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How Much Does High School GPA Matter For College Admissions?

There’s all sorts of information—and misinformation—out there about what matters most when it comes to college admissions. Well, for the record, academics matter most. Here’s how admissions staffers will evaluate your teenager’s high school transcript.

How does the GPA compare?

Many colleges use an in-house formula to recalculate the GPA on your teenager’s high school transcript, so they can compare it to applicants at different high schools. For example, some institutions use formulas that strip out grades for non-academic classes, like gym, music and theater, while others may add points for more advanced classes.

Is the coursework challenging?

Admissions looks at both class type and grades on the high school transcript. In general, a B in an advanced course is better than an A in an easy or non-academic course. In general, experts recommend finding a sweet spot between grades and class level.

How many advanced courses to take?

That depends. If your teenager is capable of a full load of advanced classes, fine. But if that will make your teenager crash and burn, then try just one or two.

Did grades get better or worse? 

So what grades do colleges look at? Do colleges look at freshmen year? It can take time to adjust to high school, so don’t sweat it too much if your teenager’s first semester or year is a bust. In fact, colleges love to see the high school transcript of a student who “catches fire” and end strong, notes Terry McCue, former head of admissions for Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

The opposite, starting out strong and petering out by junior year, will hurt your teenager’s candidacy, however. That’s why you want to be wary of overloading your student with too many advanced classes.

What’s your high school like? 

When your teenager submits an application, it’s accompanied by a high school profile that the guidance department prepares. Admissions will use what they know about your high school to check whether the high school transcript shows that the applicant has challenged himself at his high school. Does this mean your teenager is out of luck if he attends a less competitive high school? Not at all. In general, staffers evaluate whether an applicant has taken advantage of what his school offers.

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.

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