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Articles / Admissions / How Do Colleges View Good Test Scores but Not-So-Good GPA?

April 28, 2020

How Do Colleges View Good Test Scores but Not-So-Good GPA?

Question: Do colleges look for improvement? Can a high ACT/SAT Score help me during admissions if my GPA is low? I went from a 2.4 uw GPA and a 2.6 w GPA freshman year to a 2.85 uw GPA and 3.4 w GPA midway Junior year.

Yes and yes ... with qualifications.


High test scores can sometimes help compensate for a low GPA ... but commonly not at the most sought-after colleges. So “The Dean" should really be saying “It depends" rather than a flat-out “Sure." Some admission officials, eager to boost their institution's median test statistics, will accept a student who has scored well on standardized tests, even if his or her GPA is sub-par. But many colleges—especially those that turn away more candidates than they accept and where the median test scores are already high—are NOT impressed by big test numbers unless good grades go with them. In fact, having high test scores and a so-so GPA can often hurt an applicant because admission officials may feel that the student is slacking.

What will actually work in your favor the most is your ever-improving GPA. If your record continues to rise through next fall—the first semester of your senior year--the college folks will focus on your more recent grades and not those you earned as a freshman or sophomore. So when seeking colleges that will be realistic options for you, you can certainly consider places where the average admitted-student GPA is in line with your junior and senior GPA and not with your grades in 9 and 10, especially if your test scores are at or above the norm.

So keep up the good work. Although strong SAT or ACT results are always a plus, admission officials do look most closely at the transcript and not at the tests.

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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