Getting Into College – How Important is Your GPA?

Getting Into College – How important is your GPA?

GPA is one of the major things that schools look at when reviewing applications for admission. According to a National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) 2011 Survey, grades in college prep courses were the most important factor weighing in to the admissions decision. Grades in all courses ranked as the fourth most important factor, behind strength of curriculum and ACT/SAT scores. What this means is that colleges want to see students taking classes in high school that will adequately prepare them to succeed in college, and they want to see good grades in those classes, above all. What constitutes college prep classes? Advanced Placement and Honors classes will be viewed most favorably on a student’s high school transcript. “Core” subjects like history, math, English, science and foreign language will carry more weight than things art or music, unless the student is applying to art schools/programs or music schools/programs. Grades in classes like consumer education and physical education will carry less weight because they aren’t part of the list of “core” subjects. Curriculum and GPA need to balance out on the student’s transcript. Having slightly lower grades in a very challenging curriculum will go farther than having higher grades without challenging classes. Colleges also look for an upward trend in GPA over the high school career. A student who starts freshman year with an A average whose grades start sliding over the next four years as the student takes on more activities and responsibilities is not going to look good compared to a student who struggled a little in the first year or two of high school and managed to increase his or her GPA in the last two years. Colleges want to see that the student was able to balance coursework, activities and maybe even a job without a large impact to his or her GPA.

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The more selective the school, the more the GPA will matter. The general consensus for highly selective schools seems to be that a GPA of 3.5 or above is considered acceptable. A student with a GPA below 3.5 will have a harder time convincing a very selective school that he or she should be admitted. A very high ACT or SAT score would help in this scenario. ACT composite scores above 30 and SAT individual scores above 700 may counteract a GPA in the 3.0 – 3.4 range provided that the student has taken a challenging course load. For students who don’t have ACT or SAT scores in these ranges, and have lower GPAs, looking at colleges on the lower end of the selectivity range will make more sense. In order to match up a student’s GPA and ACT/SAT scores to the colleges where he or she is most likely to get accepted, a good college search website is a helpful resource. These sites use the student’s GPA and test scores in the search criteria fields in order to produce a list of potential colleges. There are also tools to estimate a student’s chance of getting accepted a particular school based on his or her GPA and test scores.

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Wendy Nelson is a first-time college mom who has approached her daughter’s college search process using her professional background in Project Management. She hopes to help others through the college choice process by sharing what she has learned. For more helpful information to guide you in your college choice process visit You will find a list of great college search websites at

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