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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Is There a Minimum GPA Requirement for College?

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You know your academic performance matters for college admissions, but did you know some colleges even set minimum GPA requirements before they’ll even consider you for their freshman class? That’s right — at some institutions, the admissions committee won’t even look at your application if your GPA is below a certain number.


The good news is that this doesn’t apply to many selective schools, and even if your heart is set on a college with a minimum, there are ways to improve. So, which schools have minimum GPA requirements, and how can you meet them?


Do Colleges Have Minimum GPA Requirements?


While most selective private colleges perform a holistic review of candidates’ applications, some large public universities do set minimum GPA requirements. This is usually because they receive so many applications that they’re unable to look at each one and need to set the bar somewhere. For some popular public universities in the United States, the GPA minimums are as follow (note that many public universities do not have minimums and have been excluded from this list):


University Minimum GPA Requirement
University of Florida 2.0
University of California 3.0 (California resident)/3.4 (nonresidents)
University of Mississippi 2.0
University of North Carolina 2.5 (for people 20 years and younger with fewer than 24 transferable credits)
Arizona State University 3.0
Portland State University 3.0
University of Nevada, Reno 3.0
University of Houston 2.5 or 3.2 depending on other criteria, such as test scores
University of South Carolina 2.0 (core classes)
Northern Arizona University 2.5 (core classes)

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GPA Requirements for Merit Scholarships


While many universities don’t set minimum GPA requirements for admission, some do have them for consideration for merit scholarships. In some cases, institutions will award them automatically based on criteria such as GPA and SAT or ACT scores. For example, at Alabama State University, students are awarded the Presidential Academic Scholarship, which guarantees a full ride, if you have at least a 3.76 GPA and ACT composite score of 26 or a combined SAT score of 1240. 


Some private colleges offer automatic scholarships based on similar criteria, too. At Howard University, for example, a Presidential Scholarship is awarded to students with at least a 3.75 GPA and a composite ACT score of 34 or SAT combined score of 1530.


What If My GPA is Too Low? 


If your GPA is too low for certain colleges and universities, there are still some steps you can take to improve it, especially if you’re a freshman or sophomore. For example, you could increase your course load, focusing on electives that play to your strengths. If you’re good at English but weaker in math, for example, you might take some creative writing and journalism electives, which will help you boost your GPA by allowing you to earn higher grades, balancing out lower grades you might receive in weaker courses.


It’s also a good idea to focus on more challenging courses in your strong subjects. While you should certainly challenge yourself across the board, if you’re not able to earn a B or higher in an AP or honors course, stick to the regular level. Given that you’re still an underclassman, you do have time to improve, so consider getting help (such as a tutor).


If you’re an upperclassman, it’s a bit trickier to improve your GPA, but it can be done. Again, maximize your opportunities by focusing on your strengths and taking challenging courses in these areas. You should also think realistically about what you can accomplish in a short time frame. It might be a better idea to focus on other aspects of your profile, such as your extracurriculars, essay, and test scores.


Keep in mind that many selective institutions don’t use minimum GPAs but focus on the academic index, a tool used to combine your test scores and GPA into a single numerical score to reflect your academic performance. If you’re a junior or a senior, this can play into your favor — focus more on improving your SAT or ACT scores, which is easier to do than improving your GPA. (You can study for the test and take it multiple times, but all your grades factor into your GPA, and you can’t go back and undo freshman year.)


What GPA Should I Aim for? 


The best way to determine what GPA you should aim for is to look at the average GPAs for admitted applicants at the schools on your list. For your target and reach schools, you should be at least on par with these GPAs, while for your safety schools, you should be higher. 


However, it’s important to remember that GPAs can be highly variable from one high school to the next. Curricula are often not comparable and vary in level, and a B at one school could be an A at the next. Weighting plays a role — high schools assign additional points for challenging courses, but even this can vary. Colleges understand this and generally reweight GPAs, as well as pay attention to where you fall in your class compared with other students. They also pay attention to the rigor of your course load, noting if you took the most challenging curriculum available to you, along with other factors like your extracurriculars.


Because GPAs mean different things at different schools, it’s a good idea to look at test scores at the colleges on your list, too. The middle 50% range can often give a clearer picture of how you compare to admitted students. You should aim to be at the upper end of the middle 50% range. For example, at Cornell, the middle 50% SAT score range for the class of 2023 was 1420-1540. That means if your SAT score is 1420, you’d be at the 25th percentile of admitted freshmen (you scored better than 25% other applicants), while if it’s 1540, you’d be at the 75th percentile (you scored better than 75% of applicants). A higher score doesn’t guarantee admission, but it does improve your odds of acceptance.


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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.