What is the most important piece of your college application?

We know from the schools that submit admissions data to us every year that the two most important factors to colleges are:

Boosting your GPA
  • high school GPA
  • rigor of high school curriculum

(Standardized test scores are a close third.)

Did you take honors and AP courses when they were available? Enroll in your high school’s IB program? Besides doing well in your courses, colleges want to see that you challenge yourself academically.

How to Calculate GPA

Your GPA is the total of all your course grades throughout your high school career divided by the total number of credits. Most high schools (and colleges) report grades on a 4.0 point scale. Here’s a simple chart to show you how letter grades translate:

Letter GradeGrade Point Average
A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1.0
F 0.0

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA

Many high schools give greater “weight” to grades in accelerated courses like Honors Biology or AP French when calculating your GPA. So a “B” in an AP class might be more like a 3.3 rather than a 3. The unweighted GPA is the average of all your grades on the 4.0 scale above.

What is a Good GPA?

It depends on where you want to go. As you are doing your college research, compare your GPA to those of the students who got accepted to the colleges on your list. You can find GPA breakdowns and acceptance rates for many schools in our Best Colleges book or in our college profiles.

Great Grades Mean More Options

Your GPA will help you get in, but in these budget-tight times, great grades can also translate directly into dollars and cents. As Kal Chaney, author of our book Paying for College Without Going Broke attests, “Every tenth of a point a student raises her high school GPA can save her thousands of dollars in student loans she won’t have to pay back later.”

How? Even at schools where students are awarded aid based only on their financial need, applicants with high academic achievement get preferential packaging—award packages with a higher percentage of grants and a lower percentage of loans. Some colleges offer full scholarships for great GPAs. There are other schools (more and more in recent years) that give out large merit-based grants, irrespective of need. These grants are not necessarily just for 4.0 students. We know of several colleges that award merit-based grants for students with B averages.

Get 'Em Up and Keep 'Em Up

Senioritis is real, but colleges keep an eye on your grades even after you’ve been accepted. Plus, if you keep your grades up you could boost your chances of getting off the waitlist. Need to give your GPA a boost? We can help. From PhDs and Ivy Leaguers to doctors and teachers, our academic tutors are experts in their fields and can give you a hand in over 40 subjects and AP courses.

Are you looking for strategic college advice based on your personality and goals? Our College Counselors will help you find, apply, and get accepted to your dream school.