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Comparing GPAs at High and Low Performing High Schools

A prospective client asked me a question this morning about comparing GPAs across high school.  He asked how college admissions officers compare a the GPA of a student at  very low performing high school with a very high performing high school.

We didn’t get into a discussion about how one really measures high vs. low performance at different high schools, but our assumption seemed to be related to performance on state tests mandated by No Child Left Behind.

The answer to the question is, “it depends.”  If we are talking about a public institution, then depending on the state, the context of a students’ GPA is given very little attention.  So for some state institutions it may make no difference in the admissions process whether a student was in a high or low performing school. Keep in mind, however, that not all state-financed institutions are the same (admissions standards and practices at William and Mary are very different from those at Christopher Newport, for example).

However, when a college or university has a “holistic” admissions process, they will look at the student in the context of where that student went to school.  Admissions staff will take into account the strength of the student’s curriculum, the profile of the school that he attended (what percentage are college bound, for example), and other tangibles and intangibles.

Admissions is not a scientific process.  I try to counsel my clients to stay focused on getting a good education, on learning as much as possible, on finding subjects and ideas that excite them.  If a student can dwell on the learning and not the GPA, everything else will fall into place.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant


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  1. Dr. Montgomery,
    A HS student can get GPA 4.0 easy in a very low performing HS, but for 3.5 is very hard for him in a very high permorming HS. So I think this number which is not fair for applying to college, but SAT/ACT score should be reasonable. Please tell me your idea. Thanks!
    Charles

  2. Charles,

    Most colleges will look at the challenge of your high school curriculum, in addition to the competitiveness of your high school when reviewing your GPA. They determine how competitive your high school is by looking at the high school profile, which you school should provide each college with your application. The profile indicates how many students in your high school attend 4-year colleges and the average SAT of the previous class. So, you are correct that a straight GPA is no an accurate reflection of academic achievement. Any college that does a holistic application review process will look at all of the pieces of the puzzle. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

    Sincerely, Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

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