Get Smart – You are Not Your GPA

The fact is, calculating an exact GPA doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Mention GPA to a rising senior and you’ll be rewarded with a look of panic.

“Is my GPA good enough?”

“Do colleges use weighted or un-weighted GPA? What in the heck does that mean?”

“I hear you have to earn a 4.8 to get into Ridiculously Selective U.”

“I only have a 3.55, is that good enough to get into any college?”

“I have a 2.3, I might as well skip college.”

The answer to all of these is, it depends.

Here are three VERY IMPORTANT items to remember about GPA:
You are a senior. You can’t change the past. Stop stressing about it!!!
GPA is only one factor of many that colleges look at.
There are amazing colleges and schools for students with C, B, and A grades. Even students with Ds and Fs can reinvent themselves in community college.

How do colleges calculate GPA aka Grade Point Average?
Again, it depends.

The UC and CSU systems ignore pluses and minuses and look only at the letter grades in the summer after 9th grade to the summer after 11th grade. (Basically, 10th and 11th grade.) They only give extra credit for 8 semesters of honors or AP courses (with a limitation on the number during 10th grade).

Other colleges factor in all flavors of the grades and have their own system of GPA calculations. They may or may not give extra credit for honors or AP courses.

Most colleges glance at, then ignore 9th grade, but this isn’t true for all.

Colleges generally want to see an upward or stable trend in your academic performance.

All colleges want to see your performance in BOTH semesters of 12th grade, and may rescind acceptance if grades drop below a C in college preparatory classes. Note, you can’t “improve” your chances by getting better senior grades, but you can maintain your eligibility.

What is a newly minted senior to do?

Take a breath and stop obsessing about your GPA! Your GPA reflects the grades you earned over the last two years. You can’t go back and change them. For better or for worse, they are the grades that are on your transcript. Your GPA is a record of how you did in high school and does not indicate how successful you will become.

Still concerned about weighted vs. un-weighted GPA?

Get an unofficial copy of your transcript, this is the one printed out by the guidance office secretary. (The “official” transcript has a seal and signature.)

Most schools, Culver High included, calculate Academic GPA (10-12) both Weighted and Non-Weighted.

An academic GPA counts the grades from all college preparatory classes. On the Culver transcript, they are marked with “p” other schools may use “*,” “cp” etc. Confused, check with your counselor. Note, courses like PE and Health are ignored by colleges. They are necessary for high school graduation, but are not considered by colleges.

The numbers listed by your school will give you a general idea about your GPA.

To muddy the waters, colleges have their own methods of calculating GPA, meaning that you have no real idea what exact GPA some colleges are looking at!

Remember, the CSU and UC calculator doesn’t care about pluses and minuses and only considers 8 semesters of honors or AP points in the calculation. This creates a “capped and weighted GPA,” and is what is submitted on the application. A calculator appears inside the UC college application, but you can try this one created by a former student: to get a good idea.

For the UCs, using this calculator a straight A student who took every AP and Honors course in 10th and 11th grade, and a full course schedule has an un-weighted 4.0 and a weighted 4.36. (That’s 22 As with a point bump for only 8 semesters.) This represents a full schedule of classes in 10th and 11th grade. At the UCs a student with a normal course load can’t score above a 4.4. This is called a “capped and weighted GPA.”

“But,” you splutter, “students have to have a 5.0 or at least a 4.8 to get into Very Prestigious University.”

It ain’t necessarily so!

Even the most elite or highly selective colleges deny high flying exemplary students with GPAs and standardized tests in the stratosphere.

Why? Because the colleges don’t want a class consisting only of very high performing students. They want variety! Variety ensures vigorous debate, differences of opinion, a range of experiences and backgrounds, and more.

In general, the higher your GPA, the more competitive you are. Competitive means that fit most of the criteria for the type of student they are looking for.

Grades and test scores are only two factors among many including: course curriculum, rigor of courses, extracurricular activities, high school profile, essays, letters of recommendation (if accepted), race, ethnicity, socio-economic profile, member of an under represented group, legacy, athletics, music/art/performance, work experience, and community volunteerism.

At some schools such as UCLA, Berkeley, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, between 75 to 94% of admitted freshmen had a 3.75 or higher using a 4.0 unweighted scale. Other schools such as UC Santa Cruz, NYU, Cal State Long Beach had between 30 to 45% of students with those grades.

In general colleges care more about what courses you took and how much you focused on taking college preparatory classes than the actual GPA. Pick a college and look it up on Big Future on the College Board site. Where are you in relation to the various percentage of students at different GPA levels? If you are in the top of the mix, then your grades are very competitive. Middle, then you are competitive. Bottom of the percentages, less competitive, but still a possibility as a “reach” school. If your grades don’t appear in the freshman class, find other wonderful colleges that aren’t as selective.

Questions, need some help with your college plans? Contact Jamie Wallace at

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