A high school GPA is a cumulative grade point average for a student's full high school career. Usually, when a student applies to college, she does so during either the fall of junior year or the spring of senior year, depending upon the date when applications are due at certain schools. Therefore, the final GPA will not be shown yet, as coursework remains to be completed before graduation. Yet schools use this average to measure a student's track record, seriousness about education and capability as a college level scholar.
Setting a Minimum
A GPA is used to set a threshold in college admissions. It would take committees months to go through every single applicant's transcripts, essays and resumes, but colleges can very quickly weed out the applicants who do not make the minimum GPA requirements for admission. Hours can be saved by first sorting applications by GPA and then looking over the full application details. Some schools have a core requirement that includes either a minimum GPA or a minimum SAT or ACT score. The University of Louisiana Lafayette, for example, requires incoming freshmen to have either a minimum GPA of 2.5 on a 4-point scale, or one of either an ACT score of 26 or a combined math and reading SAT score of 1050. If the GPA doesn't make the cut, the test scores can compensate or vice versa. But if neither the scores nor GPA make the cut, students should understand that applying is likely to be fruitless.
A GPA doesn't tell an admissions committee everything, but it does indicate some measure of how hard a student has worked during high school. For example, a GPA above 3.5 shows that a student has held consistently strong grades in most of her classes. Likewise, a very low GPA, such as one below a 2.5, shows that a student has consistently done poorly in courses. Other components of the application will tell the rest of the story. The transcript will show the individual course grades and can demonstrate whether a slip in grades was temporary or a trend in the student's record.
GPAs also tell a school whether to put a student in the pool for a scholarship. For example, in some states that have a lottery, a scholarship will be available for any high school student who holds a certain grade point average. In Florida, for a 2013 graduate to qualify for the Florida Academic Scholars award, a student must have at least a 3.5 GPA upon graduation and must apply for the scholarship.
Because high school curricula and grading systems vary, Peterson's suggests that students use the general rule of a B average to measure their eligibility to attend a college. Most schools post a 3.0 minimum GPA for entrance as a freshman, but that's not always a hard-and-fast rule. Petersons suggests that colleges will typically evaluate students with a B-, B, A- or A average out of the thousands of applications they receive. So, if a student holds a 3.2 but took many AP classes in high school, she shouldn't worry that she'll be measured unfairly against a student with a 4.0 who only took regular classes. Once the GPA is used to weed out applicants, committees will look closely at the types of classes taken, individual grades and other components of the application.