What is a good GPA? Well, it’s subjective.

By Maxine Seya

I thought that GPAs and scores served as a threshold number for admissions, i.e. make the cut and your application will be given serious consideration. What is a good GPA? — Parent of a college applicant

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I won’t beat around the bush.

A good high school GPA is a 4.0 unweighted with all honors. With this GPA, almost every college will seriously consider the applicant. However, you’re probably not reading because your student scored perfectly. For you, a good GPA is one that is competitive for your student’s desired colleges.

Anything lower than a 4.0 can be considered good, okay, or uncompetitive depending on:

  • the college
  • major selected
  • applicant pool this year
  • course rigor
  • supporting aspects of the application including essays, extracurriculars, and recommendations

GPA Requirements: Private vs. Public Schools

Private colleges usually do not have strict GPA requirements

Take Wesleyan, for example. A small, selective liberal arts private school. From their FAQ:

What is the average GPA for students admitted to Wesleyan?
Wesleyan does not calculate an average GPA for admitted students nor do we recalculate high school core GPA. Our application review process is a holistic one; we evaluate your entire high school transcript, including course selection and grades achieved.

It’s common for colleges to advertise a “holistic” review process. This means students might get in based on recommendations, essays, and activities, even if GPAs and test scores are low.

Public schools have GPA requirements (most often)

Many public schools have a GPA requirement because they tend to receive way too many applications than they can handle. The cut-off saves them time.

The University of California (UC) schools, for example, weed out applicants with GPAs under 3.0 in-state and 3.4 out-of-state. This just qualifies the applicant to be considered, but does not guarantee admission.

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The California State Universities require applicants to have a 2.5 or higher to be eligible for admission (does not guarantee an acceptance), and a 2.0 to be even potentially considered for admission.

On the other hand, certain public schools like University of Arizona assure admission to students with a 3.0 or above in the last 6 semesters of high school.

At Washington State, applicants with a 3.6 or above are assured admission.

So what is a good GPA?

A good high school GPA is a 4.0 unweighted with all honors and AP classes. If you have a 4.0 unweighted with all honors, it will not matter what your weighted GPA is. Whether it’s a 4.5 or 4.8 or 5.0, it doesn’t matter because these numbers vary from high school to high school, but they mean the same thing. It’s like how hola and bonjour both mean hello, just in different countries. A 4.5 and a 5.0 might both mean a perfect student, just from different schools.

However, you’re probably not reading this because your student scored perfectly. For you, a good GPA is simply one that is competitive for your student’s desired colleges.

If they’re applying to Washington State, a 3.6 is great! If they’re applying to Northwestern, a 3.6 is unattractive.

If applying to Cal State LA, a 3.4 is pretty good! If applying to UCLA, a 3.4 is subpar.

The point is, who cares about a “good” GPA?

Good is subjective, like what is a good salad dressing, what is a good career to pursue, what is a good house to buy? I can’t answer that unless I know your student’s preferences, goals in life, personality, resources, motivation, etc.

What matters the most is that your student has a competitive GPA for their desired colleges — not that they have a “good” GPA.

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How do I know what GPA colleges want?

Just because there is no strict GPA requirement does not mean admissions officers don’t have an ideal GPA range they look for.

Columbia College in Chicago is a small school focused on art and film. There, they don’t have a publicized cut-off. Admissions officer, Margaret Jones, explains:

“At Columbia we don’t have a cutoff GPA; you’re not going to automatically be denied if you don’t maintain a certain GPA. We obviously have an idea what we’re looking for. So I like to see students that hover around at 2.75 to 3.0 range. But I also take into consideration if a student maybe does poorly in math, but is really passionate about Studio Art, has taken AP Studio Art, and has done really well. Obviously if the student is not hovering along at 2.75 – 3.0 and it was a bit lower because of those math grades, but they’ve got that art grade, I can always make a case for that student.”

The best way to figure out what GPA colleges prefer is by looking at the “First Year Profile” or “Admitted Student Profile” on the college’s admissions website. Here are the average range of admitted student GPAs for various schools.

Michigan State‘s published middle 50% of admitted student GPA is 3.5 to 4.0. A competitive GPA for Michigan State would be a 4.0 unweighted.

USC‘s published middle 50% of admitted student GPA is 3.75 to 4.0. A competitive GPA for University of Southern California would be a 4.0 unweighted.

Purdue University‘s published middle 50% of admitted student GPA is 3.5 to 3.9. A competitive GPA for Purdue would be 3.9 unweighted or higher.

University of Washington‘s published middle 50% of admitted student GPA is 3.73 to 3.96. A competitive GPA for UW would be 3.96 unweighted or higher.

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Just take the higher GPA number within the range and compare it with your student’s GPA. If your student’s GPA is near or above the higher number, they’re a competitive candidate.

What college can you get into with a 3.7 GPA?

You can answer this question by researching the middle 50% or average admitted student GPAs. If the school you are looking at has 3.7 at the 75% or the upper limit of the range, you might have a good chance of getting in. No guarantees, of course, but it’s rather possible.

You can probably get into Ball State University

For example, Ball State University states that “Our average admitted student GPA is 3.5.”

Ball State GPA

If you have a 3.7, this should be a school on your match list.

You may or may not get into University of Illinois

By contrast, the University of Illinois states that the middle 50% of admitted student GPAs is 3.50 – 3.94.

Your 3.7 is not as competitive as another student’s 3.9 or 4.0. You should assume that University of Illinois will be competitive for your student. However, the lower 25% of admitted students only had a 3.5, so it’s not impossible.

You probably will not get into UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley‘s middle 50% of admitted student GPAs is 3.86 to 4.00, unweighted.

Your student’s 3.7 is not competitive. It’s significantly lower than the 25th percentile of admits. You should assume that your student will not get into Berkeley. (I’m not discouraging anyone from trying — I’m simply trying to manage your expectations.)

If you have a low GPA, here are 5 things that can save it

High rigor.

Grant

Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.

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