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Friday, March 20, 2015

I Don't Care About Your GPA

Did that get your attention? Good. We need to talk about GPAs.

GPAs attempt to convey academic achievement. When you talk with your classmates about GPAs, you are speaking the same language. You can probably imagine the kind of work that went into making a cited GPA because you all understand the methodology being used at your school. What would happen if a student from a different school, maybe from a different region, joined that conversation? You'd probably have to do some translating so they could understand how things work.

Admission officers know that the way schools calculate a GPA varies dramatically. Many get around this by having a system that recalculates every GPA so the different methodologies are removed. We don't do that here (not saying it isn't a possibility one day). Instead, we look at the transcript to see the courses you took and the grades that you earned. The transcript tells the story of your process over the last four years. The transcript is far more compelling and informative than your GPA.

How do we know how to analyze your transcript?

The thing that helps us understand the context for your courses and grades is the high school profile. Your counselor sends a high school profile as part of their Common App form. The profile is often a 2-4 page document that explains how your school operates. It'll go over the grade scale, weighting, GPA methodology, and course options available to you. It'll also let us know if there are any restrictions on the courses you can take. Most of the time, the profile gives us all the information we need to assess your transcript.

Here are some snippets I grabbed from a couple profiles last year:

Click to enlarge

 So this is showing me the grading scale, has a statement about how courses are weighted when GPAs are calculated, and gives me a distribution of all students in the class at the end of the junior year.

Some profiles also give us grade distribution charts. This helps us understand how grading might vary from course to course in your school. Counselor sometimes clue us into this kind of thing, too.

Click to enlarge

Over the years, I've learned that there's a certain teacher who teaches a class at a school in my region (don't ask me to be specific) that gives very, very few As. I have read a lot of applications from the school and when I see a student with an A in that course, I am over the moon excited for the student. That A isn't going to get any special treatment when the school calculates GPAs.

What if the profile doesn't have enough information or we don't get one?

If we ever have questions, we call the counselor. It happens more than you probably think! Even though I've been covering some of my territories for 14 years, I call counselors routinely and learn new things. For example, this year, I learned that one of "my" districts had a policy that automatically lowered a grade for an online course if there was too big of a gap between the student's grade going into the final and their grade on the exam. The policy is gone now, but it was in place for some of this year's seniors.

You are so much more than your GPA. While it's a handy statistic to cite when you are chatting with your friends, we were looking at the courses and grades on your transcript to understand your academic preparation.

And because those graphics aren't too exciting, here's a CavDog picture for you.

Spring is in the air!