College is an exciting time. But it can be an overwhelming process for both students and parents as they decide which schools are at the top of their list, and what steps they need to take in order to receive that coveted acceptance letter. Below are a few of the frequently asked questions(FAQ) by students and parents when it comes to college admissions.
What is GPA?
GPA seems relatively simple at first. It’s an average of your student’s grades, each of which is assigned a numerical value. But it’s not quite so simple. GPA can be broken down into two categories, unweighted and weighted.
- In unweighted GPA calculations, ALL classes receive the same “weight” regardless of their rigor (honors/AP/IB vs. regular). An “A” in any class receives a 4.0 (the highest value possible), a “B” a 3.0, and so on. Unweighted GPA measures how well a student is doing in ALL of their classes–i.e. their raw effort.
- In weighted GPA calculations, more rigorous classes are valued more highly. An “A” in an honors/AP/IB class, for instance, receives a 5.0. Weighted GPA measures how challenging a student’s classes are–i.e. their competitiveness compared to the rest of their peers.
***Thus, it is possible for a student’s WEIGHTED GPA to be greater than 4.0, but their UNWEIGHTED GPA must be equal to or less than 4.0.
But what exactly are these numbers used for?
At its most basic level, GPA is a way for colleges to compare students within and across high schools. But a common misconception is that GPA reflects how SMART you are (your aptitude). Actually, GPA primarily reflects EFFORT and ADAPTABILITY (as a competitive measure, weighted GPA does reflect aptitude to some extent, but it is by no means the sole indication of a student’s intelligence).
Below are two examples to illustrate what we mean.
- Student A has a high GPA throughout their high school career. Colleges can safely assume that they possess the work ethic and adaptability that will enable them to do well in a more demanding college environment.
- Student B started off with a low GPA during their first year of high school, but managed to increase and maintain it throughout the remainder of their time in high school. This also demonstrates to colleges a solid work ethic and adaptability (as well as a compelling growth story!).
***Therefore, parents should not despair if their student struggles at first; with the right support system, their student can still emerge as a competitive applicant.
How important is GPA? How else are colleges evaluating my student?
GPA is a major factor in college admissions (we’ve devoted the first three FAQs to it, after all!). Therefore, your student should aim to take the most challenging classes possible in which they can still do well. HOWEVER, GPA does not tell the whole story! Colleges are taking an increasingly holistic approach to admissions, noting a student’s demonstrated passions through their extracurricular involvements (both academic and non-academic). This includes clubs, independent research, internships in their field of interest, paid work experiences, volunteering, and personal hobbies such as art or music. Consequently, it is CRUCIAL to allow your children to explore a wide variety of activities from an early age, and to foster their passions as they emerge. It may just be the thing that helps their application to stand out!
How early should my student start preparing for the college admissions process?
It’s never too early to start thinking about college. You should encourage your student to consider what they want to do in the future (this is why early exploration through a variety of activities is so important), and to come up with a list of their “dream schools” as a source of motivation (it’s okay if this list evolves over time; it should absolutely change as your student matures!).
***At the Admission Masters, we work with students ranging from sixth grade to graduate school, providing expert guidance on everything from GPA management and study skills, to course and extracurricular selection, effective essay writing, and even the development of strong interpersonal and written communication skills. The earlier your student develops these fundamental, personalized strategies for success, the smoother their educational journey will be and the greater payoffs they will see when it comes time to submit those college applications! Our counselors have a combined total of 100 years of experience in education, working in admissions offices ranging from UCLA to Johns Hopkins. Since 1996, we’ve been committed to working alongside students and parents to help them achieve their educational and career goals.