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MAR 23, 2021
A high school Grade Point Average (GPA) is a score, generally on a 4-point scale, that reflects your academic performance in high school and is only used in the United States. While US universities don’t release official GPA criteria, they do have score expectations and may eliminate candidates with low GPAs before even looking at the rest of their application!
Since academics can account for up to 40% of your application, depending on which universities you apply to, good grades are critical — especially at the most competitive schools. And no academic component is more important than your high school GPA.
A good GPA is indicative of a dedicated, well rounded student who is able to perform in a classroom environment. Universities may track your GPA back as far as the age of 14, so it's important to start your first year of high school strong when it comes to your grades and continuously work to strengthen them. The main attribute universities look for is steady improvement over the years and evidence that you've consistently worked hard to get top marks!
A GPA converts the letters or percentages that typically represent your grades into numbers, then finds the average of those numbers. Let’s say you’re taking five classes, and you have As in two of them and Bs in three of them. The two As will each translate to 4.0, and the three Bs will each translate to 3.0. If you add 4.0 + 4.0 + 3.0 + 3.0 + 3.0 and then divide by five, you’ll get the average: a GPA of 3.4.
If your grades aren’t as simple as that, here’s a GPA conversion chart to make things easier:
The average high school GPA in the US is 3.0, which also accounts for the roughly 35% of students who don’t end up applying for college.
Of college applicants, however, the average GPA is more likely to be between 3.5 and 4.0. If you’re aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.
However, to make things a bit more complicated, GPAs on the traditional 4.0 scale are considered ‘unweighted’ — which can be a disadvantage as it doesn’t take the difficulty of different classes into account.
For this reason, the most selective US universities prefer the ‘weighted’ GPA system, which provides a more accurate depiction of the standard achieved across a selection of students, and is measured on a 5-point scale.
Given admission rates at the most selective universities tend to fall in the single-digit range and GPAs for admitted students hover around 4.0, taking more difficult classes is essential to bolster your own GPA and get into universities like Harvard, Yale or similarly competitive institutions.
Calculating your GPA as an international student can be challenging as most countries operate on a different scaling system, so it can be difficult to know where you stand in comparison.
Nonetheless, when applying to a US university, it's important to know how your grades line up with the university's expectations. Luckily, there are online GPA calculators like this one available for free to help students all over the world calculate their GPA in US terms.
For a more in-depth understanding of how your grades stack up, you may also want to speak with a Crimson Academic Advisor to learn what your grades and test scores mean to top universities. They can even help you identify the best schools to apply to based on your academic candidacy and other important factors!
The academic expectations of Ivy League schools is well above average; in fact, most Ivy League students graduate high school with a GPA above 4.0! This is because all the Ivy League universities take into account a weighted GPA over an unweighted one.
|University||Average Admits' GPA|
|University of Pennsylvania||3.90|
If your sights are set on the Ivy League, or any top university for that matter... challenge yourself with your course choices! Universities aren't looking for perfection — they're looking for students who demonstrate that they’ve challenged themselves academically and will continue to do so after high school. You may want to look at these other blogs for more insights on GPA requirements for all the top universities:
Looking to gain admission to a world-leading university, but not sure where to start? Crimson Education has successfully helped hundreds of students gain admission to top US and UK universities, providing expert guidance on academics, testing, extracurriculars, essay writing and more. To learn more about how Crimson can help you achieve your university dreams, schedule a free consultation with an Academic Advisor today.