Your Grade Point Average (GPA) is one of the first criteria US college admissions officers will use to determine the strength of your candidacy. At the most competitive universities, like those in the Ivy League, the average admit has a perfect GPA! It takes years to build your GPA, so it’s vital to understand its importance early in your high school career.
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 mostly 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 can 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 with solid grades and continuously work to strengthen them. Universities also look for a steady improvement over the years and evidence that you’ve consistently worked hard to get top marks!
The average high school GPA in the US is 3.0, which also accounts for roughly 35% of students who don’t end up applying for college. However, for college applicants, the average GPA is more likely 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 consider different classes' difficulties.
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.
Since admission rates at 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 GPA and get into universities like Harvard, Yale, or similarly competitive institutions.
The academic expectations of Ivy League schools and other top universities are 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 GPA (weighted) of Accepted Student|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)||4.15|
|University of Pennsylvania||4.10|
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 A’s in two of them and B’s in three of them. The two A’s will each translate to 4.0, and the three B’s 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.
When applying to US universities, it's important to know how your grades line up with the university's expectations. You can use our free High School GPA Calculator or refer to the GPA conversion table below to find out your GPA!
Top universities don’t necessarily expect you to have good grades from the beginning. They want to see growth ambition and drive. The simple answer is to do well in school and ace all your exams, but this is often difficult for some students.
There are some steps you can take to improve your GPA. Here's a study plan to help you improve your GPA in high school:
Remember, consistency is key when it comes to improving your GPA. Stick to your study plan, stay organized, and stay focused on your goals. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve your academic goals.
To help you improve your GPA and ace your academics, we’ve created a free guide.
For students who need a little extra help, Crimson offers online tutoring. We engage the world’s best teachers and tutors to help students get good grades and reach their university admission goals. We offer three tutoring programs in an easy-to-order offering. They include tutoring in:
If you calculate your GPA on a 4.0 scale, you may have concluded that the highest GPA you can achieve is a 4.0. This suggests that you have gotten all A’s in all of your classes throughout high school.
Learn more about weighted vs. unweighted GPAs here.
A GPA of 3.75 or higher out of 4.0 is considered summa cum laude. Magna cum laude is 3.66 or higher and cum laude is 3.5 or higher.
Your cumulative GPA is the score typically used for college applications or entering the workforce. It's an average of averages, combining all your semester GPAs into a single, overall GPA.
If your sights are set on the Ivy League or any top university, challenge yourself with your course choices. Universities aren't looking for perfection — they're looking for students who challenged themselves academically and will continue to do so after high school.
For a more in-depth understanding of how your grades stack up, contact a Crimson Academic Advisor. They will explain what your grades and test scores mean to top universities and help you identify the best schools to apply to based on your academic candidacy and other important factors!
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