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Your GPA Matters

When reviewing applications, one of the first things colleges look for is a student’s grade-point average (GPA).  In some schools, this is calculated on a 4.0 scale.  In courses in which you receive an A – F, the value of each letter grade is roughly as follows:

A (93-100) = 4.0
A– (90-92) = 3.7
B+ (88-89) = 3.3
B (83-87) = 3.0
B– (80-82) = 2.7
C+ (78-79) = 2.3
C (73-77) = 2.0
C– (70-72) = 1.7
D+ (68-69) = 1.3
D (65-67) = 1.0
F (65 and below) = 0

To calculate your GPA, give yourself the correct number of points for each grade you’ve received (4.0 for an A, 3.7 for a B, etc.) and then divide by the total number of credits you’ve taken that term. The result is your GPA on a 4.0 scale. If your school calculates your average out of 100 points instead of giving letter grades, just match your cumulative average to the correct number on the 4.0 scale.“It’s always better to take the most challenging course load possible, even if it means your GPA might be lower.”

When a Higher Number Isn’t Necessarily Better

Generally, colleges would like your GPA to be as high as possible—with one exception. It is always better to take the most challenging course load possible, even if it means your average might be slightly lowered due to the difficult work involved in an honors or Advanced Placement class. These courses not only prepare you for college studies by exposing you to a deeper level of knowledge, they also show the admissions officers that you’re willing to put in extra effort and take on a challenge.

Extracurricular Activities

Your time outside of school hours is equally important as the time you spend in class. Participate in extracurricular activities! Taking part in activities outside of your classes gives colleges a more well-rounded view of the person that you are: your interests, your concerns and your passions.  Moreover, strength in extra-curricular activities can help to make up for so-so grades.

Think of some activities that might be interesting and fun. You could take lessons in a playing an instrument, join a sports team (intramurals, junior varsity or varsity), participate in a musical activity such as choir or a school pep band, be in a school or community play or get involve in a debate team, student council, school spirit squad, a religious youth group, a scout troop or any other clubs offered by your school or community. If you’re looking for in-school activities, but need some ideas, visit your school’s COSA (Chair of Student Activities) or stop by the Student Activities Office. Outside of your school, you might check out postings on the bulletin board in your local community center.

Don’t spread yourself too thin by joining every club at once—pick a few activities you truly enjoy, and stick to them for as many years as possible until graduation. Take leadership roles in these groups, when possible; colleges love to see this level of commitment. Note that colleges sometimes reject a student with a great GPA but no extracurricular activities—that’s how important it is to get involved!

Community Service

Among your extracurricular activities, be sure to include some aspect of service or volunteer work. Many high schools require of a certain number of volunteer hours for graduation. Find a program or project you believe in (for instance, tutoring needy kids in the community, serving meals at a soup kitchen or helping out at a shelter) and commit to participating a few hours a week. If you’re looking for ideas, or you have a particular issue about which you’re passionate, but aren’t sure how to get involved, check out