What Is a High School GPA and How Important Is It?

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    You’ve probably heard about the importance of your GPA in high school — be it for extracurricular requirements, class rankings, and especially college admissions. But what is a GPA and why is it so important?

    Your GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a calculation of your academic performance across all of your high school classes. 

    Each grade you earn in your classes is converted into a numbered scale, meaning you earn a specific number of points for each class and its credits. Those points are then added and divided by the number of credits taken, which results in your performance “average,” or GPA.

    Why is your GPA important?

    While college admissions is a holistic review process, your grades still play a large role in determining your candidacy for admissions. Extracurriculars and essays may demonstrate your leadership skills and unique interests, but your GPA is important because it demonstrates how you’ll fit into the college classroom. 

    Colleges want to see that you can keep up with the rigor of their classes. How you perform academically is the biggest indicator of your success in college. This is especially true of colleges that are known for their academic rigor, like STEM schools and Ivy League universities.

    However, because college admissions offices are inundated with a pool of student applicants from across the country— and even the globe— comparing students’ report cards from different high schools can prove challenging. That’s where your GPA comes in. 

    Since a GPA scale is universal, this makes it easier to compare students’ performances across different types of high schools that might have varying grade scales.. No matter where you go to school, GPA point values per letter grade remain the same: 

    A = 4 points

    B = 3 points

    C = 2 points

    D = 1 point

    F = 0 points

    Calculating Your GPA - Weighted vs. Unweighted

    GPAs can be calculated on a weighted or unweighted scale. This determines whether your GPA calculation is factoring in the difficulty of your classes— i.e., its “weight.” On a weighted scale, an ‘A’ in an Honors, AP, or IB class would be worth six points towards your GPA, whereas an ‘A’ in a regular class would be worth four points. 

    Let’s break that down with a sample report card: 

    Letter Grade
    GPA Points (Unweighted)
    GPA Points (Weighted)
    Algebra I
    World History Honors
    English I
    AP Psychology
    Total GPA

    As you can see from this example, taking more challenging classes can significantly boost your weighted GPA.

    Boosting Your GPA

    Since your GPA is one of many important factors that colleges will consider when reviewing your application, a strong GPA can be the key to making sure you stand out as a competitive applicant. The simplest answer to maintaining a strong GPA is to succeed in your classes. Every point counts and will increase your chances of college admission. 

    That said, there are two key tips that can help you boost your GPA and increase your chance of admission:

    Start off Strong

    Remember, your GPA is the average of all of the classes you’ve taken: the total score of all of your grades divided by the number of credits you’ve taken. That means that as you continue to take more classes throughout your high school career, each grade will have a smaller impact on your overall GPA. So, if you wait until senior year to start earning straight A’s, it’ll be significantly harder to bring up your GPA. 


    That said, your freshman year is the best time to set the tone and build a strong foundation for your GPA. Since you will have fewer classes under your belt, each ‘A’ you earn will have a strong impact on your GPA. However, the inverse of that is also true. If you earn a low grade in one of your classes during freshman year, it will easily bring down your GPA and, as mentioned, be much harder to bring up as you continue taking more classes. 

    Challenge Yourself

    The other way to ensure a competitive GPA is to challenge yourself with a rigorous course load when possible. As you saw in the previous example, earning a good grade in Honors, AP, and IB classes hold more weight in your GPA. This means an ‘A’ in an AP course is worth more points than an ‘A’ in a regular class. 

    Not only do these classes help you build a stronger GPA, but they are also a great way to demonstrate that you are willing to challenge yourself and up for the rigor of classes you’ll take on their campus. Remember, colleges want to invest in students that they believe will succeed at their schools, not set them up for failure. The classes you take now will demonstrate the work you’re willing to put in once you get to college.

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