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Articles / Admissions / Do Colleges Compare Private School GPA's With Public School GPA's?

April 27, 2020

Do Colleges Compare Private School GPA's With Public School GPA's?

Question: I am a senior who attends a very rigorous New England independent school with a 3.3 UW GPA. Do college admissions equate this GPA or weight it compared to our local public high school or other high schools around the country? I am interested in elite schools but comparatively my GPA is low. My board scores are more reflective of my ability. 34 ACT 710 CR, 800 Math. How will this be viewed? Thank you

Colleges evaluate candidates in the context of their school community. Your grades will not be compared head-to-head with those of students at the public high school across town … or at ANY school across the country. And given that you attend “a very rigorous New England independent school," I'd bet my mortgage money that you won't be the first from this school to apply to the “elite" colleges you seek. So, if your school uses Naviance, you can look at the Naviance data to see how many students from your school have been admitted to–or denied by–your target colleges in recent years, along with their test scores and Grade Point Averages.


Of course, Naviance numbers won't tell you if the admitted students were recruited athletes, under-represented minorities, or legacies … or if they had any other 'hooks" that you don't have. Naviance also won't tell you if the high-stats senior who was rejected by your favorite college last spring was actually on probation for pilfering physics quizzes out of the teacher's file cabinet. 😉

Thus, you should make a stop at your guidance counselor's office because he or she is in the best position to assess your admission chances at your top-choice colleges. The counselor will not only know where your GPA lands in the school hierarchy but can also assess your entire “profile" (extracurricular endeavors, rigor of curriculum, family background, etc.) to see how it stacks up against past elite-college aspirants from your school.

If your GPA is NOT considered first-rate at your private school, then your test scores probably won't be enough to get you good news at the most sought-after colleges and universities unless there are hooks or extenuating circumstances. But you certainly should view this GPA in relation to the grades earned by your own classmates and not worry about what's on applicant transcripts elsewhere.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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