What Is a Good High School GPA?

An image of high school students which accompanies our article on good gpa's in high school

Selecting a college usually means choosing an institution with a well-regarded degree program or overall reputation, but college applicants must also determine what is a good high school GPA for their chosen college or university. In most cases, a high GPA is somewhere between 3.50 and 4.00, and a low GPA is somewhere between 1.50 and 2.00. Understanding what constitutes a good GPA may help an applicant figure out whether he or she has a realistic chance of getting accepted to a particular college or university.

The answer to that question will differ depending on your unique situation; many factors can influence the answer:

  • Which college(s) you aspire to attend
  • How rigorous the combined total of your high school coursework is
  • Whether or not your GPA is weighted
  • How competitive admissions are at the college of your choice

What Is the National Average GPA in the USA?

US News gives us some interesting statistics on typical high school grade point averages. The average female student’s GPA is 3.10, while the average male student’s GPA is 2.90. These statistics give you a realistic benchmark for evaluating your own GPA but think of this as a starting point. There are additional considerations you will want to keep in mind.

If your school uses weighted GPAs, comparing your weighted GPA against these benchmarks can give you the wrong impression about where you really stand.

How Admissions Counselors Standardize High School Grade Point Averages

The existence of weighted GPAs can make it challenging to compare some students’ work against the national average. This is because the rating scales are different. To successfully compare a weighted GPA against the average, it’s necessary to understand the system by which your desired school computes high school grade point averages.

The National Center for Education Statistics and some academic institutions use what’s known as Carnegie units to create a standardized comparison system. This system is based on classes featuring 120 hours of classroom instruction. To accurately compute the number of Carnegie units you’ve taken, you’ll need to have access to both your grades and the corresponding information regarding the number of course credits for each class. The NCES has an article called “How is grade point average calculated?” that has more information you may find helpful on this topic.

What’s a Good GPA if You’re Seeking Admission to a Selective Academic Institution?

If you want to attend an Ivy League school, you’ll want your GPA to be as close to 4.0 as possible. If your high school uses a weighted system that includes additional credits for advanced placement or IB classes, ideally your GPA would be over 4.0.

A perfect 4.0 GPA is not essential for admittance to Ivy League schools. Your odds of gaining admittance to a highly selective school are still quite good if your GPA is above 3.7. While it is possible to attend a selective school if your GPA is below 3.7, you’ll have to show impressive results in other areas of your application.

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What is a Good High School GPA for an Ivy League School?

The United States is home to eight universities that are collectively known as the Ivy League. These schools were some of the earliest established institutions of higher learning in North America. Several were in existence before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

The Ivy League schools are Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania. The country’s Ivy League universities possess some of the largest endowments of any educational facilities in the world, and their high school GPA requirements are just as impressive. For example, the average high school GPA for a student admitted to Harvard University is actually above 4.00, which is particularly impressive since most high schools operate on a GPA scale that only goes to 4.00.

A GPA higher than 4.00 means that a student has participated in advanced work in high school in Advanced Placement (AP) or honors classes and may have also submitted extra credit projects. High school students interested in attending Harvard or any of the Ivy League schools will generally need a GPA at the very top of the traditional 4.00 scale.

What is a Good High School GPA for an American Public Ivy?

Another tier of exceptionally well-regarded schools in the United States is known as the Public Ivies, and these schools have reputations that are close to or virtually match the traditional Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. There are eight original Public Ivy schools in the United States that include the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the College of William and Mary, and the University of Vermont.

Additional Public Ivies include Miami University in Ohio, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Virginia. The University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California at Berkley are considered by some to be the ninth and tenth members of the nation’s Public Ivies. The Public Ivies are highly competitive, and average GPAs for students who are accepted are often as stratospheric as they are with the traditional Ivies.

The average GPA for students who are accepted to the College of William and Mary is 4.24, which is actually higher than Harvard University, which sees its incoming freshmen have an average high school GPA of 4.18. Achieving a 4.00 or higher GPA in high school usually means receiving A’s in virtually every class taken.

Class Rank and School Reputation May Impact the Quality of a Student’s GPA

A 4.00 GPA is generally considered excellent, but the number of students from a student’s high school who also have 4.00 GPAs may influence whether that score is considered good or average. A high school with a reputation for difficult classes and rigorous teaching standards where a student earns a GPA of 3.50 may indicate better preparation for college than a student who earns a GPA of 4.00 at a school where a significant portion of the graduating class has ultra-high GPAs.

Good High School GPAs Have Changed

Most high school students who apply to college will only be aware of what their chosen college requires for a minimum GPA. However, it may surprise students of the 21st century to learn that average GPAs have increased significantly over the last several decades. Averages published by ZDNet suggest that the average high school GPA in the 1950s was 2.52, but the average GPA by the 1990s was up to 3.11.

The study referenced by ZDNet revealed that average GPAs for public and private schools rose in tandem for several decades, but average GPAs at private schools started outpacing public schools by the end of the 20th century. As of the early 1990s, the average GPA for students at all schools across the country was 2.93. That average had increased to 3.11 by the mid-2000s.

What do these averages tell the future college student of tomorrow? In the next few decades, college applicants may see average GPAs continue to increase. Other requirements for specific classes, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities may also continue to become increasingly important.

Increasing a Low High School GPA

High school students who have future aspirations of attending college but who have low GPAs have some options available for increasing their grade point averages to acceptable levels. One route students may take is to enroll in classes that are considered easy where the student is likely to receive an A grade that will increase his or her overall GPA.

However, this method isn’t something that should be taken at every possible opportunity. It may help a student who has a GPA that is only slightly lower than the requirement for his or her chosen school, but it may backfire if the student takes too many easy classes. Substituting a few easy classes may help a student increase his or her GPA to 3.00 from 2.99.

However, substituting a whole slate of easy classes may make it more difficult to gain college acceptance, particularly if the school has a strict acceptance policy. It’s also important that students make sure they take all of the high school classes required of their future college. A student shouldn’t take an easy physical education class in place of a math class if that math class is required by the student’s future college.

Importance of a Rigorous Curriculum Versus a High GPA

An impressive high school GPA where a majority of the student’s classes are easy isn’t nearly as impressive as a slightly lower high school GPA that comes from a schedule packed with honors and Advanced Placement courses. A student with a GPA that’s slightly below average may still receive a college acceptance letter in the mail if he or she takes difficult and demanding high school courses.

A high school guidance counselor may be one of the best allies a student has in choosing an appropriate high school curriculum. It may behoove a high school student to speak with his or her counselor to determine what type of classes might be necessary to gain acceptance to a particular school. A college may place a greater emphasis on a rigorous curriculum than an ultra-high GPA.

Some programs may also require that students take extra classes in certain areas and receive grades in those classes that are considered good or excellent. A degree in a STEM field may require that students take four years of math and four years of science rather than the traditional three and may reject a student who has a high GPA but only three years of math and science.

Converting a 5.0 GPA Scale to a 4.0 GPA Scale

Many high schools operate with a GPA calculation that tops out at 4.00, and colleges routinely list their application requirements on numbers based on that same scale. However, some high schools grade their students on a GPA scale that reaches 5.0, and other schools only give out letter grades on report cards. Fortunately, it’s possible to determine if a non-traditional high school GPA is equivalent to a traditional high school GPA by performing some simple calculations.

To determine a student’s score on a 4.0 scale, a student should multiply all classes where an A was earned by four, classes where a B was earned by three, and classes where a C was earned by two. After multiplying all classes by four, three, or two, the student will divide the combined result by the overall number of classes taken.

Students with questions about converting their GPAs can usually speak with a guidance counselor for assistance with the calculation. Many college applications will require that the student submits their GPA on a 4.0 scale, so it’s usually a good idea to perform the calculation before starting the application process online.

Do Open Admissions Mean No GPA Requirement?

Some colleges operate on an open admissions policy, but these policies don’t necessarily mean that anyone can apply at any time with any qualifications. Open admissions policies for colleges usually require that a student has a high school diploma or its equivalent for admission, but an open admissions policy may also have a GPA requirement and a list of classes that a student must take to qualify for admission.

For some schools, open-admission means that anyone who meets the minimum application requirements will receive a letter of acceptance. Those requirements may include a minimum GPA. It’s important that high school students who are interested in a school that has an open admissions policy don’t assume that they can perform poorly in their classes and still gain acceptance to the school of their choice.

Getting into an excellent college with a renowned reputation usually means graduating high school with a high GPA. Anyone interested in getting into a university like Harvard should strive for a perfect GPA of 4.00 or above, but it’s essential to consider that an impressive high school GPA isn’t the only admissions factor taken into consideration by the nation’s best schools. Extracurricular activities, the rigorousness of a student’s high school curriculum, standardized test scores, and other application materials can also make the difference in receiving a letter of acceptance or denial.

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