Last Updated On: September 23rd, 2015

3.0? 4.0? 5.0? Your grade point average is only one part of your college application. However, combined with a transcript detailing your high school coursework, this weighted or unweighted number tells an important story to college admissions committees. Your GPA suggests how well you will perform in college, based on how you have performed in high school.

So, what makes a GPA good? The average high school GPA in the United States is approximately 3.0, but this number might mislead you. That average includes not only students who are applying to college but also students who have no intention of pursuing higher education. This means the average GPA of students planning to attend university would likely be greater than 3.0.

Besides the obvious answer—a higher number is a better number—let’s explore three factors that will provide insight into what is a good GPA for your particular situation.

Where do you want to go?

There are over 3,000 4-year institutions in the United States. However, this number doesn’t account for the many prominent schools around the world, like the University of Oxford, the University of Toronto, and the University of Tokyo, all ranked in the top 50 best global universities.

The first thing you need to do is research the average GPA of the admitted classes at the schools that you want to attend. For instance, a highly selective university ranked in the top 10, like Princeton, Columbia, or Yale, will have a higher average GPA than a less selective university in the top 200, like Pace, Azusa Pacific, or Bowling Green State. Popular schools need ways to pare down their applicant pools; comparing GPAs can make their decisions easier. Additionally, at many universities, qualifications for in-state applicants and out-of-state applicants are not the same. Talk with your high school counselors and the admissions officers at your target programs to assess how you measure up.

What do you want to do?

What are you planning to study in college? For example, students interested in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics should have taken high school courses in these areas and earned high grades. If you would like to attend a prominent school like MIT or Caltech, then the rest of your grades should be stellar as well. Don’t slack off in English or Humanities and allow your GPA to become less competitive.

Conversely, if you plan to focus on a more creative college endeavor, like Animation, Dance, or Theater, then admissions officers are not as concerned about your performance in Chemistry or Latin. Scoring a 5 on the AP Psychology exam probably won’t sway your admission to the Berklee College of Music, but it might help if you want to major in Psychology at UC Berkeley. Your potential major at a specific school can inform where your GPA needs to be.

Where are you coming from?

Third, the quality, size, and location of your high school all affect how an admissions committee will view your GPA. The level of education can vary wildly among states, regions, counties, or even schools in different areas of the same city. Admissions committees are aware of this as they review applications. For instance, what if Aubrey has a 3.5 GPA with a course load full of Honors and AP classes at a low performing high school, while Graham has a 3.5 GPA in easy classes at a prestigious college prep high school? An admissions officer at a selective university might praise Aubrey’s efforts as a hard worker in a tough situation, but question whether Graham is motivated enough to succeed at their institution. Not all numbers are created equal. However, what if Graham has a more relaxed academic schedule because he is using the time to excel in an extracurricular activity, like training for the U.S. Olympic swim team or running a city-wide afterschool program for homeless children? With this additional information, the same admissions officer might view Graham more favorably.

What can you do now?

Depending on your grade level, you still have some control over your GPA. Seniors, create an action plan to manage your commitments for the rest of the year so that your grades don’t plummet before graduation. Juniors, create a balanced schedule for your upcoming senior year, including time to do the work necessary for your classes, your extracurricular activities, and your college applications. Sophomores, decide what AP, Honors, or IB classes you should take next year to both improve your GPA and show admissions committees how you will apply yourself in college. For students in ninth grade or below, use this year to discover what classes you like and which ones you can do well in.

A quick recap

A good GPA comes from earning outstanding grades in classes that challenge you. A low GPA won’t necessarily keep you out of your target school, and high GPA will not automatically get you in, especially not at the most selective institutions. Take stock of where you’re at now and where you want to go. Working with a tutor on your weaker subjects could help you achieve the grades you need. For a FREE consultation, click here or call 866.60.TUTOR today. Commit to making your best effort so that you can present a competitive application package to your target schools.

Mahlena-Rae Johnson

Author Mahlena-Rae Johnson

Mahlena graduated from Loyola Marymount and received her MBA from USC with a focus on Marketing, Entertainment, and Entrepreneurship. Her specialty lies in graduate level test prep and is also a regular contributor to the LA Tutors blog.

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