How Much Does GPA Really Matter

An F can be detrimental to your GPA. Even on the weighted scale, an F will always count as a zero. (Photo used with permission from flickr user amboo who?.)

Many students’ biggest worries can be traced back to one little thing, only three letters long, that holds the power over our future — our GPAs.

For those who don’t know, GPA is an acronym that stands for “grade point average”. It’s a tool most schools use to measure academic success. GPAs are often utilized by colleges to decide on whether or not to accept applicants.

GPA’s can be the factor that determines whether or not one gains admittance into reputable college,” wrote Best Choice Schools. For example, Harvard acceptees have an average GPA of 4.04 on a four-point scale, so you would have to be an A average student and at the top of your class to have a fighting chance. A little closer to home, at UNC-Chapel Hill, the average GPA of admittees is a 4.54 on a five-point scale (numbers from Prep Scholar).

Both of these schools are very selective in their application processes. On the contrary, East Carolina University– which has a “lightly selective” admissions rate — has an average GPA of 3.56 on a five-point scale, which is still pretty good.

Your GPA isn’t just important for your college application. “Almost any application you submit for colleges, scholarships, job, military, etc. will ask you to share your GPA with them,” wrote Pamela Saldanha, a school counselor at Leesville, in an email.

Each student has two GPAs: a weighted GPA and an unweighted GPA. The weighted GPA takes into account the difficulty of each class, and gives them different points accordingly.

Weighted GPA (on the five point scale)

Academic Honors AP
100-90 (A) 4.00 4.50 5.00
89-80 (B) 3.00 3.50 4.00
79-70 (C) 2.00 2.50 3.00
69-60 (D) 1.00 1.50 2.00
59-0 (F) 0.00 0.00 0.00

An unweighted GPA considers all the classes to be on the four point scale, and they are weighted equally. So an honors class and an AP class would get 4.00 points for an A, just like an academic class.

Colleges don’t just look at one GPA over the other or even the GPA in general. “Every admissions department will dig deeper (unless your GPA is exceptionally low, think below a 2.0) before making a blanket judgment based solely on that number, whether it’s weighted or unweighted. This is because the GPA scales of different high schools can’t be compared directly. Some schools may count honors and AP classes as ‘high level’ for weighted GPAs and some may only count APs. Some AP classes are also easier than others. It wouldn’t be fair for colleges give a student who earned an A in a notoriously difficult class like AP Physics the same credit as a student who earned an A in AP Psychology even if they have the same weighted GPA,” wrote Samantha Lindsay for PrepScholar.

“Tough classes and good grades are indicators that you will be successful in college, so they want you to challenge yourself! I recommend taking classes that will stretch you, but where you are still able to be successful and emotionally healthy. That looks a little different for each individual student,” wrote Saldanha .

While your GPA is fairly important in applications, the hardest part is maintaining it. According to Saldanha: “The best way to maintain your GPA is to continue to take appropriately challenging classes (some Honors or AP, if appropriate) and to do the best you can in those classes.”

But what is the option if it’s too late to fix your GPA?  Community colleges are a good option for anyone does who desire a blank slate.“If your GPA is below a 2.5, then you will probably start your college career at a two-year program (e.g. Wake Tech), where you will get a fresh start with your GPA and have an opportunity to transfer to a four-year college once you’ve earned enough credits,” wrote Saldanha.                                                                         

At the end of the day, your GPA is really just a number. Colleges also look at extracurriculars, essays, SAT and ACT scores, etc. In addition, one could always start over with community college or maybe not even go to college.

Your GPA isn’t the end all — it’s really just a stepping stone.



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