Your Grade Point Average (GPA) is one of the first criteria US college admissions officers will use to determine the strength of your candidacy. At the most competitive universities, like those in the Ivy League, the average admit has a perfect GPA! It takes years to build your GPA, so it’s vital to understand its importance early in your high school career.
What is a GPA?
A high school Grade Point Average (GPA) is a score, generally on a 4-point scale, that reflects your academic performance in high school and is mostly used in the United States. While US universities don’t release official GPA criteria, they do have score expectations and may eliminate candidates with low GPAs before even looking at the rest of their application!
Since academics can account for up to 40% of your application, depending on which universities you apply to, good grades are critical — especially at the most competitive schools. And no academic component is more important than your high school GPA.
A good GPA is indicative of a dedicated, well-rounded student who can perform in a classroom environment.
Universities may track your GPA back as far as the age of 14, so it’s important to start your first year of high school with solid grades and continuously work to strengthen them. Universities also look for a steady improvement over the years and evidence that you’ve consistently worked hard to get top marks!
What is a good GPA?
The average high school GPA in the US is 3.0, which also accounts for roughly 35% of students who don’t end up applying for college. However, for college applicants, the average GPA is more likely between 3.5 and 4.0. If you’re aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.
However, to make things a bit more complicated, GPAs on the traditional 4.0 scale are considered ‘unweighted’, which can be a disadvantage as it doesn’t consider different classes' difficulties.
For this reason, the most selective US universities prefer the ‘weighted’ GPA system, which provides a more accurate depiction of the standard achieved across a selection of students, and is measured on a 5-point scale.
Since admission rates at most selective universities tend to fall in the single-digit range and GPAs for admitted students hover around 4.0, taking more difficult classes is essential to bolster your GPA and get into universities like Harvard, Yale, or similarly competitive institutions.
What is a good GPA for Ivy League Schools and other top universities?
The academic expectations of Ivy League schools and other top universities are well above average; in fact, most Ivy League students graduate high school with a GPA above 4.0! This is because all the Ivy League universities take into account a weighted GPA over an unweighted one.
Average GPA (weighted) of Accepted Students at Top Schools
|University||Average GPA (weighted) of Accepted Student|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)||4.15|
|University of Pennsylvania||4.10|
How to Calculate Your GPA?
A GPA converts the letters or percentages that typically represent your grades into numbers, then finds the average of those numbers. Let’s say you’re taking five classes, and you have A’s in two of them and B’s in three of them. The two A’s will each translate to 4.0, and the three B’s will each translate to 3.0. If you add 4.0 + 4.0 + 3.0 + 3.0 + 3.0 and then divide by five, you’ll get the average: a GPA of 3.4.
When applying to US universities, it's important to know how your grades line up with the university's expectations. You can use our free High School GPA Calculator or refer to the GPA conversion table below to find out your GPA!
GPA Conversion Chart
How can I improve my GPA?
Top universities don’t necessarily expect you to have good grades from the beginning. They want to see growth ambition and drive. The simple answer is to do well in school and ace all your exams, but this is often difficult for some students.
There are some steps you can take to improve your GPA. Here's a study plan to help you improve your GPA in high school:
- Set achievable goals: Determine what GPA you would like to achieve by the end of the term or semester. Set small, measurable goals that you can easily achieve, and build from there.
- Prioritize your time: Determine how much time you need to study each day, and what subjects need the most attention. Prioritize your time accordingly and create a schedule that works for you.
- Attend all your classes regularly: Attend all your classes regularly and actively participate in class discussions. This will help you understand the subject matter better and stay on top of your coursework.
- Stay organized: Keep track of your assignments, due dates, and test dates in a planner or a digital calendar. This will help you stay organized and avoid procrastination.
- Review and revise notes: Review and revise your notes regularly. Summarize and condense your notes to help you remember key concepts and facts.
- Practice active learning: Practice active learning by asking questions, summarizing what you've learned, and applying your knowledge to real-life scenarios.
- Seek help when needed: Don't hesitate to seek help when you need it. Your teachers, guidance counselors, and tutors are all there to help you succeed. If you're struggling with a particular subject, seek extra help or tutoring.
- Take practice tests: Take practice tests to help you identify areas where you need improvement. Review the questions you got wrong and focus on improving those areas.
- Stay motivated: Stay motivated by celebrating your successes, rewarding yourself for your hard work, and surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family.
Remember, consistency is key when it comes to improving your GPA. Stick to your study plan, stay organized, and stay focused on your goals. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve your academic goals.
To help you improve your GPA and ace your academics, we’ve created a free guide.
How can Crimson help?
For students who need a little extra help, Crimson offers online tutoring. We engage the world’s best teachers and tutors to help students get good grades and reach their university admission goals. We offer three tutoring programs in an easy-to-order offering. They include tutoring in:
- AP (Advanced Placement) & IB (International Baccalaureate)
- SAT and ACT
- Bespoke Curriculum/Subject Tutoring
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the highest GPA a student can have?
If you calculate your GPA on a 4.0 scale, you may have concluded that the highest GPA you can achieve is a 4.0. This suggests that you have gotten all A’s in all of your classes throughout high school.
Learn more about weighted vs. unweighted GPAs here.
2. What GPA is summa cum laude?
A GPA of 3.75 or higher out of 4.0 is considered summa cum laude. Magna cum laude is 3.66 or higher and cum laude is 3.5 or higher.
3. What is a cumulative GPA?
Your cumulative GPA is the score typically used for college applications or entering the workforce. It's an average of averages, combining all your semester GPAs into a single, overall GPA.
If your sights are set on the Ivy League or any top university, challenge yourself with your course choices. Universities aren't looking for perfection — they're looking for students who challenged themselves academically and will continue to do so after high school.
For a more in-depth understanding of how your grades stack up, contact a Crimson Academic Advisor. They will explain what your grades and test scores mean to top universities and help you identify the best schools to apply to based on your academic candidacy and other important factors!
What Makes Crimson Different
Key Resources & Further Reading
- Join our free webinars on college applications
- Free eBooks and guides to help with the college application process
- US College Admissions Calculator
- How to get Good Grades
- How to stand out in your college application
- How to get into Ivy League Schools