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What's the Average High School GPA?

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Aug 7, 2015 4:19:23 PM

Coursework/GPA

 

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Is your GPA above average? How do you compare to all the other high school students in the country? In this article I’ll give you an overview of the national averages for high school GPA so that you can see where you stand. I’ll also tell you what these averages might mean for you and how to understand them better in the context of the college application process.

 

What’s the Average High School GPA Nationally?

There is some data available on average high school GPAs in the US, although it’s from 2009, so it’s a bit out of date. Still, average GPA didn’t change significantly from 2003 to 2009, so it’s pretty safe to assume that these statistics remain relevant if you're looking for averages from 2014, 2015, or 2016.

 

High School GPA Averages

  • Overall GPA average: 3.0
  • Average in core academic courses (math, science, english, and social studies): 2.79
  • Average in other academic courses (foreign language and other academic courses not in the core curriculum): 3.14
  • Average in other courses (physical education, cooking, health): 3.39

The overall average GPA nationally is a 3.0, but this may be deceptive. The average in core subject areas is actually a bit lower. The average GPA is brought up to a 3.0 by the higher grades that students receive in courses that are not part of the core curriculum. The core curriculum in the data that I looked at was considered to be math, science, English, and social studies courses. The average GPAs for these different types of courses were the following:

  • Math: 2.65
  • Science: 2.70
  • English: 2.85
  • Social studies: 2.89

This shows that students tend to have lower average GPAs in math and science courses compared to english and social studies courses.

 

More Data: Average High School GPAs by Gender and Ethnicity

I also found some interesting (and a bit upsetting) statistics on how average high school GPA differs with regards to the genders and ethnicities of different students. 

Average GPA By Gender:

  • Males: 2.9
  • Females: 3.1

Average GPA By Ethnicity:

  • Asian/Pacific Islander: 3.26
  • White: 3.09
  • Hispanic: 2.84
  • Black: 2.69

Female students tend to have higher GPAs on average than male students, and Asian students have the highest average GPAs, while Black students have the lowest. This observed disparity between the average GPAs of different ethnic groups is caused by many intersecting socioeconomic factors. Family income, high school quality, and other stressors that may impact academics are all a part of the picture.

Overall, there has been an upward trend over time with regards to average high school GPA. This is related to the phenomenon of grade inflation, where students seem to be earning artificially higher grades for the same quality of work. From 2000 to 2009, average GPA for high school students increased from a 2.94 to a 3.0. As an even more drastic comparison, in 1990 the average GPA was only a 2.68!

 

Why Does High School Grade Inflation Happen?

Teachers are under pressure from administrators, parents, and students to give out higher grades. If students look like they’re doing poorly, it reflects badly on the school. Once some schools start giving higher grades, other schools have to follow suit to avoid looking bad in comparison and jeopardizing their students’ chances at college admission. 

It’s a cycle that’s tough to control because everyone likes to feel like they’re doing well, but it has some negative consequences. It forces increasing reliance on standardized tests as measures of academic ability. It also harms top students who are unable to stand out from the crowd when a whole group of kids at their high school has the same perfect GPA.

 

body_inflationThe motto of our educational system?

 

What’s the Average GPA at Your High School?

These statistics can only tell you so much if you don't consider the average GPA at your high school and the way it‘s calculated. First, you need to know if your high school reports GPAs on a weighted or unweighted scale. Weighted GPAs can be higher than a 4.0, and they take the difficulty of a student’s coursework into account. Usually the most "difficult coursework" is represented by AP, IB, or Honors classes. If your school uses weighted GPAs, the national average won’t necessarily compare directly to the number you see on your transcript.

For example, at my high school, which used a weighted scale, GPAs went up to a 5.0. If a student earned an A+ in an AP or Honors course, that would translate into a 5.0. By contrast, an A+ in a low-level course would be a 4.0. This wonky scale meant that the average weighted GPA was a 3.36, so a 3.0 would have been lower than average in the context of my school's GPA scale.

Even if your school doesn't have weighted GPAs, the difficulty level of your classes is an important factor. If you have a GPA that’s not super impressive but you’re in the hardest classes, you will have a better chance of being accepted at selective schools than someone with a slightly higher numerical GPA in lower level classes.

 

What’s the Average GPA for College Admission?

The most important average you should take into account is the average GPA of admitted students for colleges that interest you.To find the average GPA for any college, just Google "college name" + "admission requirements" + "PrepScholar". We have a database set up that will give you the average GPA requirements for admission to any college. Don’t freak out if you’re a little below the average you see on the page. This should serve as a reference point rather than a hard rule. As discussed in the previous section, every high school has different ways of measuring and calculating GPA, so these comparisons have somewhat limited usefulness. 

What’s most important is that you’re challenging yourself in your classes. Especially if you’re applying to very selective schools, the average GPA nationally and for your school doesn’t give you the best sense of where you should be. At the most competitive schools, the majority of accepted students have GPAs in the 3.75-4.0 range, meaning these schools almost exclusively accept A average students. 

On the flip side, even with a GPA that is lower than the national average, you may have a good chance of being accepted to some less selective schools whose average GPAs are around the 2.5 range. You just have to do your research so you know what to expect.

Colleges receive a lot of specific details about your high school along with your transcript, so if there are special circumstances that result in your GPA skewing higher or lower, they will be able to adjust their standards accordingly.

 

body_ivorytowersThe ivory tower where admissions officers are imprisoned day and night as they're forced to review endless college applications.

 

Conclusion

The average high school GPA nationally is around a 3.0, but the numbers vary across different demographics and high schools. You should take into account how your high school calculates your GPA before comparing yourself to the national average. The most important average to consider with respect to your high school GPA is the average GPA for admitted students at schools that interest you. Just remember that these numbers should also be taken with a grain of salt because they might reflect a different GPA scale than the one used at your high school.

Remember that the difficulty of your coursework is usually more important to colleges than the actual number they see for your GPA. Whether you’re considered above average or below average depends mostly on how much you’re willing to challenge yourself.

 

What's Next?

Now that you know about average GPA, you might be curious about average SAT scores. This article will give you the scoop.

Beginning your college search? Read my guide on how to choose the best college for you.

If you're set on attending a very selective school, you should check out this article on how to get into Harvard and the Ivy League. 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.



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