What Is a Good GPA? How High School Grades Affect College Applications

What Is a Good GPA? How High School Grades Affect College Applications

High school GPA is one of the most important parts of a student’s college application packet. Schools view this number as an indication of academic potential and college readiness.

Colleges have always relied on GPA when making admissions decisions, but it’s an even bigger factor with the recent shift toward test-optional admissions

But what is a good GPA? Let’s start by defining the acronym.

 

What Is GPA?

GPA stands for grade point average. It’s a number that represents your child’s academic performance, and it’s cumulative, incorporating grades from all high school courses.

GPA is usually based on a 4.0 scale where each letter grade is worth a certain number of grade points: 

A+ = 4.3

A = 4.0 

A- = 3.7

B+ = 3.3

B = 3.0

B- = 2.7

C+ = 2.3

C = 2.0

C- = 1.7

D+ = 1.3

D = 1.0

D- = 0.7

F = 0.0

Other results, such as P (pass) or I (incomplete) don’t affect GPA. 

 

Average GPA

The average GPA among high school students is around 3.0 (a B average). So any GPA higher than that is, by definition, above average. 

However, colleges usually compare a student’s GPA against that of other students in the school or the same geographic area (state, county, school district), rather than the national average. 

Most high schools include a school profile when they send transcripts to colleges. This profile describes the school’s demographics, number of students, average GPA, and grading system. Colleges use this information to put the student’s GPA in perspective.

 

What Is a Good Unweighted GPA?

A GPA over 3.0 is above average, but a higher GPA (between 3.5 and 4.0) is usually necessary to qualify for merit-based academic scholarships. 

Students who are applying to selective colleges or submitting an Early Decision or Early Action application usually need a GPA close to 4.0.

 

What Is a Good Weighted GPA?

A weighted GPA gives more points for difficult courses, like Advanced Placement (AP) or honors classes. Generally, the GPA scale for an honors course is 4.5, and AP courses use a 5.0 scale. Thus, an A in an AP course is worth an entire point more than an A in a standard class.

However, not all high schools calculate weighted GPA the same way. While the 5.0 scale is common, some schools use a 4.5 scale, or a 6.0 scale, or another points system. 

Because there isn’t a standardized points system for weighted GPA, there isn’t an objective threshold for a “good” weighted GPA. 

The closer a GPA is to the maximum possible score, the better. Remember, most colleges recalculate weighted GPA so they can compare candidates on an even scale.

 

What GPA Do You Need to Get into Harvard?

Highly selective schools look for unweighted GPAs that are very close to a 4.0. That means your child needs a report card full of As and A+s.

Harvard is an extremely selective school — its admissions rate for the class of 2024 was 4.92 percent. Though they say there isn’t a required minimum grade point average (GPA) to apply, to be a competitive candidate for Harvard, your child will need an unweighted GPA as close to 4.0 as possible.

 

How to Calculate GPA for High School

The easiest way to figure out GPA is to use a GPA calculator

Most schools consider how many credits a course is worth when calculating GPA. For example, a math class may be worth 4 credits while P.E. is only worth 2 credits. 

To calculate GPA without a GPA calculator:

  • For each class, multiply the number of course credits by the grade points. For a student with a B+ in a 4-credit math course, it would be 4 x 3.3 = 13.2 grade points.
  • Add up the grade points you calculated for each class.
  • Divide by the total number of course credits to get the GPA.

Example:

Course

Credit

Score

Grade Points 

Math

4

A+

4 x 4.3 = 17.2

Physics

2

B

2 x 3 = 6

English

3

A

3 x 4 = 12

Total

9

NA

35.2

GPA

35.2 / 9 = 3.91

Using IB Grades to Calculate GPA

If your child is part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, it can be difficult to know how those grades convert to a standard GPA. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, because each college decides how it accounts for academic rigor.

Most colleges treat IB classes like AP courses, so an A in an IB class translates to a 5.0. 

 

How to Get a Higher GPA

It’s best if your child maintains a consistently high GPA throughout high school, but that’s not always possible. Here are some ways to raise GPA: 

  • Add a class or two: Check whether the school factors electives into GPA. If so, your child may want to take a couple of easy electives to help balance out a lower grade in a core class. Electives aren’t usually worth as many credits, but they can still help increase GPA.
  • Reduce course difficulty: Weighted AP or honors classes are a double-edged sword. A good grade in an AP class can significantly bump up GPA, but a poor grade can have the same effect in a negative direction. If your child is struggling in honors English, switch to regular English.

GPA is a big part of your child’s college application, but it’s not the only thing schools look at. If your child’s GPA isn’t stellar, focus on other areas: standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and extracurriculars. 

 

Choose Colleges Strategically

Consider your child’s GPA when helping them choose which schools to apply to. You can use the College Insights tool to compare schools and find out more about their eligibility requirements and the average high school GPA of their student populations. 

Make a strategic plan to apply to schools where your child’s talents and skills are valued. By understanding how schools calculate and view GPA, you can help your child make an optimal plan for college applications.

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Amanda Holland

Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.
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