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Articles / Applying to College / Are All High School Grades Created Equal in College Admissions?

Aug. 15, 2018

Are All High School Grades Created Equal in College Admissions?

Are All High School Grades Created Equal in College Admissions?
Elizabeth French

Let's face it — not every student gets the top grade in every academic subject. Everyone knows that colleges consider your GPA for college admissions, but have you ever wondered if certain grades count more than others? And what if your not-so-hot grades are in classes that are unrelated to your intended college major? Do those grades carry less weight to college admissions officers?

The answer is — it depends.


You're Usually Applying to the School -- Not the Major

In most cases, high school coursework related to a future college major does not carry more or less weight in college admissions — it's the cumulative GPA that colleges assess. This is because in the majority of cases, you are not seeking admission to a particular major at a college, but admission to the institution itself where you will likely declare a major your sophomore or junior year.

At institutions that have a liberal arts focus, intended major coursework “won't carry much weight at all," said Jamiere Abney, senior assistant dean of admissions at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.

“In our curriculum, students will spend part of their first two years exploring and being introduced to the foundation of the well-rounded education we offer here at Colgate — students aren't applying to a specific school or program and aren't required to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year," explains Abney.

At Some Colleges, Major-Specific Grades Do Carry Weight

However, if you plan to study a very specific university program that looks more closely at high school coursework to gain admission to that particular major, your grades in preparatory high school courses may hold weight in securing admission to that particular major in college. In this case, you are not just attempting to gain admission to the institution itself, but also acceptance to a particular academic program.

“At some institutions where a student is applying into a specific major or concentration, the courses that they've completed that relate to their intended field of study will likely carry more weight than others," Abney said. "For example, this makes sense for a student who plans to be an engineering and/or creative writing major."

If you suspect that your target college might put more weight on the grades from classes related to your major, contact the admissions office and ask what their policy is.

Written by

Elena Loveland

Elena Loveland

Elena Loveland has been a writer and editor covering higher education and college admissions for 18 years and is the author of Creative Colleges: Finding the Best Programs for Aspiring Artists, Designers, Dancers, Musicians, Writers, and More. Creative Colleges has earned recognition in the College Bound Teen, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Gate and U.S. News and World Report's Annual College Guide. Loveland has spoken at the Independent Educational Consultants Association and the University of the Arts, as well as several high schools about college admission for creative students. She has worked for the National Association for College Admission Counseling as editor of the Journal of College Admission and for NAFSA: Association of International Educators as editor-in-chief of International Educator magazine. As an independent journalist, Loveland.s work has appeared in numerous publications such as American Careers, Dance Teacher, Hispanic Outlook on Higher Education, International Educator, Pointe, Teen Vogue, University Business and the U.S. News & World Report's Annual College Guide, among several others. She has a master's degree in English and has been an adjunct instructor at three higher education institutions. Loveland provides private college admissions consulting to families upon request. She lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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