written by: wryan•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 12/7/2011
A student's transcript and GPA is the single most important factor in determining college admissions, and oftentimes students worry that their GPA is not up to par, asking: "What grade point average (GPA) are colleges looking for?"
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Applying to college is a difficult process – there is a whirlwind of essays which have to be written, applications which have to be filled out, and tests which have to be taken. But well before a student even thinks of applying to college, the most important part of their college application will already be well on its way to completion: the student's high school transcript and with it, their GPA.
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How Much Does GPA Determine?
First of all, one must remember that GPA alone can't ensure one's entrance into college, and that the difficulty of the courses one takes is almost as important to college admissions officers as the grades one gets. And, having a certain GPA is never a guarantee of admission or rejection – colleges consider one's whole application, and some applicants with high GPA's are rejected whilst others with lower GPA's are accepted. That said, there are some general guidelines as to what is a competitive GPA, i.e. one which ensures a student a shot at admission, is for various types of colleges – no matter what one's GPA is, there is a college who will accept them.
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First-tier and Ivy League schools will usually only accept students with GPAs of 3.5 or above, meaning that students earned primarily A's during their high school career. However, some students are admitted with lower grades than these, but this is the exception to the rule. At Columbia University the average GPA of their admitted students was a 3.8, and this is similar to most other Ivy League colleges.
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Universities between the first tier and community colleges, such as many state schools, will usually accept a GPA between 3.0 and 4.0, although they will also occasionally admit applicants with lower GPAs. Virginia Tech, for example, generally considers an applicant with above a 3.0 GPA “competitive for admission."
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For most community and two-year colleges, a GPA of at least 2.0 is required. As this is the grade average required to graduate from high school, it should not be a problem meeting it. Frequently, if one gets good grades at a community college, one can often transfer to a four-year college later on.
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GPA's for Specific Colleges
While most colleges don't release the average GPA of the class they admitted, most do list the class rank of their students -- i.e. how high their GPA was relative to their peers' scores. For example, if a student had a 3.5 GPA, and only 10% of the students at their school had a 3.5 GPA or higher, then that student would be in the top tenth of their class. To find out the average class rank of students admitted to schools, one can use the collegeboard's college search engine, found at http://www.collegeboard.com/
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Occasionally, something will happen to lower one's GPA which is out of one's control, such as the death of a family member, a school change, or some other extenuating circumstance. Usually, if one has a legitimate reason for one or two semesters of bad performance if this is explained to the college admissions office they will be understanding, and take that into account when considering an application.