Don’t dwell on your GPA – it’s not a point of distinction.

Nothing angers the high-ranking students (and their teachers) more than this one, but Uncle Josh has some bad news for you, and you’re not going to like it. However, you do need to accept it because it’s true, and I know it’s true because I write the scholarship checks and your teachers don’t. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? OK, here goes:

Your GPA doesn’t really matter that much. If at all.

It’s ok, I’ll give you a minute to let it sink in.

Now, here’s why this is true:

A nationwide grade-inflation epidemic has killed the significance of a high GPA. Thousands of pages have been written on this topic over the last 10 years, and I won’t rehash them all here. But I’ll summarize:

At some point in the recent past, someone decided that the horror of seeing the letter “D” or “F” on a report card did much more long-term damage to a kid than, say, not knowing how to read, write or spell. Lots of parents agreed, and convinced schools that even though Johnny still doesn’t know what a comma is, he still deserves a B in English..

Anyhow, the point is this: Nowadays, just about everyone has a GPA of 3.0 or above. Everyone. So what, you say? Well, that means if everyone has a similar GPA, then nobody’s GPA matters anymore. That’s it, plain and simple – if everyone’s GPA is the same (or close), what’s the point of even looking?

Yes, but: I can hear it already: “Yes, but today’s students are smarter than ever! Classes are more advanced, students are better prepared, and their achievements get more outstanding every day. It makes sense that the GPAs are higher.”

It’s absolutely true about the students being smarter than ever, and the achievements, and all that. The stuff that today’s top students know and master and achieve is just mind-boggling. Considering the latest generation has been pushed harder than ever – and earlier than ever – by parents to achieve great things, makes it no surprise. But that just proves the point: if the best students are even better today than before, then why does everyone look the same on paper? If it weren’t for the grade inflation phenomenon, the top students would stick out more; but as it is, they simply don’t.

And last but not least, the quality of education in our country varies so widely that a 4.0 student (or, in some cases, a 5.0 or higher) at one school might flunk out at another. It also works the other way; a solid B-C student at a rigorous academic high school may have the brains to blow through the system with a 4.0 or better at a weaker school.

Thousands of students apply for our scholarships annually, and almost every one has a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. That’s fine; it’s certainly better than having a GPA of 1.0 or 2.0. But one phenomenon remains the same: when nearly every applicant shares a particular characteristic, then that characteristic becomes unimportant – and that’s the story with GPA. Are we saying not to include your GPA? Not necessarily, especially since many scholarships require you to report it. But don’t dwell on it in your essay, or expect it to carry you to a scholarship victory. It won’t.

3 thoughts on “Don’t dwell on your GPA – it’s not a point of distinction.”

  1. Just wondering, does GPA grade-inflation apply to college students as well? Or is it only true in a high school setting?

  2. @Sarah:

    I would say that grade “inflation” happens at universities, but not in the same way as in high school. For instance, students that took certain honors classes and AP classes were granted an extra grade point for having passed them and sitting the AP exams, which could be considered grade inflation.

    At certain colleges, the grading system is just completely different. I believe that MIT grades its students on a 5.0 scale– getting just under a 3.0 would probably put you on academic probation. Still, this isn’t grade inflation as much as it just doing things a little differently.

    Supposedly, especially prestigious schools (one of my professors made a reference to Harvard doing this, but if anyone reads this that actually goes to Harvard, please forgive me if I am completely wrong) are more likely to give out A’s in classes and have less rigorous classes. The rationale is that these students would all be intelligent enough to ace all of their classes anyway because they got into a place like Harvard. I have my own personal opinions about that, but there you go.

    I suppose that setting a “curve” a certain way could count as grade inflation as well. If everyone fails a difficult test and a professor sets the average grade at a B- instead of a C (which is considered “average” by most) so everyone does especially well without screwing other people over, that scenario could also fall into this category.

    (It seems like this all eventually gets normalized by the more difficult courses/majors though…the GPA at most colleges is around 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale). If you’re getting around or above that, well done you!)

  3. Annette McDonald

    My daughter had a high GPA, graduated valedictorian, and received a number of scholarships. We had a hard time convincing people that others had opportunities to receive many of those scholarships if they had bothered to apply. My daughter worked hard on her scholarship applications and that hard work paid off. It was not just the high GPA that made a difference, but her community service, extra-curricular activities, athletics, the initiative which she had taken for educational opportunities beyond her high school classes, her focus on an educational goal, and her hard work on the applications and essays themselves. In most cases, the scholarships did not look much at GPA as long as it was above 3.0 and being valedictorian was only a slight advantage. It is more important to be “well-rounded” than it is to have a high GPA and have done nothing other than study.

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