The college admissions process may seem like a nightmarish labyrinth. Students complete lengthy applications, craft personal statements and assemble dozens of documents only to wait weeks to receive often puzzling admissions decisions. One persistant mystery is how colleges evaluate high school grades. Although every university operates a little differently, they generally fall into one of three groups: schools with automatic acceptance rules based on grades, schools with minimum GPA standards and highly selective schools without specific GPA requirements.
Automatic Acceptance Based on GPA
Some higher education institutions automatically accept for admission any student who applies with a high school GPA higher than a certain threshold. A good example is the University of Arkansas, which admits all students who apply with a high school GPA greater than 3.0 and an ACT score of at least 20. Public colleges and universities in Texas have a similar policy. Texas schools automatically admit all Texas applicants who finished in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. The exact grades required to make the cut for automatic admission vary by year and by school, but it usually hovers around an A- average.
Minimum GPA Admissions Standards
Instead of automatically accepting the best students, some schools set a minimum GPA requirement for admission. Students above the threshold don't automatically get in, but students below usually do not receive acceptance letters. The Massachusetts State University System, for example, requires students to achieve at least a 3.0 high school GPA for admission. Students falling below the threshold can sometimes earn admission with high test scores or great letters of recommendation. At Massachusetts, a student with a 2.75 GPA could be admitted with a combined verbal and math SAT score of at least 950.
GPA at Highly Selective Colleges
Highly selective colleges and universities usually don't have minimum GPA requirements or automatic acceptance policies. Instead, they evaluate every application as a whole, considering grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and a host of other factors. Typically, these schools admit students with sterling high school grades. At the University of California - Los Angeles, for example, the average admitted student had a GPA of 3.88, and 40 percent of admitted students earned a perfect 4.0 GPA in high school.
Making Up for Low GPA
Although most students admitted to four-year universities hold a high school GPA of at least 3.0, it's possible to win admission with poorer grades. Students with poor grades but great test scores, for example, can find admission at many large public institutions. In cases of low grades, admissions committees also pay close attention to letters of recommendation, personal circumstances and the application essay. Admissions officers are often sympathetic to students with poor grades who overcame adversity or had to deal with serious family problems in high school.
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