Best Schools to Get into with a 3.5 GPA


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As you look towards the college admissions process, you’re probably wondering what GPA you’ll need to secure a spot at a top school.


A 3.5 is between an A- and B+ average. While it’s a fairly strong GPA, you’ll be competing with students with higher ones, including many people with 4.0s.


That said, colleges will review other components of your application, so you shouldn’t assume a highly selective college is completely out of reach. Furthermore, there are many excellent schools with an average GPA of 3.5 for their freshman class.


What factors influence the college admissions process?


GPA is not the sole determining factor regarding whether you’ll get into certain colleges. Colleges also look at standardized test scores, the level of the courses you’ve taken, extracurricular activities, your essay, recommendations, and more. Conducting a holistic review of candidates’ applications means taking all of the pieces into account when making an admissions decision.


What is a strong GPA?


Is a 3.5 good enough?


That’s a difficult question to answer given that GPA is not standardized. Most schools and colleges use a 4.0 scale, with a 4.0 equaling a solid A. Harvard’s freshman class had an average unweighted GPA of 3.94 in 2017.


Colleges recognize that high schools have different standards, and GPA can mean different things from school to school. However, if a college has an average GPA that is significantly higher than yours (in this case, something close to a 4.0), you can assume it’s probably a reach for you. Likewise, if your GPA is well above the freshman class average for a given college (closer to a 3.0, for example), the college is likely a safety for you. Still, you should keep in mind the many other aspects of your profile that come into play.


Which colleges have an average freshman class GPA of 3.5?


Below are the top colleges that have freshmen class with an average high school GPA of 3.5.


School name Type State Region
Tulane University of Louisiana Private Louisiana Southeast
Yeshiva University Private New York Mid East
University of Miami Private Florida Southeast
Bucknell University Private Pennsylvania Mid East
University of California-Santa Cruz Public California Far West
St Lawrence University Private New York Mid East
Arizona State University-Tempe Public Arizona Southwest
Kansas State University Public Kansas Plains
Ohio University-Main Campus Public Ohio Great Lakes
University of Kentucky Public Kentucky Southeast
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Public New Hampshire New England
University of California-Merced Public California Far West
Biola University Private California Far West
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus Public Oklahoma Southwest
University of Hawaii at Manoa Public Hawaii Far West
University of Rhode Island Public Rhode Island New England

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Steps to increase your GPA


Are you hoping to improve your GPA to increase your college prospects? While your GPA reflects your entire high school transcript, freshmen, sophomores, or even first-semester juniors  can implement strategies to raise their average average.


Know where you are.


Before you panic about your GPA, it’s important to know where you stand. You can use this guide to calculate your GPA on a 4.0 scale — it could be better than you think it is. Also, know that your weighted GPA might be much higher since it factors in the rigorousness of your courses. Colleges generally use an unweighted GPA when looking at your transcript, but they will take into account the level of the courses you’ve completed.


Choose courses that complement your strengths.


If there are certain subjects that are bringing down your GPA, focus on challenging yourself in stronger areas, rather than trying to overdo it in weaker ones. For example, if science is a struggle but you excel at languages, take AP courses in French and Spanish rather than trying to tackle AP Physics. While it’s important to challenge yourself, colleges also appreciate specialization. Being “well-rounded” won’t mean as much as having a high GPA in a specialized set of courses. Furthermore, if you’re not going to get a B or above in a challenging course, it’s better to stick with the regular level.


Get help.


A tutor or mentor can work with you to develop methods of approaching difficult assignments and tests. You could also ask your teacher for additional help outside of class. Many schools already have systems in place to help connect students with mentors. Take a look at what kind opportunities your schools provides.


What if you don’t have time to increase GPA?


If you don’t have time to improve your GPA, don’t panic. Remember that colleges factor in other aspects of your profile, such as test scores and extracurriculars. Focus on really bolstering these other areas: take on a leadership position in a club, pursue an internship, and retake the SAT until you’re satisfied with your scores.


Also, recognize that a 3.5 GPA is not a deal-killer. Many colleges accept students with this GPA and lower ones (as outlined above), and you could still have a chance at more competitive schools.


Finally, if an extenuating circumstance impacted your academic performance, you should explain the situation in the additional information section on your application. For example, if a parent had an illness that required you to spend time taking care of your siblings, colleges will recognize that you were unable to devote as much time to schoolwork as you would have otherwise and will take that into account in their admissions decision. Still, you should only use this section if you have a legitimate reason that caused your GPA to suffer.


Why does GPA matter?


Your GPA gives colleges one indicator of your academic abilities and potential. Many students do evolve during the course of their college careers and after, but your high school record can help admissions committees see if you’ve developed good study habits already and offer insight into your current intellectual abilities.


That said, GPAs mean different things at different schools, and colleges understand that. That’s why they’ll look at you in the context of your classmates and school. Admissions officers pay attention to class rank, whether or not you’ve challenged yourself with your school’s most difficult classes, and how your GPA looks in relation to the other aspects of your application.


Wondering what GPA you need for top colleges? Looking for help figuring out which courses to take? If you’re a freshman or sophomore, consider CollegeVine’s Early Advising program. You’ll be paired with a mentor who will work with you to create a roadmap for the college admissions process and help you achieve your goals.


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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.