Of all the things college admissions officers evaluate in your application, your high school grades by far carry the most weight. (As you'll see in the graph below, the next most important factors are, on average, the rigor of your coursework, your SAT/ACT scores, essay, and recommendations.) As a high school student, what do you need to do today to ensure your GPA is competitive with the norms for the colleges and scholarships you're interested in before it's time to apply?
Our all new GPA Scenario Calculators, enhanced this month, allow you to test how achieving certain levels of academic performance (e.g., all A’s, mostly A’s, mostly B’s, etc.) will impact your cumulative GPA by the end of your junior year or senior year. But before you download the GPA Scenario Calculators to play around with your specific numbers, take a moment to familiarize yourself with four important principles about your high school GPA that are generalizable to all college-bound students.
|Wondering what GPA you should aim for? Download The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook to find out what GPA will make you competitive at the colleges/scholarships you’re interested in.|
Fact #1: The Further You Go in High School, the Harder It Becomes to Improve Your Cumulative GPA
You’ll be able to prove this to yourself when you enter your information into the GPA Scenario Calculators, but here’s a simple example. If Al Laskan, a student with a 3.25 cumulative GPA, begins to maintain a 3.75 GPA starting in the spring of his freshman year, he can achieve a 3.67 cumulative GPA by the end of his junior year. However, if Al waits until the fall of his junior year to begin improving his grades, he will achieve only a 3.42 cumulative GPA by the end of his junior year.
Fact #2: It’s Hard to Build Up Your GPA, But Easier to Let It Slide
While an unwanted grade in a single course may not impact your GPA substantially, grades below your average in just handful of classes can derail your GPA quickly—even late in your high school career. For example, if our friend Al goes into his junior year with a cumulative GPA of 3.75 and maintains a GPA of 3.00 (B’s) during those two semesters, his cumulative GPA by the end of junior year will decline to 3.50.
Fact #3: Regardless of Your Cumulative GPA, Colleges Look Favorably on a Trend of Improvement
Generally, admissions committees give your most recent grades more weight in their evaluation. Accordingly, even if you can’t improve your cumulative GPA all the way to the median for the colleges you’re interested in by the end of your junior year, it’s still worth demonstrating your strongest possible performance between now and when you submit applications. Conversely, if you’ve maintained a strong GPA so far, don’t let your performance slide now, because the reverse is also true—colleges look unfavorably on a recent decline in your overall level of performance.
Fact #4A: You May Only Have Until the End of Junior Year to Make an Impression...
Especially if you plan to apply early decision or early action, many colleges have application deadlines in November or early December—meaning they won’t see your senior year grades until after they make their admissions decision. For that reason, you should plan to maximize your cumulative GPA as of the end of your junior year to make the best impression. But, read on with Fact #4B:
Fact #4B: ...But Senior Year Still Matters, Too!
Of course, it’s also important to maintain equal or better academic performance throughout your senior year. Here are three reasons to avoid falling victim to senioritis:
- You might apply to colleges with deadlines in January or later in your senior year, meaning your fall semester grades of senior year will be closely scrutinized
- All colleges will request your final high school transcript and may rescind your admissions offer or place you on academic probation as an incoming freshman if your senior year grades have deteriorated significantly
- Some merit-based scholarships, including the Alaska Performance Scholarship, determine eligibility using your cumulative high school GPA (as of the end of your senior year).
Calculate What Grades You Need to Earn to Meet Your Goals
Now that you have some general insight on how GPA dynamics work and how they play into your college admissions profile, download our GPA Scenario Calculators Kit to see how your own numbers play out. The Kit includes three tools to give you actionable insight in your college admissions planning:
- The High-Level GPA Scenario Calculator is your go-to tool for fast GPA scenario planning. It allows you to approximate how achieving a certain overall level of performance (e.g., all A's, some A's/some B's, etc.) will impact your cumulative GPA at various points in your high school career. For example, if John is currently in the spring of his sophomore year and has a GPA of 3.25, what will his cumulative GPA be at the end of junior year if starts earning mostly A's between now and then? How will that compare to the GPA norms for the colleges/scholarships he's interested in?
- The Detailed GPA Scenario Calculator allows you to make more exact calculations about your future GPA. You can enter the specific classes you’re currently taking, along with the classes you’ll take in the future (for as few or many semesters as you wish to see), and specify the letter grade you aim or expect to earn in each. The Detailed GPA Scenario Calculator also takes into account AP/IB weighting.
- The Goal Seek GPA Calculator tells you what grades you would need to maintain going forward to achieve your target cumulative GPA by the end of your junior or senior year. For example, if John is in the fall of his sophomore year with a 3.25 cumulative GPA, and he wishes to achieve a 3.50 cumulative GPA by the end of his junior year, the Goal Seek GPA Calculator will tell him what GPA he must maintain over the next three semesters.
Get Professional GPA & College Admissions Guidance:
Sign Up for North to My Future
Sign up for a North to My Future meeting, your free, individualized college admissions strategy session for students in Anchorage. We’ll sit down with you and a parent for 45 minutes and discuss how your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and overall profile compare relative to the norms for the colleges and scholarships you’re considering. In addition, we'll develop an action plan of specific priorities for you between now and when it’s time to apply. If our SAT/ACT prep, academic tutoring, or college admissions consulting programs are appropriate to help you achieve your goals, we will also provide recommendations on how you can best use these professional resources.
Here are a few other free college admissions resources to check out:
Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook (Average GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and admit rates for 49 popular nationwide colleges)
And, of course, we welcome you to contact us anytime with questions regarding your individual academic, testing, or college admissions situation.