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How Much Does GPA Matter When Applying to College?

By Stacey Leasca · May 14, 2021 · 6 minute read

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How Much Does GPA Matter When Applying to College?

When deciding which applicants to accept, colleges and universities typically look for the best of the best. But, that doesn’t always mean the “best” is the person with the highest grades in high school.

Yes, a student’s grade point average, or GPA, is a good metric for measuring just what and how successfully they completed their high school course, but how much does a student’s GPA really matter for college admission? It depends.

Keep reading to find out when it matters, when it doesn’t, and all the other factors college admissions take into account beyond a student’s GPA.

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA

Traditionally, high schools measure a student’s academic performance on an unweighted GPA scale, meaning the number only goes up to a 4.0 for an A in a class. This measurement method does not take into account the difficulty level of classes, so an honors English class will be measured in the same way as a non-honors class.

On the other hand, weighted GPAs do take into account the difficulty level of a student’s coursework. Most weighted GPA scales measure from a 0 to a 5.0. This means, an AP-level or honors level class could earn a student a 5.0, while a lower-level class will only reward A work with a 4.0.

A weighted scale could offer students a bit more flexibility when it comes to their overall GPA. Say a student is taking four classes, one is an honors level course and the three others are typical classes. If that student receives an A in their honors class it would account for a 5.0, an A in two other courses denoting a 4.0 and a 4.0, and a B in the last at a 3.0. Despite receiving a B in a course, that would still measure out to a 4.0 GPA.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted vs. Unweighted?

Colleges typically do take into account a student’s GPA when considering their application. However, college admissions also look deeper into a student’s entire coursework too. This means, if a student has challenged themselves with AP-level or honors classes, but doesn’t have the perfect GPA, a school may look at that as a positive and see that the student challenged themselves throughout high school with more difficult coursework.

College admissions staff may also look into other things when it comes to a student’s GPA, including grade trends. If a student didn’t start out high school on the best note, but performed well during their junior and senior year with a strong GPA, admissions may see that as excellent growth and perseverance in a student’s academic career.

A “Good” GPA

Again, it’s important for students to remember that their GPA isn’t everything and that college admissions staff will likely look at much more than their grades, but, it’s also always nice to know where you stand amongst the pack.

In the United States in 2020, the average high school GPA hit 3.0 (including the approximately 35% of students who do not apply to college). This means, any student with a GPA higher than a 3.0 falls in the “above average” category. However, the average GPA for students applying to college is closer to 3.5 to 4.0, and the average for students applying to Ivy League schools can be even higher.

For example, the average high school GPA of an admitted freshman class at Harvard University sits around 4.04 on the 4.0 scale. Again, while GPA isn’t everything, it’s a good idea to keep it in mind when deciding which schools, or how many, to apply to.

What Else Do Colleges Look At?

Yes, colleges will take into account a student’s GPA. However, colleges and universities also take into account a complete picture of who a student is. That means they look into trends in a student’s grades throughout their education and likely look at a student’s test scores on the SAT or ACT.

But, college admissions also look at a student’s involvement in extracurriculars, sports teams, their involvement in their community through organizations and volunteer work and any relevant work experience.

Admissions staff will also likely weigh a student’s application using their recommendation letters, which speak to a student’s merit far beyond their grades. Admissions will also read a student’s complete application and read any required essays.

Again, a lot goes into the admissions process, and grades aren’t the end all be all. This all means what when students are preparing for college, even in their early high school years, they may want to prepare by diversifying their interests and pursuits to ensure they can tell a larger story in their application.

Colleges That Don’t Take GPA Into Account

There are schools out there with low or no minimum GPA requirements for applicants. While there are many for-profit schools that will overlook GPAs, another option may be for high school students to consider attending a community college for a year or two and transfer to a four-year university or college if that is what they feel they need.

For example, California Community Colleges do not have a minimum GPA or testing requirements for incoming students. Attending a community college could be a great way for students to learn and grow personally and academically, and to increase their academic performance before transferring.

No Matter a Student’s GPA, It’s Good to Have a Plan

Being financially prepared for college can help take some of the stress away from worrying about how a GPA will affect a student’s chances of admission.

While filling out applications, students may want to also look into all their financial options as well. This begins with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAⓇ) to see if they are eligible for federal student aid, which include student loans from the federal government.

Beyond these options, students may also consider a private student loan via a bank or private lender. Generally, private student loans may be a great option when it comes to financing a student’s college education if federal student aid, parental contributions and scholarships do not cover the entire cost of college.

With this route, students typically fill out a loan application either alone or with a co-signer and usually qualify based on their credit score, income, or other factors. If this seems feasible, consider adding SoFi private student loans to your college financial search.

Already a SoFi member and want to learn more about the college financial process? SoFi members qualify for complimentary access to Edmit Plus, which uses data-driven facts and figures to help students decide which school is the right choice for them.

Students can use the service to personalize their search based on their or their family’s finances as well as the student’s academic merits.

Then, Edmit Plus will calculate an estimate for the financial aid available to the student at different schools, which could help students see where they’d get the most savings.

Finally, it will help build a financial strategy for individual students that includes any scholarships, loans, and even take into account the student’s future earning potential of their intended major so they get a clear picture of their financial future. Don’t worry, there’s no minimum GPA required to use this service.

The Takeaway

GPA is one factor in the college admissions process. How heavily GPA is weighted as a factor in admissions decisions may vary from school to school. Many schools will list the average GPA of admitted students, which can help give you an idea of how your GPA stacks up to students at that school. Other factors for admission might include a student’s transcript, letters of recommendation, and personal essay.

Interested in using private student loans to help pay for college? Learn more about SoFi’s no-fee student loans.

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