High GPA, Low ACT: What to Do and Strategies for Success

I took both ACT and SAT tests, and I have to admit that my ACT score was not good enough. Most people are better in one standardized test, and you should know which one fits you best.

But what if you are not a good test taker? If this is the case and you still have strong grades, nothing is lost.

When you find yourself in the position of having a high GPA but a low ACT score, first try retaking the test after additional preparation. Or apply to a test-optional college where a high GPA can make up for missing ACT results.

For example, I interviewed one guy on my podcast who retook ACT 9 times until he got 35. In the end, he was accepted to NYU.

On the other hand, I when applied to colleges last fall, I submitted test results only if they were about the 50th percentile.

I took ACT only once, but I had a very high GPA (4.7 weighted and 4.0 unweighted).

ACT test prep books

Understanding GPA and ACT Scores

As a student with a high GPA and a low ACT score, you might feel a bit confused about what this means for your college applications.

In this section, I’ll break down the implications of your academic situation and provide some context for evaluating the importance of GPA and ACT scores.

High GPA and Low ACT: What It Means

If you have a high GPA but a low ACT score, it could raise some concerns for college admissions officers. While your GPA and transcript carry weight in the admissions process, a low ACT score may lead them to question if your grades were inflated or if you took easy classes.

They might wonder if your low ACT score is a better indicator of your preparedness for higher education. However, don’t let this discourage you, as it’s important to remember that each college evaluates these factors differently.

Is GPA More Important Than ACT?

If you check any university’s common data set (information they provide about their admissions process), you will see that Academic GPA always ranks as Very Important. Standardized test scores’ importance varies from Not Considered to Important or Very Important.

If you want to know exactly how the college you applying to ranks GPA and ACT, check the section C7 on the common data set.

For instance, you can see that UCLA ranks Academic GPA as Very Important and standardized scores as Not Considered because UCLA is a test-blind school.

UCLA admission factors
UCLA admission factors

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, ranks both of them as Very Important.

Unweighted GPA vs. Weighted GPA

Understanding the difference between unweighted and weighted GPAs can also help put your high GPA into context. Unweighted GPAs are based on a 4.0 scale, where an A equals a 4.0 and an F equals a 0.0.

Weighted GPAs, on the other hand, consider the rigor of the courses you took and assign higher values to more challenging classes, such as AP or honors courses.

Knowing your unweighted and weighted GPAs can help paint a more accurate picture of your academic performance when considered alongside your ACT score.

Keep in mind that colleges may consider both types of GPAs when evaluating your application, so it’s essential to understand their differences and how they could impact your chances of acceptance.

High GPA, Low ACT: Implications for College Admissions

Admissions Officers’ Perspective

When admissions officers evaluate your college application, they consider various factors such as your GPA and standardized test scores. In case of a high GPA but a low ACT score, they may wonder if there’s an imbalance in your academic potential.

Your high GPA suggests that you perform well in school, while a low ACT score might question your ability to handle college-level coursework.

They might think of you as a “smart slacker,” someone with potential but lacking the motivation to excel in a rigorous academic environment. Or they might think that you have testing anxiety, very common these days.

Either way, you probably shouldn’t give them any reason to deny you.

Transcript Evaluation

Admissions officers closely examine your high school transcript to assess your academic performance. Your GPA reflects your consistency and commitment, while the ACT score measures your knowledge and aptitude in specific subject areas.

In general, high school GPAs are considered more reliable predictors of college success than ACT scores, as they show your performance over time. However, colleges still value ACT results as they illustrate your competencies and readiness in key subjects.

ACT test prep books

How Low ACT Scores Can Hurt You

When applying to competitive colleges, a low ACT score might harm your chances of being accepted. As many students apply with high GPAs and impressive extracurriculars, your ACT score may be a deciding factor in standing out from the crowd.

If you fall within the 25th percentile for a desired college, your lower ACT score may require you to have an exceptionally strong application in other areas.

For example, NYU has a 25th/75th percentile range for ACT scores ranging from 28 to 32, and Harvard’s range is between 33 and 36.

Can a High GPA Make Up for a Low ACT Score?

While a high GPA alone may not entirely compensate for a low ACT score, it certainly demonstrates your dedication to academics. Colleges recognize that your GPA is a better representation of your long-term achievements and that it could signal your likelihood of success in college.

To increase your chances of acceptance, focus on highlighting the strengths of your application, such as engaging in extracurricular activities, showcasing exceptional talents, or demonstrating resilience through personal growth.

These factors, together with your high GPA, can help offset a lower ACT score.

Ways to Improve Your ACT Score

So, you’ve got a high GPA but a low ACT score, and you’re wondering what to do next. Don’t worry, there are several ways to improve your ACT score, and we’ll cover some of the most effective strategies below.

ACT Prep Programs

ACT prep programs can be incredibly helpful for improving your ACT score. These programs often offer comprehensive study materials, tailored lessons, and practice tests designed to target your weak areas.

By committing to an ACT prep program, you can get the guidance and support you need to boost your performance on this important standardized test.

Working with an ACT Tutor

Another great option is working with an ACT tutor. A personal tutor can identify your specific weaknesses and provide tailored guidance and one-on-one support.

They can offer personalized feedback, answer your questions, and help you build essential skills to perform better on the test. Make sure to invest in a tutor who has experience in the ACT and understands your unique needs.

Self-Study and Time Management

Self-study can also be an effective approach if you have the discipline and dedication to stick to a study schedule.

Begin by analyzing your previous ACT score report to identify your areas of weakness. Once you know what you need to work on, create a study plan that devotes ample time to those subjects.

Utilizing a variety of study resources, like practice tests and prep books, can help you get a well-rounded understanding of the material. Remember to also work on your test-taking strategies, such as time management and improving your confidence.

Improving your ACT score can open doors to better college and scholarship opportunities. By exploring ACT prep programs, working with a tutor, or committing to self-study, you can build the skills and confidence needed to perform well on this important standardized test.

Balancing ACT Sections

Here’s a little secret that most people don’t know.

Looks at section C9 of Vanderbilt University’s common data set.

Vanderbilt common data set, section C9
Vanderbilt common data set, section C9

Notice anything?

There are only two ACT sections: English and Math. These are the sections that college admissions care about. So if you have low Science or Reading scores, don’t stress out.

Focus on English and Math first.

For example, for the English section, it’s important to focus on understanding grammar rules, improving reading comprehension, and expanding your vocabulary.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Review essential grammar rules and practice with sample questions.
  • Read a variety of texts, from novels to newspaper articles, to increase your exposure to different writing styles and vocabulary.
  • Practice summarizing texts and identifying main ideas, supporting details, and themes.

When approaching Math make sure to:

  • Identify gaps in your knowledge related to Math concepts, and work on filling them.
  • Practice solving problems quickly and efficiently, focusing on strategies like skipping the hardest questions and working backward from answer choices.
  • Brush up on essential formulas, and make sure you’re comfortable applying them in various contexts.

Alternative Tests and Options

Taking the SAT

If you have a high GPA but a low ACT score, consider taking the SAT as an alternative. Since the SAT tests different aspects of your academic abilities, you might perform better on it than on the ACT.

For instance, I scored way better on SAT than ACT – that’s why I took SAT twice.

Before taking the SAT, invest some time in understanding its content and format, as it might be different from the ACT. It’s also essential to practice with SAT-specific study materials, so you can boost your chances of achieving a good score.

Focusing on Other Application Components

While a high GPA and standardized test scores are significant factors in college admissions, it’s also essential to focus on developing other parts of your application.

Keep in mind that colleges often look for well-rounded candidates. Here are some additional components of your application you can work on:

  • Extracurricular activities: Participate in clubs, sports, or community service initiatives that showcase your interests, talents, and leadership skills.
  • Letters of recommendation: Obtain strong and personalized letters from teachers, coaches, or mentors who can vouch for your character and academic achievements.
  • Essays: Craft a compelling and well-written application essay that highlights your experiences, aspirations, and unique characteristics.

By strengthening these aspects of your application, you can make up for a lower ACT score and enhance your college admissions chances.

Finally, be aware of the possibility of grade inflation at your school, which could be a reason for your high GPA and low ACT score. Colleges might take this into account when evaluating your application, so it’s even more crucial to work on other components as you apply.

Recap: What to Do if You Have Low Act Score and High GPA

  • Retake the ACT. If you’re not happy with your ACT score, you can retake the test. Be sure to study hard and focus on the areas where you need improvement.
  • Consider test-optional schools. More and more colleges and universities are waiving the ACT requirement for admission. If you have a strong academic record, you may be able to get into a great school without taking the ACT.
  • Highlight your strengths in your application. When you’re writing your college essays and personal statements, be sure to highlight your strengths and accomplishments. This could include your academic record, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or anything else that makes you a well-rounded student.
  • Get involved in your community. Colleges and universities are looking for students who are involved in their communities. Get involved in clubs, sports, or volunteer organizations. This will show colleges that you’re a well-rounded individual who is committed to making a difference.
  • Get strong letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, or other people who know you well can help your application stand out. Ask people who can speak to your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities.
  • Don’t give up. If you have a high GPA but a low ACT score, don’t give up on your dreams of going to college. There are plenty of schools that will consider you for admission. Just be sure to highlight your strengths in your application and get involved in your community. With a little effort, you can still get into your dream school.

Read Next: Low SAT High GPA: What to do

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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