Look at Middle School GPA?

When reviewing applications, college admissions officers do not look at middle school GPAs. Instead, they focus on the high school GPA of an applicant, which is a better predictor of college success.

A student’s middle school grades, however, may be used by a student to create a high school plan that can help him or her handle a more rigorous curriculum and prepare for college.

Between middle school and college, a lot of things could happen — students learn from the mistakes they commit, grow a little bit, get to know themselves more and have a much better idea of who they want to be.

Due to this, higher education institutions, even selective ones, no longer care about middle school GPAs.

What Is a Good GPA for College Admissions?

As far as the college admissions process is concerned, there is no such thing as a bad GPA — each institution has its own criteria in the review process, and the GPA may mean a lot or not so much depending on the rest of the application.

College-bound teens should have an idea of what GPA their top-choice schools typically look for.

In some instances, colleges will tell outright on their respective websites that applicants must meet the specified minimum GPA, sometimes for general admissions, while other times for admission to certain programs.

Accessing an institution’s Common Data Set (CDS) allows an applicant to see the average GPA of admits by heading to the C11 section.

What GPA Do Ivy League Colleges Look For?

Most Ivy League schools, like many other colleges and universities, do not publish any minimum GPA that applicants have to meet. However, since they are some of the most selective institutions and only a few get in, having a high GPA, usually anywhere from 3.5 to 4.0, can help increase a student’s chances of getting accepted.

It’s no secret that only top-performing students receive an offer to enroll at elite degree-granting schools.

True enough, Ivy League schools have some of the lowest acceptance rates. While most of them do not indicate on their websites or brochures that a high GPA is important in the admissions process, it’s an unwritten rule.

The following is a table of the percentage of all admits based on their GPAs per Ivy League Schools:

GPA required for Ivy League universities
GPA for Ivy League universities

Please take note that the figures above are from each Ivy League’s CDS and not all 8 Ivy League schools have indicated the percentage of admitted students according to the GPA.

What GPA Do You Need to Get Into College?

The GPA applicants need to have to get into college will depend on the postsecondary institutions they are applying to. Naturally, having a strong GPA is important for admission to competitive schools. Examining the GPAs of admitted students found on a college’s CDS is a way for an applicant to have an idea of his or her admissions chances.

High schoolers should consider a number of things before shortlisting a school, and the GPA the college favors is critical, given that it’s the most important factor in the review process.

Confusion and uncertainty can ensue, however, if the college doesn’t say want GPA it looks for.

It’s a good thing that you may access the CDS of your target school and head to the C11 section where the percentage of accepted freshmen students based on their GPAs are indicated — see if yours falls within the range of the GPAs of most admits.

You may also check out the C12 section where the average GPA of all accepted students is specified.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted or Unweighted GPA?

Weighted GPA takes into consideration the difficulty of classes, especially when college-level courses were taken by the high schooler. Because of this, the student’s weighted GPA may go higher than 4.0.

On the other hand, unweighted GPA disregards the difficulty level of classes taken by the student.

College admissions officers, in most instances, look at both weighted GPA and unweighted GPA.

An applicant’s weighted GPA is considered more if the institution puts weight on the rigor of the secondary school record in the admissions process. Whether weighted GPA or unweighted GPA is preferred, many colleges recompute GPAs.

Do Honors, AP Classes Boost Your GPA in College?

Honors and AP classes can help increase a freshman student’s college GPA as they help prepare him or her for higher education’s more rigorous curriculum.

They can also help boost a college-bound teen’s high school GPA, particularly weighted GPA, and also demonstrate his or her college readiness, which can say so much about college success likelihood.

It’s not uncommon for many high schoolers who are eyeing admission to some of the most competitive colleges and universities to take college-level courses to show they are willing to face challenges.

That is why around 50% of high school students are registered for honors or AP courses, according to a Gallup survey.

According to the College Board, which created and administers the AP Program, students who take AP classes and AP exams are more likely to graduate on time from college than their peers who don’t.

It adds that even those who get low scores of 1 or 2 in AP exams are more likely to enjoy better academic outcomes in college than those who didn’t take any AP exam.

Do Colleges Recalculate GPA?

Most college admissions officers do not simply look at the GPAs of applicants and make a decision. It’s not uncommon for many institutions to recalculate high school GPAs to fit their standards.

Some, for instance, recompute unweighted GPA to weighted GPA to consider the secondary school record’s rigor, while others recalculate weighted GPA to unweighted GPA.

In some instances, colleges and universities inform applicants if they recalculate GPAs and, at times, even share with them their own methodology — different schools tend to reassess GPAs differently.

Considering only the core GPA and then adding bonus points for college-level courses is a common practice.

Since applicants come from various high schools with varying ways of evaluating their students academically, it makes perfect sense for college admissions officers to recompute submitted GPAs to standardize grading scales, thus ensuring fair comparison of applicants and helping colleges to make more holistic admissions decisions.

For example, there are high schools that use a 12.0 scale, so it only makes sense for admissions to normalize GPAs because you can’t compare schools with a 4.0 scale to a 12.0 scale.

How to Get Into College With a Low GPA

Getting into college with a low GPA usually entails making various components of the application stronger, particularly when applying to an institution with a holistic admission policy where many things are considered other than the GPA.

For instance, an applicant may submit a more competitive college essay or letter of recommendation.

What Is a Bad GPA for College?

Generally speaking, a low high school GPA for college is below the 25th percentile of the most recently admitted class. This means that the GPA is the same as the bottom 25% of incoming freshmen students. However, it will also depend on the college.

At an institution with an open admissions policy, for instance, a low GPA won’t keep an applicant from getting in.

Most colleges and universities want to see a GPA of 3.0 at least, according to Cappex. On the other hand, some of the least and non-selective schools will accept applicants with a passing GPA, which means that someone with a 2.0 GPA may get in.

It goes without saying that the more competitive the institution, the higher the preferred GPA is.

Having a low GPA should not keep a student from dreaming of becoming a bachelor’s degree holder — applying to the right college may get him or her an offer to enroll despite a bad GPA.

For instance, he or she may apply to an open-enrollment school. The high schooler may also try to make up for it by improving other parts of the application, like the essay or extracurriculars.

What is an Average GPA for College?

Most sources say that the average GPA accepted by colleges and universities is from 3.5 to 4.0. According to data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the overall GPA of high school graduates in the US is 3.0.

It adds that, on average, the lowest GPAs tend to be in core courses, while the highest GPAs include other courses.

Here are the average GPAs of high school students in their core courses:

Core CourseAverage GPA
Social studies2.89
Average Core Course GPA

Meanwhile, the following are the average GPAs of students admitted to some of the top colleges:

UniversityAverage GPA
Princeton University3.93
Harvard University4.2
Stanford University3.95
University of Chicago4.33
Johns Hopkins University3.93
Vanderbilt University3.89
Washington University in St. Louis4.21
University of California, Berkeley3.9
University of California, Los Angeles3.92
Carnegie Mellon University3.9
Emory University3.81
New York University3.71
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor3.9
Average GPA of admitted students

Good Schools With Low GPA Requirements

Having a low GPA is not an obstacle to having high-quality education and a recognized undergraduate degree. In the US, there are a number of good colleges that accept students with low GPAs.

What’s important is for college admits to grab every single opportunity available to them and obtain all the essential knowledge and skills that they can get.

According to a Time article, the salary of individuals who graduated from elite colleges and moderately selective schools after 20 years differed little or not at all, which proves that, in the long run, which college you attend isn’t important.

Just check out this lengthy post talking about whether or not a C+ grade can get you admitted to college.

Students who would like to prove to selective colleges what they are really capable of might want to consider attending less competitive institutions where they are likely to get in despite having low high school grades.

After doing everything they can to prove their worth by taking challenging courses and having an impressive GPA, too, they could transfer.

Steps for Applying to College

College application begins with creating a balanced list of postsecondary institutions and ends with putting down an enrollment deposit at the school of one’s choosing.

However, application to a selective college usually starts in the 9th grade, at times even as early as in middle school, for the student to have a competitive application worthy of an acceptance letter.

The steps to take when applying to college can vary from one student to the next, depending primarily on the educational path he or she would like to take as well as which institution would be ideal for it.

Applying to college per se, registering with the Common App or Coalition app is the initial step.

Filling out the application platform of choice or as required by the college practically helps a high schooler navigate the college application process — it will inform you which documents you will have to submit to which institution, which can vary slightly from school to school. Overall, however, the entire process is almost the same no matter where you apply.

Check out this informative post that talks about how to apply to college in-depth.

What Do You Need to Get Into College?

In the US, the most basic requirement to get into college is a high school diploma or an equivalent — at open admissions or open enrollment colleges, it’s the only application essential.

Different institutions of higher education have different application requirements. Similarly, the process of application and admission process can slightly vary from college to college.

Planning on working on a bachelor’s degree someday? Then it’s a must that you start preparing for applying to college in high school. In some instances, the earlier you gear up for it, the better.

Here are the general requirements when applying to most American colleges:

  • High school diploma or an equivalent like the GED credential
  • SAT or ACT scores (if applying to a test-required or test-optional college or scholarship program)
  • List of extracurricular activities
  • Counselor recommendation letter
  • Teacher recommendation letter
  • College and supplemental essays and/or short-answer questions
  • A completed Common App or Coalition App or a college’s own application platform

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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