Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Your GPA Doesn't Tell Us

GPA is a tricky number. When a student tells me what her high-school GPA is, I respond with a blank stare. I usually just make a non-committal noise in my throat and say, “OK. Now tell me what kind of courses you’re taking and what kind of grades you’re getting.” As a college admissions counselor, GPA tells me almost nothing because GPAs vary wildly from school to school. Some schools use a 4.0 scale; others use a 100-point scale. Some schools weight both Honors and AP courses; others don’t weight any courses at all. Some schools offer every AP and IB course ever invented; others offer none. So GPA is, from our point of view, pretty much useless.

When we review your application for admission, we don’t look at your GPA. And we don’t try to re-calculate it or do any kind of crazy mathematical voodoo to it. Instead we look carefully at your transcript. We look at the courses you have taken over your four years of high school, while also considering what kinds of courses your school offers. We look at the grades you’ve gotten, taking note of any trends. Maybe math is your downfall and all of your math grades are slightly lower than your other grades. Well, I can certainly sympathize with that. Math was never my strong suit either. Maybe you have one blip of a C in World Geography. Not the end of the world. Maybe you had a rocky start to high school but your grades have steadily improved over the last couple years. We love to see that.

Your transcript tells us so much more than your GPA ever could. And, as we’re doing with the rest of your application, we’re trying to see beyond the numbers to have as full an understanding as possible of your past accomplishments and your future potential. The big picture of who you are and who you’re going to become, that’s what we're trying to understand. And one number can’t even begin to tell us that.