Getting into college is a process that starts years in advance. When you enter high school and start taking classes, you start earning points which will contribute to your GPA. Although it can sometimes seem like college is a far-away concept, the grades you get during your freshman and sophomore years of high school will stay within your GPA.
Understanding what goes into your GPA is simple, but figuring out why everyone seems to care so much about your GPA is another story entirely. That is why we are here to help. From learning how your GPA is calculated to what you can do if you want to go to college but have a bad GPA, we’ll cover it all!
Why is Your GPA so Important?
Your GPA, or grade point average, is a huge part of your application to college. While many colleges are phasing out the use of standardized testing, GPA remains a standard in the college application process. You don’t need a 4.0 to get into most colleges, but you should pay at least some attention to your GPA throughout high school.
Your GPA gives colleges a good idea of what grades you tend to get. Your GPA can also be used to show change over time. For example, if you started out struggling in high school and had a lower GPA but eventually graduated with a high GPA, that shows your ability to change and learn. These are things that colleges value.
Since it can be hard for a college to know exactly how hard or easy any high school is, they rely on your GPA to give them an idea of how you compare to your classmates. It is a key part of the application, and although you can get into many colleges if your GPA is lower than what they technically require, it will take a lot more effort and explanation than it would have otherwise.
How is Your GPA Calculated?
There are two ways a GPA is calculated; unfortunately, it is super hard to compare GPAs calculated using the two different scales. Here are the two main ways of calculating your GPA:
In an unweighted GPA, an A in a course is worth 4 points, a B is worth 3 points, a C is worth 2 points, a D is worth 1 point, and an F is worth no points. These numbers are then used to calculate an average score, which is your unweighted GPA. At the end of each course, your final grade is then converted to a point, either a whole number if it is a true letter grade or a partial number if you got a plus or minus.
The word “unweighted” means that each course is scored the same. An A in a regular course, an honors course, an accelerated course, a remedial course, and an AP course are all worth 4 points, and no course holds more weight over the final average than any other.
What courses carry more weight depends on your school. In a weighted GPA, different courses are weighted to be worth different points. This could just apply to AP courses, or it could apply to all honors or advanced courses.
A weighted GPA is meant to show colleges that you choose to take more challenging courses during high school, so they should look at your GPA more favorably. With a weighted GPA, an A in an AP course counts for 5 points, meaning that each letter grade is worth one point more than it would have been in an unweighted course. If you take only regular courses, your GPA will be unweighted. With a weighted GPA system, the highest GPA you could achieve is over 4.0, which is typically considered the top GPA.
Here is an example of how the same grades would be calculated into both a weighted and unweighted GPA:
|Course||Grade||Unweighted GPA points||Weighted GPA points|
|AP US History||A||4||5|
In this example, the unweighted GPA would be 3.2, while the weighted GPA would be 3.6. While this example might seem simple, it is easy to see how taking AP courses can quickly change a very average GPA into one that is looked upon a lot more favorably.
What GPA is Considered Good for College?
Figuring out exactly what GPA is considered good for every college is hard, but there are some national standards to know. In general, a GPA below 2.0 will always be looked at negatively because it tends to indicate that you have a higher chance of failing out of college. Many colleges require you to have a 2.5 or a 2.75 to apply for their scholarships, so shooting for a GPA at or above a 3.0 is best.
The national average GPA is around a 3.0, although it might vary slightly depending on the year. Unfortunately, this is not the average GPA of students applying to college since many high school students don’t apply for college every year. Ideally, you should shoot for at least a 3.5, although getting around a 3.0 does not mean you won’t get into college.
What Does Low GPA Look Like for College?
A low GPA would be a GPA that is more than about 0.5 points below the average GPA for that school. As with any average calculation, half of the GPAs at that school are below the average mark, but the vast majority will be clustered right above and below the average GPA.
The best way to set yourself up well for the college application process is by working hard to have a good GPA. Any GPA below a 2.0 would be considered a low GPA to apply to college. There are still schools you can go to and ways for you to attend college even with a low GPA, but it will take more work on your part.
Unweighted vs. Weighted GPA: What Do Colleges Look For?
Understanding what your GPA means can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We can help you decode how universities might look at your weighted or unweighted GPA. We’ll help you understand why a bad weighted GPA might still look good and why a good unweighted GPA might still look bad.
Colleges want to see two main things. They want to see that you are improving over time or at least maintaining your grades, and they want to see you push yourself. This means that if you take only easy classes but have a super high unweighted GPA, colleges might see this as you not pushing yourself.
On the other hand, if you have a mediocre weighted GPA and have taken a lot of AP classes, colleges may see this as you pushing yourself and still being able to maintain an ok GPA throughout all your courses. Making sure you find a good balance between pushing yourself and keeping your grades high is ultimately more important than just getting your GPA as high as possible.
Top 5 Universities with Highest Average GPA Requirements
These schools are some of the country’s top and highly selective. Their average GPA score reflects the competitiveness of getting into one of these schools. Here are the top 5 schools with the highest average GPA:
Brown University; 3.71
With an average GPA of 3.71, Brown University boasts the highest average GPA of any university in the US. Getting into such a selective university with a low GPA is next to impossible. If you plan on applying to any Ivy League schools, you should ensure a stellar GPA to assist with that.
Stanford University; 3.66
Coming in with the second-highest average GPA is Stanford University. Known for its gorgeous campus and high-end academics, it is the only school on this list located on the West coast. Stanford offers academics to rival the Ivy Leagues but in sunny California.
Harvard University; 3.64
Harvard University might be the most iconic university name in the US. Getting into Harvard is no joke and will require a high GPA, high test scores, and amazing essays. If you want to go to Harvard, make sure you start off high school right with a high GPA, even during your freshman year.
Yale University; 3.62
Yale is another Ivy League school and holds a similar reputation to other schools on this list. Yale, as with other highly competitive and older schools, tends to be a legacy school, so if you don’t have a family member who has been there before you, you better have an amazing GPA.
Columbia University; 3.59
Columbia has been home to more Nobel laureates than any other university in the US. Rounding out this list is yet another Ivy League school. Past presidents, a handful of Olympians, and over 90 Pulizer prize recipients have also attended this prestigious school. Make sure you have an excellent GPA if you plan on attending.
5 List of Colleges with Low GPA Requirements
Remember that although you can look up the average GPA and test scores for colleges, there is a lot more than just these numbers that go into your admission offer. That being said, if your test scores or your GPA are on the lower side, it will be harder for you to get an offer of admission from many schools. Here are some schools you can look at applying to even if you have a lower GPA:
- Indiana University Northwest; 3.03
- University of Illinois at Chicago; 3.31
- University of Washington Tacoma; 3.29
- University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; 3.25
- University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; 3.37
One thing to notice about this list is that a lot of these schools, as well as other schools that aren’t on this list but tend to accept lower GPAs, are the second or third location of a larger school.
For example, the main campus of the University of Colorado is located in Boulder, while the location of the University of Colorado that makes this list is in Colorado Springs. Even if you can’t get into a school’s main campus, spending a year or two at a secondary campus before transferring to the main campus is a great way to still attend your dream school, even if you have a lower GPA.
Another option, if you have a lower GPA, is to attend a community college for a few years before transferring to a more prestigious school. This is especially common in California but is a great option for students all over the country. Attending a community college can help get your feet under you when it comes to college and prove to your dream school that you really are ready for their level of academic rigor.
What to Do If Your GPA Falls Short?
If you find that your GPA is below the average GPA for college admissions at the universities that you are applying to, you will need to beef up your college application in some other way. Knowing that your GPA is not the only thing that will help you get into college is essential to managing the stress that comes from the college application process.
There are a lot of things that colleges look for besides your GPA. Here are three things you can do to help colleges notice you even if you have a below-average GPA.
Write an amazing essay or personal statement.
Your personal statement or college essay is a great place to show off your individuality and prove to the university why they should accept you. Although it won’t completely stand on its own, a good college essay can do a lot to help make admissions staff remember you and want to fight to give you an offer of admission.
Like any essay or paper, make sure you plan your writing process well. Having an easy-to-read, well-structured essay with a good topic will make your application stand out, even if you don’t have the best GPA.
Make sure you get a good test score on the SAT or ACT.
Although many colleges and universities are phasing out the use of test scores, most will still allow you to submit your test scores if you think they will benefit you. If you know you have a less-than-stellar GPA, you may want to think about putting a lot of time and effort into studying and preparing for the ACT or SAT.
If you need some help picking out a study guide to use, planning out your studying, or finding the motivation to study for the SAT or ACT, we have some articles that might help. Feel free to check out all of our articles on getting ready for the ACT and SAT so you can feel as prepared as possible going into the test!
Show continued involvement and commitment to something
Showing continued involvement and commitment to a club, sport, or activity is a great way to show colleges your dedication and work ethic. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can do at the last minute since you need time to show commitment. Make sure you find something to be involved in early on in your high school career. That way, having a bad GPA for college won’t be as big of a deal.
Wrapping Things Up: Is Your GPA Good Enough?
Your GPA is a cumulative record of your grades throughout high school, but it is only one of many aspects that college admission counselors will use to determine if you are ready for the level of academics at your school. Although there are other things that they look at, your GPA is important as it shows your ability to grow and your ability to maintain good grades while pushing yourself to learn more.
Figuring out what a good GPA for college will be can be challenging, but just know that there are colleges out there for anyone who wants to go. If your GPA is lower than average, you may need to put some extra work into other aspects of your application, but it is still possible to go to a good college, even with a low GPA. With lots of hard work and dedication, we know that you can get into the college of your dreams!
Hope you found this post useful! If so, check out our other college guides here.