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The Review Process: Your GPA

In my last post, we talked about the high school transcript and specifically how we look at curriculum as we review applications. Now, let’s talk about performance – measured by a student’s grades achieved – and how we use your GPA in the review process.

First of all, we recalculate all GPAs here at PC, and compute each applicant’s grade point average on our own Providence College scale. Why do we do this? Simply put, each year we receive applications from thousands of different high schools, and it feels like there are thousands of different grading scales out there. We see everything, from 4.0 scales to 5.0 scales to 100-point scales to high schools that do not calculate GPAs at all. How to we compare all of these different applicants on different grading scales? Good question. That’s why we recalculate. When we reach our final “Committee on Admission” review process, where our entire counseling staff is gathered together to make final decisions on about 1,500-2,000 applications, it is helpful if we are able to consider these students on the same “playing field” (or grading scale), so all students have their GPAs converted to our PC scale.

Moving all applicants to our grading scale not only makes sense for that committee review process, but also helps us to get a true sense of how a student has performed in his or her academic courses. These include the subject areas of English, Math, Science, History/Social Science, Foreign Language, and Religion (for students who attend religiously-affiliated high schools). We also would count other courses that a student has taken at the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate level. For example, an AP Music Theory course or an IB Film Studies class would be included in the GPA recalculation.

However, since we are focused on the academic courses you have taken, there are also some courses that we will not count that your high school might include in your GPA. These can include such courses as Physical Education, Health, Driver’s Ed, Yearbook, Photography, Banking, Marketing, Chorus, Band and others that do not fall within the core academic subject areas. This way, the GPAs that we consider for all applicants include only the academic areas we are most interested in, and are not inflated by non-academic coursework.

What type of GPA are we looking for?

Well, the average last year for students accepted to PC was between a B+ and an A- (unweighted) in an Honors-level curriculum. That last phrase of the sentence about curriculum is incredibly important, because we never look at GPA on its own. Your GPA is always considered within the context of the course schedule that you have taken and achieved your grades in. I cannot stress enough the importance of curriculum in our review process (which is why I talked about curriculum in the last post before we even got to GPA!). We’ve found that the best predictor of academic success here at PC is the combination of the classes a student has taken during high school and the grades achieved in those courses.

One more note: While the average GPA is in that B+/A- range, that is not meant to be a cut-off. We are very aware of GPA progression (an upward trend from freshman to senior year) and digression (a downward trend in GPA), and a student who might not be at that B+/A- average but has had very strong sophomore, junior, and senior years after a weak freshman year can certainly be a competitive candidate for admission. On the flip side, a student who is at the average but has their GPA held up by a strong freshman year and has digressed since then will likely not be invited. The average GPA is just that… the average.

Of course, all of our applicants are more than just the courses they have taken and the grades they have received throughout high school. The subjective pieces of the application – activities, involvement, leadership, writing samples, recommendations – often play a critical role as the admission committee makes our decisions. We’ll consider these pieces in my next posting!

The Review Process: Your Curriculum

The review of your high school transcript starts with your curriculum. What courses have you chosen to take during your high school career?

Ideally, we are looking for four years of the five core academic subject areas: English, Math, Science, History/Social Science, and Foreign Language. We are also looking for students who have taken on a level of appropriate academic challenge during high school, taking advantage of advanced level (Honors, AP, IB, college-level) courses when available.

Remember, we are talking about “appropriate challenge,” which doesn’t mean that a student has to take every AP or Honors course that his or her high school offers to be a competitive candidate. For example, if you are not a strong math student, we certainly understand why you don’t have AP Calculus BC on your transcript. However, if you want to be a math major, we will want to see the most demanding schedule of math courses that you can take in your particular high school environment.

We will always consider the strength of your curriculum within the context of your high school. We certainly will not penalize you for not taking a course that your high school doesn’t offer. (There’s a triple negative for you in that sentence… but you get what I’m trying to say, right? If your high school doesn’t offer an AP Physics class, we obviously won’t expect AP Physics to be on your transcript!). Along with your transcript, your high school has sent us a profile, which helps us to understand your high school’s academic environment and the opportunities available to you to take advanced courses. Generally speaking, most students who are invited to PC have taken on an Honors-level curriculum over their high school careers, and have shown strong performance in those courses.

More to come on the academic review, as we’ll talk about how we consider your academic performance (your grades!) hand-in-hand with the curriculum that you have taken. In addition, we’ll move beyond the academic information and take an in-depth look at how we handle your extracurricular activities, leadership roles, essays, and recommendations during the review process. As always, stay tuned!

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