What are your chances of acceptance?

Duke University
UCLA
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
1.0
4.0
SAT: 720 math
200
800
| 800 verbal
200
800

Extracurriculars

Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
10

What is the Highest GPA Possible? What is an Average GPA?

What’s Covered:

GPAs can be tricky to calculate and even harder to understand. Most students don’t know what to aim for, what impact different classes have on their GPA, or how the GPA will be used in the college admissions process.

Keep reading for information on GPAs as well as tips for how to improve your academic profile. Among other things, we’ll go over how GPA is calculated, trends in the research on high school grading, and advice on how to approach course selection.

Note: Since most American high schools use an average GPA scale of 4.0, this post uses that metric. If your school uses another scale, check out CollegeVine’s handy GPA conversion calculator to convert it before you continue reading. If you don’t know your GPA at all, you can use our GPA calculator to figure it out as well.

What is My GPA and How Do I Calculate It?

GPA stands for “grade point average.” It summarizes your overall academic performance into one number, thus making it easier for third parties to determine how well you did in school without having to do a lot of research.

Each class you take in high school will be allotted a number from 1–4 based on your grade, and all of these numbers are then averaged together. This final average is a large indicator of success on your college application, and it is also used to calculate your class rank.

While there are many exceptions, most American high schools use the following grading scale.

 To earn this grade… Receive this overall percentage… A+ ≥ 97.0% A 93.0–96.9% A- 90.0–92.9% B+ 87.0–89.9% B 83.0–86.9% B- 80.0–82.9% C+ 77.0–79.9% C 73.0–76.9% C- 70.0–72.9% D+ 67.0–69.9% D 65.0–66.9% F < 65.0%

For each class, you are awarded a certain number of grade points depending on the letter grade you earned.

 In a regular class, if I earn… My grade point(s) for the class is… A 4.0 B 3.0 C 2.0 D 1.0 F 0.0

Some schools increase or decrease the point value of classes based on whether you received a plus or minus in conjunction with your letter grade. It’s standard to add .3 for a plus, and subtract .3 for a minus, with a 4.0 being the highest possible value (so an A+ will have the same value as an A).

On a 4.0 scale, the average GPA calculations are pretty simple. If you want to figure out what your GPA is right now, you can either ask to see it at your guidance counselor’s office or you can calculate it by hand. CollegeVine has compiled a helpful guide to help you calculate your high school GPA.

What is the Highest GPA Possible?

If you are measuring your GPA on a 4.0 scale, you may have assumed that the highest GPA you can achieve is a 4.0. This implies that you have gotten all A’s in all of your classes throughout high school.

However, there are instances where you could earn above a 4.0 for a class—most notably, APs. AP courses make it possible for students to receive above a 4.0 on the traditional GPA scale. Some schools add one grade point for all AP courses.

 In an AP class, if I earn… My grade point for the class is… A 5.0 B 4.0 D 3.0 D 2.0 F 0.0–1.0

Adding a point to AP courses when calculating GPA is called “weighting.” By contrast, those who use unweighted GPAs do not factor course difficulty into their calculations.

The highest GPA possible depends on whether you’re using a weighted or unweighted scale. For college applications, you should calculate both GPAs and report whichever is requested. If none is specified, you can opt for the higher weighted GPA.

What is an Average GPA?

According to a 2019 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average GPA is roughly 3.0, which is the grade equivalent of a B. In a more recent study conducted at the University of Georgia, it was found that the average GPA may be even higher, at 3.38, although this number is yet to be accepted as widely as a 3.0.

Average GPA fluctuates wildly depending on student demographics. To give one example, girls tend to have higher GPAs than boys.

 Gender GPA Girls 3.10 Boys 2.23 Difference 0.13

Additionally, students from certain racial backgrounds had average GPAs with statistically significant differences. Asian/Pacific Islander students were among the top scoring demographic, with average GPAs that were 0.57 points higher than those of Black students.

 Race GPA Asian 3.41 White 3.23 Hispanic 2.95 Black 2.83 American Indian/Alaska Native 3.02 Native Hawaiin/Other Pacific Islander 3.08

These differences in average GPA by gender and race reflect larger issues with the cultural, socioeconomic, and geographic factors of the American education system.

Typically, students scored less well on core subjects but made up grade points in other academic courses, like Fine Arts, and non-academic subjects, like Health.

 Course Type GPA Overall 3.03 Core Academic (English, Math, Social Studies) 2.82 Other Academic (Fine Arts, Foreign Language, Computer Science, etc.) 3.18 Non-Academic (Health, Physical Education, etc.) 3.43

To put that in more familiar terms, the average American student might receive the following report card:

 Subject Grade English B- American History C+ Algebra II C Photography B Spanish B+ Physical Education A

Please not that subject specific data has not been updated by the NCSE since 2009

Is Grade Inflation Real, and Does It Affect Me?

Grade inflation has been a hot topic since the early 2000s, when journalists noticed that college students were graduating with progressively higher average GPAs. As the data amassed, it became clear that not only colleges but also high schools were guilty of assigning higher grades for the same quality of work.

In American high schools since 1990, the average GPA has increased by nearly 0.5 points.

 Year Overall GPA 1990 2.68 2000 2.94 2009 3.03 2019 3.11

This trend is reflected across all subjects. Here are just a few examples from core academic courses.

 Subject Average GPA by Year 1990 2000 2009 Social Studies 2.56 2.83 2.89 English 2.52 2.77 2.85 Science 2.39 2.67 2.70 Mathematics 2.34 2.60 2.65

Please note that subject specific data has not been updated by the NCSE since 2009

It is often speculated that high schools have begun awarding higher grades for the same quality of work because it helps students stand out when they apply to college. Once one school begins the practice, others must follow suit or risk jeopardizing their own students’ chances at gaining admission to selective schools.

How Important is My GPA? Should I Take Easier Classes to Raise my GPA?

Your GPA is a very important factor in your college applications, but never sacrifice academic rigor to boost your GPA. Colleges value students who challenge themselves, so aim for harder courses even if it means risking the occasional B on your transcript. If you don’t think you can earn at least a B in a particular AP, though, consider taking a different class.

Rather than taking easier classes, you can boost your GPA by getting easy points in the classes you are already taking. For example, if you have a teacher who awards points for students who turn in assignments on time, make sure you are not submitting homework late. If your P.E. grade depends on whether you remember to bring your gym clothes, keep them close at hand.

A lot of intelligent students push hard in AP courses only to miss out on these points, which are easier to collect. Apply the “Work Smarter, Not Harder” principle to boosting your GPA.

Additionally, it’s important to note that colleges often consider a holistic evaluation of applicants, including the Academic Index. The Academic Index takes into account not only your GPA but also factors like standardized test scores and the rigor of your coursework. This index provides colleges with a standardized metric to assess your academic potential and compare applicants from different schools. While GPA is a significant component, colleges also value students who have challenged themselves academically by taking advanced or honors courses. Striking a balance between maintaining a strong GPA and pursuing rigorous coursework is key to presenting a well-rounded academic profile to colleges.

If your GPA is at or below average, we’ll be honest: that will certainly impact your chances of acceptance. If you’re still a freshman or sophomore, you have time to improve your GPA. If you’re struggling in class, be sure to seek help, whether from a teacher, classmate, or tutor. To raise your GPA, take a few classes that you’re sure you can succeed in. Taking AP/IB classes will increase your weighted GPA, but if you’re not sure you can get a B or above, stick to the regular version.

If you’re already a junior or senior, there’s not a whole lot you can do to bring up your GPA, as a couple semesters is unlikely to change the accumulation of your grades up until this point. In this case, focus on doing your best in class, but also turn your attention to other factors like your standardized test scores and extracurriculars.

Some selective schools use Academic Index (AI) as a screening tool, meaning those below a certain threshold are automatically rejected. If you can’t do much to bring up your GPA, the best way to bring up your AI is to increase your test scores. This will help you get past the minimum AI thresholds.

1. Take Easier Classes

Consider switching to a lower level course if you have been consistently struggling in a particular subject. By taking a course at a lower difficulty level, you can focus on building a stronger foundation in that subject and potentially improve your GPA. However, it is important to strike a balance and not simply opt for an easy A. Assess your strengths and weaknesses, and evaluate the benefits of switching to a more manageable level while still challenging yourself academically.

Understand how your school’s GPA weighting policies work. Some schools assign higher points for honors or advanced courses, which can positively impact your GPA. If you are doing well in honors courses, consider taking more of them to raise your GPA. Challenging yourself academically not only showcases your work ethic but also demonstrates to colleges that you are willing to take on more rigorous coursework. However, be mindful of the time commitment and ensure that you can handle the increased workload.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for academic assistance when needed. Many schools provide resources such as tutoring programs or designated times for extra help with teachers. Take advantage of these opportunities to clarify concepts, improve understanding, and boost your grades. Additionally, consider setting up study groups with classmates or utilizing online resources like Khan Academy or tutorial videos on YouTube to further support your learning journey.

How Does My Current GPA Impact My Admissions Chances?

Colleges know that course difficulty can vary from school to school, so most admissions committees don’t compare actual numbers between students. Instead, they consider GPAs in the context of your school. They may sometimes even use their own system to recalculate GPAs, taking school and class difficulty into account. Rather than aiming for a certain GPA, you should strive to be one of the top students relative to others in your high school.

To gain a deeper understanding of your admissions chances based on your current GPA and other factors, we recommend utilizing CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. This intuitive tool provides personalized odds of admission that take into account a variety of criteria, including GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, and more. By using this resource, you can obtain a more accurate sense of your likelihood of acceptance at different colleges without fixating solely on GPA.

1. Apply to 4 Target and 3-4 Safety Schools Based on Your Profile

Construct a balanced college list that includes reach, target, and safety schools. Utilize CollegeVine’s free school list builder to effortlessly sort schools you are interested into different categories based on your personal chances of admission. Consider applying to a mix of reach schools (where your personal acceptance rate is below 30%), target schools (with a 30-80% chance of admission), and safety schools (where you have a 80% or higher chance of admission). Building a well-rounded college list ensures you have options while aiming for your dream schools.

2. Explain any Extenuating Circumstances

If your low GPA is due to extenuating circumstances, such as health issues, family responsibilities, or other challenging situations, it is essential to provide context in the Additional Information section of your application. Explain how these circumstances affected your academic performance and highlight any personal growth, resilience, or achievements despite the challenges you faced. Admissions committees appreciate understanding the context surrounding a student’s GPA.

3. Focus on Other Strengths

While GPA is an important factor, colleges also consider various other aspects of your application. Showcase your strengths in other areas to compensate for a low GPA. Highlight your involvement in extracurricular activities, leadership roles, community service, unique talents, or accomplishments. Craft compelling essays that demonstrate your personal growth, interests, and values. Additionally, secure strong letters of recommendation that highlight your character, work ethic, and potential.

4. Write Stellar Essays

Crafting compelling essays is crucial for making a strong impression on college admissions committees. Let’s focus on the Common App essay as an example, arguably the most important and universally required essay.

Dig deep and reflect on your experiences, values, and personal growth. Identify a story or aspect of your life that is meaningful and distinctive. The goal is to showcase your individuality and provide admissions officers with insights into who you are beyond your academic achievements.

Use descriptive language and vivid details to paint an engaging picture in the reader’s mind. Instead of simply stating your qualities or accomplishments, demonstrate them through compelling storytelling. Engage the reader’s senses and emotions to create a memorable and impactful essay.

Admissions committees want to see evidence of personal growth and self-reflection. Share how certain experiences or challenges have shaped your character, values, and aspirations. Discuss lessons learned, how you’ve overcome obstacles, and the impact these experiences have had on your life.

Enhancing your extracurricular activities can demonstrate your interests, dedication, and leadership skills to college admissions committees. Let’s discuss a few ways you can seek to improve and enhance your extracurricular standings.

Consider running for leadership positions in clubs or organizations during your 11th-grade year. Many clubs hold elections for leadership positions in the spring semester, giving you an opportunity to showcase your competence and success in a particular activity. Aim to gain leadership roles in multiple clubs to increase your chances of securing one or two positions.

Focus on clubs where you’re seen as a strong member and have higher chances of being elected. Leadership by action allows you to improve the quality of an extracurricular activity while showcasing your initiative and potential. Propose and oversee major additions or improvements to a club or organization. For example, you could develop a training program, find cost-effective suppliers, or establish a research library. If successful, you can even request that your initiative becomes a formal leadership role within the club.

College admissions is a complex process that involves numerous factors beyond just GPA. While GPA is important, it’s crucial to consider other aspects as well. Navigating the admissions landscape can be overwhelming, which is why CollegeVine offers a unique chancing engine to streamline the process and provide valuable guidance. By utilizing this tool, you can gain insights tailored to your profile and receive personalized recommendations to enhance your college search.

Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!