A Low GPA Score? Here’s What To Do About It

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Not achieving the GPA we had hoped for can be stressful, to say the least. But, a low GPA doesn’t have to be the end of your education journey! If you scored a low GPA at school, here’s what you can do about it…

What is a GPA? And how is it calculated?

GPA stands for a ‘grade point average’. It is an average score from all your courses that indicates how well you scored in your courses on average, and thus whether your overall grades have been high or low. Its typically calculated on a scale up to 4.0, with a 4.0 representing “straight A’s”, 3.0 representing a “B” average, 2.0 representing a “C” average, and so on. In some cases certain schools may provide bonus points for honors or AP-level classes (more common in high schools) and typically when those are factored in its referred to as a “weighted GPA” (versus the traditional “unweighted”).

Whether your GPA is considered to be high or low is relative. Highly selective colleges, such as Harvard or Yale for example, consider a GPA of 3.5 to be towards the lower end. Whereas other colleges, that are comparatively less competitive or selective might view that as a higher GPA. There is typically a line at 2.0 which is required for passing grades and/or for eligibility in extracurriculars.

GPA and College Admission

The average GPA of high school students in the US is right around 3.0. Its a bit higher for females than males, and a bit higher for non-academic courses than for the core academics. GPA is also skewed higher in more affluent areas, and in general has been raising over time (see: grade inflation).

Sure, a GPA does play a role in helping you get into college and is, therefore, important but it’s not everything. Granted, if you have a GPA under 3.0, you might want to knock any ideas of Harvard of Yale on the head (the average applicant GPA to these schools is 3.75 to 4.0). But it doesn’t mean you should rule out going to college all together.

The rest of this article will focus on GPA in the college admissions process – since it is a key factor in this arena.  That said,  college is indeed only one path of many towards career preparation.  But most trade schools, apprenticeships and non-degree training institutions will not give much weight to GPA and as such its less of a hindrance in those instances.

I like the saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. You can bring many valuable assets to a college and career training programs, you just need to figure out how to present these in ways which these institutions will appreciate.

If college is your desired path, then check out these six ways in which you can blow colleges away… even with a low GPA!

1. Explain external circumstances that may have effected GPA

The first thing to do is to consider why your GPA was low. Once you’ve figured this out, explain it to each college. For example, did you have troubles at home? Are you the oldest child from a low income family, and as a result you had to care for your younger sibling whilst your parents worked? Have you experienced physical or mental illness throughout school?  Or, are their financial factors (e.g., limited internet access, limited access to resources such as books or did you have to have a weekend job in order to earn money), that may have impacted your ability to focus on studying?

Highlighting that there were external factors, out of your control, that inhibited your performance at school demonstrates that your low GPA is not because you are lazy, unmotivated or unwilling.

Top tip: you can ask your teachers, who were aware of what you had to deal with, to explain this in a letter to colleges too. This will help your application stand out.

2. Focus on what you’ve learned

When it comes to applying for college, there is no point acting as though you didn’t have a low GPA. It’s written on paper, you cannot avoid it.

However, what you can do is to talk about what you have learned. If you had any of the external circumstances that I just spoke about above, highlight what skills and values they have taught you that aren’t necessarily academic. For example, having a weekend job taught you organization and teamwork. Looking after your siblings taught you the value of family. Or, coming from a poorer background has made you value working hard and caring for those around you.

3. Highlight how you plan to change

Leading on from the last two questions, highlight what you intend to change. Demonstrating a will to change will convince colleges that you intend to perform your very best. Holding your hands up to say “yeah sure, school didn’t go too well for me. But here’s why, here’s what I’ve learned and this is what I know I need to do different in order to be better” is brave and shows self-reflection and development. As I mentioned in my post on logotherapy, we have to look for the meaning in things. You might have been dealt some poor deals in life, but the meaning is to teach you things and to learn how to become better.

In this section, mention things such as improving your time management skills, effective studying techniques you’ve learnt, learning how to say no to doing favors for others. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter too much what you say, as long as its honest and shows that you are willing to change, adapt and grow.

4. Talk about your strengths

As hard as it is for many of us to believe at the time: just because your GPA is low, it doesn’t mean you’re not an amazing person!

You will have strengths in plenty of other areas. For example, you might be really good at running, work well under pressure, excel at public speaking, be an inspiring leader or have excellent attention to detail. Not all of our talents are obvious at the surface, so make sure you highlight the hidden ones.

 5. Ask your teachers to right strong recommendations for you

Most colleges will ask you for teacher recommendations, which are a crucial part of all college applications. When finding the right person to do this, pick your teachers wisely. Think about who you get on with on a more personal level? Whose class did you excel most in? Who do you find more engaging? Or, do you know any teachers from outside class who can write you a more personable recommendation letter?

6. Boost your extracurriculars

By having more extracurricular activities, you have more to talk about that just your academic work, which is a great way to direct attention away from a low GPA! It also shows that you’re a dedicated, interesting and passionate person.

Another top tip: having lots of extracurriculars can be a really good way to explain your low GPA. If you’re always playing hockey or on the football pitch, of course you’re going to run out of time to do your school work!

Wrapping up and comments on trying to improve your GPA

I hope you have found these 6 top tips useful, and that anyone who is worried about the GPA has found some comfort in them.

Of course, the most obvious way to increase your chances of getting into college is to try to improve your GPA score.

If you’re still in high school, there’s a lot you can do that will raise your GP and make you a likely candidate to a top college. You could consider getting additional help, such as from a tutor. Or, attending classes after school that help you study and improve your skills.

Indeed, the higher up the years you go the harder this does get. It is still relatively easy as a freshman or sophomore to improve your GPA. You still have lots of time to dedicate to studying and achieving high grades. Even if you are in the second half of school, you can still manage to pull through with a little help from tutors or guidance counsellors.

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