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College Admissions: Why GPA’s Lie

Monday, October 01, 2012

 

Do you understand how your high school is calculating your GPA? You might be surprised to learn what colleges look at.

Every year, we hear the sad stories of students with seemingly high GPAs who were rejected from most of their colleges. While SAT/ACT scores and extra-curriculars may tell part of the story, one of the biggest reasons is GPA. The reality is that high schools can (and do) calculate GPAs in a multitude of ways—and many of them end up being deceiving. Some schools use a 4.0 scale; others use a 5.0 or even 6.0 scale.

The result is that parents and students end up having a very unrealistic view of their GPA. Just last week, I had a student in my office who has a 4.3 cumulative GPA on his transcript, but he had only one or two A- in any of his core courses. When I calculated his GPA the way a college would view it, he suddenly had a 3.1--quite a difference. So, before you decide where you are applying to college and what your chances are, you need to calculate your true GPA and look at it the way a college will.

Do College Use Weighted or Unweighted GPAs?

Many top colleges look at a raw, unweighted GPA along with “course rigor” (how many Honors, AP or IB courses you took, number of lab sciences, years of language, etc.). Other colleges look at both weighted and unweighted GPAs. Very few competitive colleges will take your high school GPA without recalculating it. The reason is that there is too much disparity in how high schools calculate GPA, and colleges need to make it a level playing field. It simply isn’t fair to compare the GPA for a student from a high school where electives go into the GPA, to a student from a high school where only core courses are factored in

How to Accurately Calculate Your GPA

In order to have a realistic view of your GPA, you need to first isolate your five core courses for each year of high school (English, Math, History, Science, and Language). Then assign a numeric equivalent to each grade you received each year (A or A plus=4.0, A minus=3.67, B plus=3.33, B=3.0, B minus=2.67, C plus=2.33, C=2.0, C minus=1.67, D plus=1.33, D=1.0). While not every college will use this exact scale, something very close is used by most colleges. Add the numbers and divide by 5. This is your GPA for the year. If you are in 12th grade, add your GPA from 9th-11th together and divide by 3. This is your cumulative GPA. Focus on these numbers during your search, along with course rigor. If your high school uses a 100 point grading scale, then translate that to grades (80-83=B minus, 84-86=B, 87-89=B plus, and so forth).

You can assess your course rigor by looking at how many Honors, AP and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses are offered each year at your school. If your schools offers 4 and you take 3, give yourself a 3. Work on a scale of 4. If your school only offers 2 honor or AP courses per year, and you took 1, then give yourself a 2. If more were offered some years than others, average your findings.  Understand that students are not penalized if their school offers few or no AP, IB or Honors courses. You are only measured against what is available as stated in the school profile. The Ivy League and top colleges like Amherst, Bowdoin, Duke and Georgetown will usually be looking for students with a 3.7 or above and a strong course rigor score.  Again, each college will have a slightly different way of assessing course rigor, but this will give you a good guide.

Weighted GPAs-DANGER ZONE!

Many of you are now asking “But what about my weighted GPA? Won’t anyone look at that??” The answer is “maybe”. However, chances are that you are looking at it FAR differently than an admissions officer will. You are looking at a 3.8 weighted GPA with stars in your eyes because in the back of your mind, you are seeing it on a 4.0 scale. It is NOT a 4.0 scale for a weighted GPA. Anytime a grade is given a weight on a 4.0 scale, the top of that scale rises. And more often than not, it becomes a 5.0 scale. A 3.8 on a 5.0 scale is NOT that high---time for a reality check. If you do want to calculate a weighted GPA, use the scale above and multiply ONLY classes marked as “Honors”, “AP” or “IB” by 1.25. Then, put it off to the side and return to your unweighted GPA and course rigor level. It’s nice to look at, but it will get you into trouble in most situations when calculating your chances at a college.

Remember, GPA is only one part of the picture when it comes to college admissions, but it is usually the most important part. Why? Because studies have proven that the best predictor of success in college are your grades from high school. So, calculate your true GPA and it will make your view of the college world much more accurate!

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

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