Friday, November 13, 2009

Grades, GPA, and Confusion


I have said it before and I will say it again, three letters cause more confusion in college admissions that any other; GPA. I have made it a point this year to try and stay away from the word GPA as much as possible (unless I am forced to talk about mid-ranges), and today brought this topic to mind again for me.

I work with a great team of people, and one group's focus during this time of year is to review and evaluate high school transcripts. At times, I pitch in and help a little bit, both to make sure everything is going well, but also so I can look at the transcripts for our freshman applicants and see if there are any new trends at the high schools. In looking at about 30 transcripts today, I noticed that a number of schools, from New York to Tennessee to Georgia, are starting to add weight to teachers grades. For example, if a student receives an 87 from his AP Lit. teacher for the Fall semester, some schools are now adding points to the 87 grade (generally somewhere from 2-10 points), so the teacher grade at school X that adds 7 points now becomes a 94.

While I am all for schools having a say about their own grading system, I am worried that this is being done to have an impact on college admissions offices, and that the high schools do not really understand how this might affect their students. From my years of seeing a wide variety of grading systems (letter grades, numerical grades, narrative grade reports, non-standard letter grades, etc.), I have noticed, at least at UGA, that this type of grade alteration is actually hurting some of the best students at these schools.

At UGA, we look at individual grades, and if a school does not add weight to the individual grades, we will then add .5 to each AP or IB grade (4 point scale used), so a B grade would go from a 3.0 to a 3.5. If a school does add weight to the individual grades, whether it is 2 points or 10 points, we will then not "double dip" and add any more weight, as this would not be equal. At this point, most people start to think that the individual school adding weight looks great, and want their own school to do this. And yes, for some students in some schools, this does add a little more weight than UGA's method. BUT WAIT!!

What about those student's at the very top, taking a large number of AP classes and making mostly A's? Sam took 5 classes last semester, 3 of which were AP's, and made a grade of 95 in all of them (and an A is a 90 or better at his school). The school then adds 7 points to each AP grade, so he now has two grades of 95 and three grades of 102. To UGA, we look at this and see 5 A's, so Sam has a 4.00 GPA, and do not add any weight because the school already did. But if Sam's school did not add any weight, we would then see five grades of 95, add a .5 for each of the AP grades, and his GPA to us would be a 4.30. This is just one semester, not three years of grades, but you see the point. When a high school tries to work the system, sometimes it does not really work out the way they want.

What can you do? Do your best, challenge yourself, know how both your high school and the colleges to which you apply evaluate grades, and trust that UGA and other colleges like us try our best to look at everyone on a level playing field.

46 comments:

  1. Hi. I get confused with the "weighted" word used in your newest BLOG. At my daughter's school "weighted" means weight added to GPA, not xtra points. An AP 89 would be a 4.0 on her report card, although an 89 would be a B in other classes. Would UGA take this AP 89, make it a B, 3.0, and then add .5 making it 3.5. Also, do you weight Governor School courses in this way as her school gives them GPA weight as if they were AP courses? Finally, is foreign language considered core? Thanks!

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  2. Ellen: Most high schools weight just the overall GPA, which does not impact UGA, as we look at the actual grades on the transcript, not the high school's calculated GPA. As such, if your daughter had an 89 in an AP class, she would have a 3.50 for that class.

    As for Gov. School courses, we would not weight them, as they are not AP or IB (nationally standardized programs), but we would take these classes into consideration in the review of your daughter's curriculum. Finally, for. languages are considered core by UGA, in addition to English, Math, Science and Soc. Studies classes.

    I hope this helps!

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  4. believe our school is trying to "help" us alittle too much. At our school if you have an 82 then you get 5 extra points added as weight for an AP course. New grade = 87 which is a B which is a 3. If the school adds weight then UGA won't.

    But, if UGA stripped away the weight and went with the original 82 which is also a B and also a 3 then the 0.5 that UGA adds for AP weight would work out better. Final score would be a 3.5.

    The only time the school weight is better is when it bumps a grade up to the next letter grade, thus increasing the GPA score by a full point.

    Can we ask for the school to submit an "unweighted" transcript? I'm torn.

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  5. Mom of a hopeful potential UGA studentNovember 14, 2009 at 8:17 AM

    Dear D. Graves,
    Wondering if you could give me a "heads up" on my child's profile...weighted 3.8, SAT 1190, taken 1 AP, taking 2 more AP this year, been in a lot of honors classes, excels in Art...she is a hard working and creative student, but she looks like she is not going to meet the criteria of UGA. She has heard wonderful things about the Art school there. Being a UGA grad, I know that she would love it and add a lot to the school. It seems to me that the academics have to be so high, and the Artistic/high achiever is just getting forgotten. Any thoughts?

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  6. I have a quick question. I am currently a sophomore in a math/science magnet school here in GA. While my grades good, I have been considering going back to the HS in my district for other reasons. My question is, would it look better to UGA admissions if I graduate from a magnet school? Does that carry any "weight" at all? That would affect my decision to "stick it out" if it does carry weight. Thank you.

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  7. Ursula: Unfortunately, the school can only release one transcript, and this will show whatever choice the school/disctric made in weighting options. This type of weighting does not make a huge difference, though, so I would not be that worried.

    Mom of Art student: It is correct that during Early Action, we are primarily looking at a student's overall academic profile. But in our holistic review period later on, we look at a wide range of things, with creativity and self-expression as one of those areas. I could not say how your daughter will look within this year's applicant pool, but know that we do look at the overall person.

    Alex: You have to make the choice that seems best for you, as only you know the reasons for a change. We will not look down on this choice, but you want to make sure you still challenge yourself and do well at your other school. We do not "weight" for magnet schools, but instead look at each school in light of what is available and how their graduates do at UGA, and how you as a student take advantage of the options available at the school you attend.

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  8. Mom of an Art studentNovember 15, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    Thank you so much for your email. Just another question, with my child's record that I stated before, she did apply for Early Action...is there a chance that she would get denied? or just deferred?

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  9. This is Ellen from earlier. Thanks for the confirmation. Was hoping admissions would be familiar with Gov. School as these courses are much more demanding for my daughter than her AP and standard courses:)

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  10. Art student Mom: As you can see from earlier posts, I do not give any "guesses" on admit, deny or defer decisions, as I do not know all the details of the student or the applicant pool. Sorry, but I have to stick with this rule.

    Ellen: You did not ask if I was familiar with Gov. Schools (I have actually visited a number of these, and we know them quite well from VA to SC and all over), but whether we weighted for those classes. We do not weight for these classes, but we do recognize the strength of these programs.

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  11. Do you have some sort of mid 50% stats for the students who were rejected last year? Do they overlap with the admitted stats because im interested to know if someone at basically the mid-50% level on GPA, SAT, and AP classes could potentially be denied?

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  12. Anonymous: While we put out mid 50% numbers, I do not have them available at this time, and I do not think this would really answer your question. The mid 50% range is just that, a range, and can not say specifically what will happen with a student, or what will happen this year. There will always be some overlap of individual student situations where a student may have some information within the mid-ranges (or higher) and be denied, or the reverse. I have seen students with a 4.00 be denied (with a weak curriculum and average other areas for instance), several students with 1500+ SATs but with poor grades, etc. I have also seen students where the whole application is greater than one lower academic area, so it really depends upon the whole applicant.

    And as I said previously, I do not guess about decisions ever. Sorry, but I hope this helps a little.

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  13. Hi, I noticed that my daughter's Early Action application online has just been updated with her recent ACT scores from Oct. However, I only see scores showing for English, Math, Writing and Composite. Does UGA consider the Reading and Science scores on the ACT test too? Thanks, Beth

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  14. Beth: For some parts of our review, we look at the English, Math and Writing, as these areas match up directly with the SAT subscores, but at times in the review, we also look at all of the subscores. The reason we list these four areas is first, because we only have a limited amount of space, and secondly,that this is the matching information for the SAT.

    The Status Check lets the applicant can see a snapshot of the main application information that we have, yet not so much data that we overload the page and things get lost within the mass of information.

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  15. My child applied EA and is now struggling with AP calculus. She is terrified to try to get into regular calculus but this AP class is just moving way to fast for her. If she moved into a regular calculus AND was excepted EA or even deferred would it be held against her in the end. She has 5 math credits including AP classes for math at present. This 2 hour a day class would be another 2 credits giving her a total of 7 math credits in high school. I would much prefer she transfer into a slower moving calculus class and come out of high school understanding rather than struggling so to just get by. Your thought??, Thanks, a worried mom and seriously stressed student :)

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  16. Anon: While I would not be the best person to make the decision on whether she should stay in the AP Calc. class (that would be between the family and the HS counselor), I will say that if she changes out of the class, she would want to notify us of the switch (this is only needed if a student is changing academic classes!). Every year, we have a small number of students who are having challenges in a specific course and switch out of it.

    As long as it is not a wholesale change of a majority of the student's senior schedule, it should be fine. The student needs to find the level that is best for them. We will look at a student's overall schedule in determining the rigor of their curriculum, and generally, one class change will not have a major shift in this review. As well, if she is admitted EA, this should not impact that decision.

    Tell her good luck with this!

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  17. Hi there!! I'm interested in enrolling as an International Transfer student to UGA. I'm pretty much going to deviate from the topic on grades for first I would like to know a brief description of how's life as a srudent in UGA? Thnak you..

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  18. Murugesh: While I am happy to talk about admissions, and we look forward to you applying to UGA, this is not the proper place to describe the life of a student, as I am not a UGA student at this time. I work in the Admissions office (and have done so for the last 12+ years), so I would not be the best resource to describe the life of a student.

    I expect we will have student blogs soon from which you can learn about this side of life at UGA.

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  19. David, another question about GPA calculation. My child attends a religious school where courses are required in Theology, Church History, Ethics, Apologetics, etc. Are these grades included in the recalculation of GPA? Thanks!

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  20. UGA Dad: If a course like this falls under the area of social studies, such as comparative religion, then it would count towards the GPA. Unfortunately, the courses you mentioned are specifically religion courses, not social studies, and thus will not fall under the core course areas that we use for calculating GPA.

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  21. Are GPA's rounded up? For example, currently I have a 3.657 GPA. Would it be rounded up to 3.7 when submitted for admission?

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  22. Anon: We calculate a GPA the hundredths, so a 3.657 would be a 3.66.

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  23. I got deferred from EA. How can I find out what GPA UGA has for me? In my high school, I have a 3.67 or a 3.87(weighted), but from your blog, I am thinking my GPA could be different in UGA terms.

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  24. Anon: The best thing to do is get a copy of your transcript, mark off the non-core classes, and calculate the GPA as stated in the post (see paragraph 4). This will help you get a good understanding of your grades as seen by UGA.

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  25. How are Rigor of the classes and GPAs matched up?
    For example I took total of 9 AP classes and I have 3.67 GPA. I heard that UGA did not look at rigor as much on the EA admission - I got deferred when I took 6 APs til my junior year, and I had GPA of 3.68. I know a lot of other students who took less (or even none) APs than I did but had higher GPA than mine for that reason. And those students got accepted.

    Could you please explain how rigor and GPAs are matched up?

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  26. Anon: The worst thing you can say to an admissions person is "I know a lot of other students who...". I am not going to hold this against you, but please understand that you do not know everything about other applicants, much less that they know everything about you.

    In both EA and RD, we take rigor seriously. Two things you need to understand, though, is that rigor is not defined as how many AP courses a student will take overall. We see rigor in the overall challenge of classes (Honors, Dual Enrollment, AP, IB, etc.), and the broad scope of the coursework. I have seen students this year who have taken 8-10 AP courses, but a huge majority are in 2 core areas, and they are not as strong in other core areas. While they have challenged themselves, they have not taken the most rigorous curriculum possible. There is no easy way to tell you how rigor and grades are matched up, only that they are both important.

    Second, from my rough review of our EA admission statistics, I would guess that less than 15 students (whose schools offered AP/IB courses) were admitted who did not take Dual Enrollment or AP/IB courses. Generally, these students then did very well in all academic areas, and challenged themselves in courses that were advanced.

    Third, I cannot say what your situation is and why you were deferred, but please remember that while EA decisions are based for the most part on academic areas (grades, rigor and test scores), occasionally another factor might come up. If a student has a conduct issue, D or F grades, or other negative issues, we may want to see more about the student before making a decision.

    I hope this helps in understanding the process, and I hope it did not sound too negative. Good luck with the deferral process, and show us what you are like both in the classroom and outside of it!

    Go Dawgs!

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  27. Anon: If you are still confused about your decision, I would suggest two things; first, make sure you get a copy of your transcript and calculate your GPA as UGA would, and second, if you are still confused, contact our office after the break (we will return on Jan. 5) and ask to speak with the primary counselor. They will be able to talk to you about your individual situation.

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  28. Thank you for the prompt, detailed answer!
    It helped a lot.

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  29. D. Graves,

    I have a question about determining my daughter's true GPA. Her report card says all A's so it would be easy to say she has a 4.0, but some of the A's are 91% with others are 98%. Do both of these count as A's or would one be an A- and counted as 3.7?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer mine and others questions.

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  30. Daniel: First, tell your daughter great job in her classwork! Second, when we calculate GPA's, we do not use +/-, so any A is an A (4.00). When we read files, we do notice trends of students who have +/-, but for GPA, no.

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  31. Mr. Graves,

    I have trouble understanding exactly how GPA works. So if I have a B in an AP class (3.0) then it would be weighted as a 3.5 correct? But the GPAs can only be a 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5 etc.? So there is no way for someone to have say a 3.7 GPA for one class?

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  32. Anon: Correct, a B in an AP class is a 3.50. No, a student can not have a 3.70 GPA on just one class, but as an overall GPA, there is a wide range of options.

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  33. D Graves,

    Thanks for the quick answers and I appreciate you answering them over the weekend. I told my daughter she is doing a great job.

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  34. Dear DGraves, Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the UGA admissions process. I've read and reread most of your blogs and would like just to confirm one piece of information regarding my daughter's GPA calculation. My daughter received a grade of 108 in her AP Psych class (I'm sure you already guessed that the school added 10 points to her grade). Am I correct in assuming that UGA would give this grade a 4? Thanks again for answering our sometimes repetive questions. Your blogs should be required reading for at least Georgia High School Counselors and Georgia High School Freshman.

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  35. Anon Parent: Yes, a grade of a 108 would be considered a 4.00 grade, as weight has already been added by the school to the classes they determine should receive "bonus" points. Thanks for the compliments!

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  36. You are welcome and thanks for the quick answer.

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  37. Hello Dr. Graves,
    I am a prospective student looking into the Honors Program. I have seen the Honors Program site and I see that it mentions the average SAT score for those accepted into the program. Is there any possibility that you may know the middle ACT scores for The Honors Program?
    Thank you.

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  38. Anon: The mid-range ACT for Honors last year was 31-33, and more stats can be found at http://www.admissions.uga.edu/article/first_year_class_profile.html

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  39. How many applicants do you think on average do not know their true GPA?

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  40. Anon: I could not even begin to guess, but I hope that our new section of the application (self-reported grade form) will help people get a better picture of their GPA as UGA sees it.

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  41. Do you add any points (like how you added .5 for an AP class) for an Honors class? And let's say I got a B+ in a college prep class, would I have a 3.5 or a regular 3.0. Same thing for an honors class. In other words, do you look at B+ grades and would you consider an 86 or an 87 a B+?

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  42. Anon: No, we do not add any weight to an Honors course, as they are not nationally standardized. During our file reading, we do look at the transcript in seeing if grades are high or low grades (80 vs 89 B grades), but for GPA purposes, a B is a B. A's are 4.0, B's 3.0, etc.

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  43. I have a 4.03 (weighted), 4.0 unweighted GPA, since i made all A's, will you still look at individual grades? Also, I am particularly strong in chemistry. I had a 98 in chemistry and a 94 in AP chemistry. I also plan to major in chemisty. Will you look at those individual grades and take into consideration that those grades have a connection with my choice of major?

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  44. Anon: If I am understanding your question correctly, we look at specific grades and the scope of the grades (high A, low B, etc.) during the detailed file reading process. When calculating a GPA, we look at each academic grade, but not if it is a high A or low B, just if it is an A, B, C, etc.

    We generally do not look at the major when making a decision, as a freshman applicant can change a major from day to day. We do notice though, when a student has done a number of activities or programs focused on their intended major (i.e. Spanish major and they have spent the summer in Spain).

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  45. Okay I am still a little fuzzy on the whole GPA calculation business. My school adds 10 points for an AP class so my GPA on my transcript is a 4.00; however, in one of those classes I made a B w/o the 10 points but in all the others I made A's w/o the 10. To calculate my GPA weighted would the natural B class count as a 3.5 and the natural A classes count as a 4.5? Please help.

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  46. Hannah: In my description of if we add weight, I did not say if the class had weight added, but if your school added weight to any teacher grades. Since your high school adds weight to the grades, UGA does not add any weight. As well, we do not care what the GPA is on your transcript, as that has no bearing on what we calculate your GPA as. So for you, use the core course grades on your transcript, with every A being a 4.0, every B being a 3.0, etc., divide by the number of total grades, and that is your GPA.

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