Mythbusters: GPA

By Sabena Moretz (Associate Director of Admission) and Tom

Our average GPA is a 22.96.

Seriously.

We’re asked that question so frequently – “What’s your average GPA?” – that we thought we’d actually go ahead and calculate it. So we took all of the enrolled students in our current first-year class and averaged together all of the GPAs that their high schools reported to us last year. And the golden number came out to be 22.96.

We’ll come back to that crazy (and accurate) number in just a minute. We find that, for many students in the college search and application process, GPA tends to get a whole lot of attention, often being used as the measuring stick for likelihood of admission. But when an admission office looks at your transcript, there is much more that directs us toward a particular decision than just a GPA. Admission offices all over use very different practices in this regard, so there is not a singular approach, but we think it’s important for you to have a deeper understanding of this statistic and its use in admission decisions from the point of view of UR.

The most important academic factor in our process is rigor of curriculum. Not just the number of honors or AP or IB or Dual Enrollment or whatever your school calls their best classes, but how deeply you’ve continued your studies into each of the five academic core disciplines of English, mathematics, lab science, history, and foreign language. The student who stops taking math after Algebra II/Trig is differently prepared for college than the student who goes on with higher level math, especially if they’ve gone on to calculus. Two students with the same GPA can have made enormously different choices in regard to curriculum, so when students start asking about average GPA, a smart admission person would be very cautious about commenting.

Grades are weighted in a myriad of ways, so we never really know what kind of performance a student has until we actually look at their transcript. We’ve seen straight-B students with 4.0 GPAs. (And the families really are convinced that their students are “4.0s”!) Highly selective colleges would be looking for students with grades of A in weighted courses, not grades of B that are inflated in the GPA calculations. (Though most of us would much rather admit a student with an A/B mix in a weighted curriculum than one with straight As in a basic college prep curriculum.) We find this to be a source of great frustration to parents and students. Not all GPAs mean the same thing.

This is not even to mention the many different grading scales out there. We do look at what the scale is, and we expect a little higher GPA in more generous grading scales to try to offset that difference. Most students I (Sabena) have met in my years in this business think that their school’s scale is the toughest in the world and puts them at a disadvantage. Trust us – most colleges and universities are smart enough to put measures into place to try to minimize the influence of different scales, although no system is flawless in this regard.

A strong GPA can mask some serious individual grades that demonstrate weakness in a particular curricular area. If it’s a curricular area that is required for graduation at UR, we can be reasonably concerned about a student’s likelihood of success in required courses. Senior semester or trimester grades can also change a decision if they show dramatic decline from the previous performance.

So when a college publishes an “average GPA” for its enrolling students, the smart prospective student would ask the source of that number. Is it a straight average of all the GPAs as calculated by the high schools? Or is it a recalculated GPA based on the way that college might recalculate? We regularly see high schools using 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 40, and 100-point scales – some weighted, some unweighted. (That’s where our average GPA of 22.96 comes from!) Some high schools don’t even calculate a GPA. At a school on a 6.0 scale, a “4.0” student is usually a straight-C student.

We hope you’re beginning to see how GPA is much more complicated than it might appear, and why the individual grades on your transcript are much more important to us than that one number. We also hope this is making clearer why, when you ask about GPA, we say that the typical student admitted to Richmond has average grades of A- in highly rigorous courses, not that our average GPA is 22.96.

One Comment

  1. Jessica A.
    Posted April 4, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    this is my favorite admissions blog post 🙂


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  1. […] is the notion that admission can be predicted. From students asking about GPA all the time (see why it’s not a good question), to the “chancing” that goes on in certain online forums (cough-cough College […]

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