What is a GPA & Why Is it Important When Applying for Colleges?

What is a GPA & Why Is it Important When Applying for Colleges?

Most people aspiring to apply to college in the US will be familiar with the acronym GPA. In this article, I will dig deeper to understand the different types of GPAs, how they are calculated, and their significance in the college application process.

What is a GPA?

GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average. In the USA, it is used as a measurement of academic achievement, calculated from your grades during high school. Your GPA is not the only measurement of success in high school; however, it does indicate your engagement in your studies.

Your GPA will be on a scale from 0.0 at the lowest and 4.0 at the highest. How this corresponds to your grades will depend on the marking system of the curriculum you study, however as an example:

Letter Percentage GPA

A 90 – 100% 4.0

B 80 – 89% 3.0

C 70 – 79% 2.0

D 60 – 69% 1.0

This is a simplified version of how GPA is marked, and there are many variations; some curriculums have intermediate grades such as A* or B- which will have a GPA as a point between the whole numbers, so a B- would be 2.7. However, an A* would still be 4.0, as that is the maximum GPA.

Weighted and Unweighted GPA

Not all curriculums are created equal; some are more rigorous than others. If we accept that statement, it becomes crucial to recognize the achievement of somebody who receives an A in a more challenging course over another person who gets the same grade in a less demanding course. This is done by having weighted and unweighted GPAs

An unweighted GPA uses the 4.0 scale shown above and does not give any one course more weight than any other.

A weighted GPA recognizes the additional difficulty of individual courses. For example, an IB HL, honors, or AP course would fall into this category and be calculated on a 5.0 scale (where 5.0 is awarded for a 7 or A grade), while regular courses are still measured on the 4.0 GPA scale.

Typically, a weighted course will receive one point above the GPA they would receive for the same grade as a regular course. When averaged out, the result is a higher overall GPA and a better picture of your academic achievements as it considers the greater rigor of those more challenging courses.

How to calculate GPA

Calculating your GPA is simply taking the average of your grades to provide an overall score, remembering to give one additional point to each weighted course you have completed.

For example, let’s take the case of student J, who received the following grades.

Subject Grade

English B

Maths A

Physics A

History C

Economics B

Spanish C

This would translate into an unweighted GPA of 3.0, as seen below.

Subject Grade GPA

English B 3.0

Maths A 4.0

Physics A 4.0

History C 2.0

Economics B 3.0

Spanish C 2.0

Total 18

GPA (18 divided by 6 courses). 3.0

Now let’s imagine student J was doing several more rigorous AP courses. The difficulty of these courses would be taken into account to provide a weighted GPA, as seen below.

Subject Grade GPA

 English B 3.0

AP Maths A 5.0

AP Physics A 5.0

History C 2.0

AP Economics B 4.0

Spanish C 2.0

Total 21

GPA (21 divided by 6 courses) 3.5

Why is GPA important?

For colleges, your GPA provides a baseline of how prepared you are academically for starting college. GPA is also often used as a filter when deciding who should be invited to join a college honors program or receive a scholarship award.

As such, your GPA and other factors, such as your extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation, and other tests, will be crucial in the holistic application review undertaken by most competitive colleges.

Knowing your GPA can help you decide on which colleges to apply to. Many colleges and universities will publish the GPA of students they accept each year, so if you know which college you want to apply to, it makes sense to look at the GPA of accepted students. With this information, you will know if that college is a target, reach, or super-reach college for you.

What’s a good GPA?

It will be no surprise that more selective schools will have higher expectations, which plays out in the GPAs of the students they accept. Below are the average GPA scores at colleges often applied to by Ivy Central students.

College – GPA (provided by PrepScholar.com)

Columbia – 4.12

Cornell – 4.07

Harvard – 4.18

Yale – 4.14

U Penn – 3.90

Stanford – 4.00

Santa Clara – 3.96

UC Berkeley – 3.86

UIUC – 3.83

Georgia Tech – 4.07

While GPA is just one of the factors used by admissions panels when deciding who to admit, given its significance in the application process, every student must seek to improve their GPA to the best of their abilities. In the following article, I will let you know how to improve it.

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