Bad GPA, Good Test Scores

Bad GPA, Good Test Scores

By Tasha

Here's a question many of your SparkNotes editors faced: will not-great grades and high test scores make colleges throw up all over my application?

I was wondering which will affect my college acceptance more, my GPA or my test scores. I have a rather low GPA but I always score really well on tests and I am planning on studying extensively for both the ACT and the SAT. I was wondering if I have a chance of being accepted with a so-so GPA and really good test scores. Thanks.

This answer may frustrate you: it depends.

Each school places different emphasis on grades and test scores. In your college search, you're probably seeing some schools that don’t even require standardized test scores. Other schools care about scores a great deal.

A low GPA could prohibit you from attending an Ivy League school, but many highly competitive public universities or liberal arts colleges will be willing to overlook your iffy grades, on the theory that high test scores are a great indicator of how well you'll perform as an undergrad. Without knowing your college preferences, it's hard to advise you one way or the other. But one thing is for sure: it's important to make the other parts of your application as strong as possible. Make sure your extracurricular involvement and letters of recommendation are on point. The admissions committee will look at the non-GPA attributes you bring to the table, just as they would if someone had a high GPA but low test scores.

If you're wondering how you measure up to applicants at a certain school, look on that school's website, where you'll find numbers for the newest freshman class. Most schools keep track of the average GPAs, ACT scores, and SAT scores of each class, along with the number of class presidents, class valedictorians, and so on.

It sounds like you're a junior. If so, don't give up on your GPA yet! Colleges love to see that you've worked hard to improve your performance. If you've been getting C's as a freshman and sophomore, and you start getting B's and A's as a junior and senior, admissions committees will conclude that you've learned from your mistakes, kept trying, and become a better student. So keep those grades up in addition to studying for the SAT and ACT!

Best wishes,


Topics: SAT, grades, act, college admissions, test scores

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