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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 12/ 2/2009

The grades it takes to get into college, and why an ‘A’ isn’t always an ‘A’

By Valerie Strauss

Let’s suppose your child is in high school and you want to know whether you should worry because:

--You advised your kid that taking the most challenging courses was more important than getting straight “A”s;

--Your child has a 3.1 grade point average while his/her best friend has an “A plus” average after taking much easier courses;

--You want your child to go to the University of Michigan but learn from a Post education writer that more than 94 percent of the accepted freshmen in fall 2008 had GPAs of over 3.25.

Yes. Go ahead and worry.

Then take some comfort in knowing that college admissions directors at highly selective schools often take high school rigor into consideration, and know that courses with the same names are not always the same courses.

In fact, high schools calculate GPAs in so many different ways that college admissions offices often recalculate the averages according to their own formula (although the University of Michigan recently announced it was dropping the practice because the differences were not large enough to warrant the labor-intensive process).

“So when someone says they have a 3.3 GPA, I don’t know what a 3.3 means. I have to see the whole transcript,” said Illinois Wesleyan University Admissions Dean Tony Bankston, whose office gets about 3,500 applications for a class of about 580.

“Is the 3.3 on a 4-point scale, a 5-point scale, a 6-point scale? And if they say its a 4-point scale are they calculating in music and phys ed?” he said.

Besides, sometimes an “A” turns out to be something less than “A.”

Bankston looked at an application from a young woman who got an “A” in Advanced Placement Biology. It sounded great--until he realized that the school had also sent her grade on the AP Biology test. It was a “1,” the lowest possible score. (A 5 is the highest and Illinois Wesleyan gives college credit only for scores of ‘4’ and ‘5.’)

If he hadn’t seen that grade, he said, he would have viewed the “A” in one light, but his calculation changed: “What that student learned and retained in an AP class who scored a ‘1’ is radically different from a child who got a “B” in AP Bio and got a ‘4’ or ‘5’ on the test.”

I have found myself drawn into a lot of discussions lately about grade point averages in the context of college admissions, so I decided to look up the GPA distribution for accepted freshmen at a number of different schools.

Here are the results, all taken from the Common Data Sets at each school for the fall of 2008 (the latest available information.) Some schools report by grade point averages and some by class rank. The percentage of all enrolled, degree-seeking, first-time, first-year (freshman) students:

-0-

University of California at Berkeley

GPA of 3.75 and higher-- 91%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 4%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 2%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 2%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 --1%
GPA between 2.49 and below: -- 0%

-0-

Stanford University
GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 90.13%
GPA of between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 7.32 %
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 1.7 %
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 0.62%
GPA between 2.50 amd 2.99 -- 0.21%

-0-

Northwestern University

In top tenth of high school graduating class--85%
In top quarter of high school graduating class--96%
In top half of high school graduating class--99%

-0-

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 62.60%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 25.60%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 5.90%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 3.80%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 1.90%
GPA between 2.0 and 2.49 -- 0.20%
GPA between 1.0 and 1.99 -- 0%

-0-

University of Wisconsin at Madison

GPA of 3.75 or higher -- 54.8%
PA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 23.5%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 11.8%
GPA between 3.0 and 3.24 -- 6.1%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 3.4%
GPA between 2.0 and 2.49 -- 0.4%

-0-

University of Texas at Austin

In top tenth of high school graduating class -- 75.2%
In top quarter of high school graduating class -- 94.7%
In top half of high school graduating class -- 99.2%
In bottom half of high school graduating class -- 0.8%
In bottom quarter of high school graduating class -- 0.1%

-0-

Towson University

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 21.2%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 24.7%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 32.7%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 17.6%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 3.5%
GPA between 2.0 and 2.49 -- 0.4%
GPA between 1.0 and 1.99 -- 0 %

-0-

James Madison University

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 44%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 27%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 20%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 7%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 2%
GPA below 2.49 -- 0%

-0-

Carleton College

In top tenth of high school graduating class -- 74%
In top quarter of high school graduating class -- 96%
In bottom half of high school graduating class -- 100%

-0-

University of North Carolina at Asheville

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 63%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 19.90%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 8.90%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 6.10%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 2.10%
GPA below 2.49 -- 0%

-0-

University of Oregon

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 26%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 23%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 23%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 18%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 10%
GPA below 2.49 -- 0%

-0-

Ohio State University

In top tenth of high school graduating class -- 53%
In top quarter of high school graduating class -- 89%
In top half of high school graduating class -- 99%

-0-

University of Illinois at Springfield

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 22.5%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 15.0%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 14.1%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 16.7%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 24.2%
GPA between 2.0 and 2.49 -- 6.9%
GPA between 1.0 and 1.99 -- 0.6%
GPA below 1.00 -- 0%

-0-

University of Arizona

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 19.30%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 15.40%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 18.30%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 17.20%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 23.90%
GPA between 2.0 and 2.49 -- 4.60%
GPA between 1.0 and 1.99 -- 1.30%
GPA below 1.00 -- 0%

-0-

University of Alabama

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 29.4%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 16.0%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 15.6%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 17.6%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 18.5%
GPA between 2.0 and 2.49 -- 2.9%
GPA 1.99 and below -- 0%

-0-
University of Delaware

GPA of 3.75 and higher -- 37%
GPA between 3.50 and 3.74 -- 26%
GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 -- 19%
GPA between 3.00 and 3.24 -- 12%
GPA between 2.50 and 2.99 -- 6%
GPA 2.49 and below -- 0%

For more on Education, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education

By Valerie Strauss  | December 2, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, Grades, High School  | Tags:  college admissions, grades  
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Comments

I'm impressed with the number of Big Ten schools you chose to list. The Big Ten is known for having top notch schools. However, you listed the Springfield campus for the University of Illinois. This is a small, recently added campus. The main campus is at Urbana-Champaign and there the caliber of students seems to be higher and more in line with those of OSU, U of Michigan and Northwestern...can't look at the numbers for 1 campus as representive of all campuses...differences can be huge.

UIUC

% in top 10% of hs graduating class 55%
% in top 25% of hs graduating class 89%
% in top 50% of hs graduating class 99%

UIS

% in top 10% of hs graduating class 17%
% in top 25% of hs graduating class 44%
% in top 50% of hs graduating class 80%
% in bottom 50% of hs graduating class 20%
% in bottom 25% of hs graduating class 3%

Posted by: valerie11 | December 2, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I really screwed this up when I was in school and took too many hard work classes when I didn't want to do the hard work. They were "easy", just tons of repetitive work that I didn't see the point of when there were other things I wanted to learn. A's on almost every test, C's some classes where I received a 5 on the AP test. Of course, I did manage to get 36 credits from my AP tests and get into a third tier school with a full scholarship and then transferred to a top tier school after my college GPA was a much better reflection of my abilities.

High school grading is not a useful comparator of students.

Posted by: staticvars | December 2, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Education in America is failing. If education is a right and not a privlege, then why is it getting harder to afford year after year.

I especially find humorous all the kids that spend tons of money within the walls of higher learning, just to graduate without any possibility of ever getting a job. A degree in philosophy does not sound like a very wise option to me.

Then there is the SOL (Standards of Learning.) Boring our kids to death with the same thing year after year. What kind of standard is that reall supposed to be anyway?

You say education, I say show me a system that stops failing our students, our teachers, and our society.

Posted by: army123 | December 3, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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