What College Admissions Officers Look For: Transcript, Academic Averages, Class Rank, Types of Courses Taken

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

What is My Academic Average and Class Rank?

Your academic average or GPA is one of the most important criteria that colleges consider when reviewing your application. Although the format varies widely from high school to high school, the high school you attend sends a transcript of your work in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades. Colleges review your application and make decisions based on three-year’s worth of academic classes. Some high schools run on a semester schedule, others use trimesters and still others use block schedules. Block scheduling is a type of course programming where classes do not meet every day. Classes meet for longer periods a few times a week so students can focus more intently on these subjects.

There are high schools that use weighted averages and some that use unweighted averages. For schools using weighted averages, challenging courses such as Honors, Advanced Placement, College level, or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses receive extra weight. It is possible for students to attain more than a 100 average or a 4.0 GPA. There are students who graduate with averages of 120 or more on a 100-point scale or a 5.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. In schools where unweighted averages are used, each class counts equally. Students can graduate with no more than a 100 average on a 100-point scale or no more than a 4.0 on a 4.0 scale. There are also high schools which submit both weighted and unweighted averages. Due to the varying methods used in calculating GPAs, some colleges unweight a weighted average, and some schools recalculate your GPA in order to equalize all applicants and to compare one high school to another high school.

You may be wondering how colleges know what grading policy your high school uses, and, as you can imagine, it can be very confusing at times. High schools typically send a “High School Profile,” which explains the grading policy of your school and other information about your graduating class, including standardized test scores, how many students are in your class, how many attend four-year colleges, whether or not your school ranks students, and what types of courses your school offers.

Then there is the issue of class rank. More and more high schools are moving away from ranking students, so check with your high school to find out your school’s policy. Although it sounds good in theory, class rank can actually hurt students. For example, in a very small graduating class of 50 students, the top 10 percent (the highest performing students in the school) of the class only includes five students. If you are ranked as the tenth student in the class, you can still have a very high average. If you are in a large graduating class of 500 students and you are ranked number 200, you could still be a 90+ student. It would appear that you are not doing well when in fact you have a very admirable average. Class rank can work to a student’s disadvantage, which is why some high schools are moving away from using it. Instead of using class rank, which could be misleading, some high schools indicate percentiles (top 10%, 20%, and so forth) to give colleges an idea of where you are in the graduating class. Other high schools do not use any type of ranking system or class percentiles. Colleges usually ask for the highest average in the class, so they can get a sense of where you are in comparison. Your high school’s policy about class rank is its to set, but you should be aware of the policy.

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