The High School GPA

Weighted, unweighted, academic – there are so many versions of this little number.  Some schools even calculate the GPA out to the thousandth place as if there were any material difference between a student with a 3.876 and a 3.877.  Some students even believe they don’t have a GPA simply because their school does not print it on the transcript (here’s a hint: if you get grades, you have a GPA, it’s just math). 

You’ve probably been led to believe that your high school GPA is one of the most important factors in the college admission process.  And it is – but only sort of.  It is, insomuch as your GPA is a neat calculation for all the grades you have received throughout high school.  But it really is just a shorthand for your overall transcript – and one that doesn’t do a very good job of distinguishing one student’s preparation from another. 

When we are reviewing a student’s transcript, we are focused on their overall academic preparation.  We do learn this from the grades on the transcript (which make up the GPA), but we learn at least as much from the courses you chose, how you progressed through high school, the subjects where you chose to challenge yourself, and what classes you have in progress even before you have earned any grades in them at all.  And we’re doing all of this while thinking about you in the context of your individual high school; we learn about different curricula, the baseline rigor that is offered at your school, and how students from your school have done when they have come to USC. 

Add to that all the other ways we learn about your academic preparation: your secondary school report, standardized testing (if you choose to submit any scores from various exams you have completed), letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors who talk about you in an academic setting, and through your own words as well. 

Which is all just to say that we are spending much more time looking at the courses and grades you have on your transcript and considering your overall academic preparation than we are thinking about the number that is calculated for the GPA.  So don’t worry about your GPA number – by the time you’re in the college application process any new grade you earn will only change your GPA by a small fraction.  Instead, spend time telling us about what excites you academically, how you have prepared for college, and why you think USC might be the right next step in your academic journey.  You have many opportunities throughout the Common App and USC Supplement to share your story with us and we are looking forward to getting to know you. 

Written by Becky Chassin, Assistant Dean of Admission