A recent article in USA Today looked into this issue, and finds what college admissions offices have been telling us for years--that for many schools, the GPA in-and-of itself is not a key factor. Rather, it is the grades students receive in their classes and the rigor and challenge of the classes themselves about which colleges are really concerned. Below is the list of factors in rank order from the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC):
GPA is not listed. When I share this with parents and students, they often go into shock. Why is this? Every school and/or school system computes GPA's in different ways. When I was in high-school, in my district everything was factored in except for PE classes, and certain courses deemed more rigorous were given weights. Other school systems weight nothing, regardless of the level of the class, while others will assign a +.5 weight to an honors class when someone else assigns the same level of class a +1.0 weight and another a +2.0 weight. Some use 5.0 versus a 4.0 scale. There is no real consistency from one school system to the next, and as college admissions offices receive applications from all over the United States and the world, trying to compare applicants by their GPAs is like comparing apples to oranges. Thus, many colleges will recompute GPA's according to their own formulas to level the playing field for the students in their applicant pool, like the University of Florida in the USA Today article. Some will take out all weights. Some will only factor in "core" classes to include math, science, English, social-studies, and world language. Others will not do any computations at all, but rather evaluate the transcript holistically, looking at the level of classes a student took and the grades they received in those classes. Check out this video from the Office of Admissions at Virginia Polytechnic University (Virginia Tech):
Still, the best advice for students and families may be to focus a little bit less on the GPA, take the most challenging and rigorous courses you can manage successfully within the context of your entire life, and strive to get A's and B's in all your classes. That, in and of itself, is the best formula for the beginnings of a strong college admissions profile.