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Is a 3.5 GPA Good? Best Colleges to Get into with a 3.5 GPA



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.


Is a 3.5 GPA Good?


Overall, a 3.5 GPA is above the average of 3.38. It equates to about an A- average, but is slightly lower (3.67 is an A-). It’s not the best GPA, and it doesn’t make you competitive for the very best schools, but it’s still above average, and you should still be competitive for many schools.


Whether a GPA is good or not is 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. There are also weighted and unweighted GPAs, with weighted GPAs giving AP/IB courses a GPA value of 1 point higher than on the standard scale. Some schools may also weight honors courses 1 or .5 points higher, while others don’t weight honors courses at all. Other schools may not even use the 4.0 scale altogether.


The best way to determine the strength of your GPA is to consider 3 factors: how you compare to others at your school, the rigor of your classes, and the average GPA of the colleges you want to attend. 


If your high school ranks, you’ll be able to get a better idea of how your GPA stands amongst that of your peers. Colleges like to compare students from the same high school, as they’re more likely to have been given similar opportunities. If your school doesn’t rank, that’s okay. You can still determine how strong your GPA is based on two other factors.


When evaluating your GPA, colleges care a lot about the rigor of your classes. A 4.0 GPA isn’t impressive if the student only took easy classes. On the flip side, a 3.5 GPA is pretty good if the student started taking AP classes freshman year, and also took some post-secondary classes. In this case, colleges would be more likely to appreciate the student with the lower GPA but the more rigorous transcript.


Finally, you should take a look at the average GPAs of the schools on your list. 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. For example, Harvard’s freshman class had an average weighted GPA of 4.18 in 2019. 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, like SAT/ACT scores, extracurriculars, and essays.


For more on what makes a good GPA, see our post What is Actually a Good GPA for College Admissions?


How to Colleges Evaluate GPAs?


College admissions committees acknowledge that high schools employ slightly different methods to calculate students’ GPAs. Because of these differences, college admissions committees generally recalculate applicants’ GPAs using their own systems. For example, some colleges give more weight to honors and AP classes, while others count only core courses like English, math, science, history, and foreign languages, discounting a student’s electives. They may also take a high school’s difficulty into account, such as whether it’s known for grade deflation or inflation.


Grades are undoubtedly an important component of the admissions process — after all, your GPA is often the first thing an admission committee sees, and some schools even use academic stats to screen out applicants whose scores fall below the mark


Still, GPA isn’t the sole deciding factor when it comes to admissions. The truth is that admissions committees consider an array of factors, including essays, interviews, extracurriculars, and any significant obstacles a student has faced during their academic journey. In other words, a student with a lackluster GPA may be able to gain admission due to their other accomplishments. 


Traditionally, colleges are more likely to accept students with lower GPAs if they have strong standardized test scores. Moreover, students from lower socioeconomic circumstances and those from historically underrepresented ethnic groups may have an increased chance of being accepted, even if they have a lower GPA. However, most colleges will only take students who demonstrate great potential and a strong work ethic, regardless of circumstance.


How Can I Tell if a School is an Academic Match for Me?


When narrowing down your list of reach, target, and safety colleges, it’s worth looking beyond the average GPA of admitted students to determine if a school is a good match. This is because GPA can be so variable. 


To determine whether you’re up to a school’s academic rigor, students should also assess the middle 50% range of SAT or ACT scores at schools they’re considering. For example, Princeton’s middle 50% range was 1460-1570, meaning that 25% of accepted students scored below 1460, 50% scored between 1460-1570, and 25% scored above 1570. If your scores fall in or above the middle 50% range, you’re more likely to be able to handle that school’s academics.


Again, some schools will still accept students below their academic averages, depending on their circumstances. That said, you should be realistic about whether a school is simply too much of a reach for you.


Which colleges have an average freshman class GPA of 3.5?


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


It’s worth noting that the schools on this list aren’t the only institutions students with this grade point average should consider. A number of universities neglect to publish average GPAs due to high school variations, so do your research before ruling a school in or out.


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


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 GPA.


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 rigor 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? 


The average high school senior has one big question on their mind: what chance do they have of being accepted by their dream schools? At CollegeVine, we created our chancing engine to help take the guesswork out of the application process. With our free admissions calculator, you can assess your odds of being accepted at more than 500 schools. Ready to get started? Sign up today to try our data-driven chancing system for yourself.


Want to know how your GPA impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.