Ask an Expert: How important is your SAT score and GPA?

July 23, 2014

We’re starting a weekly Wednesday column where experts will answers questions submitted by users like you! We’ll be featuring Joie Jager-Hyman, of College Prep 360, amongst others. As former Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth, Joie has some great insight for applicants!

Q: When reviewing an application, do admissions officers immediately toss out applications if they simply do not meet certain criteria? (SAT Score, GPA, etc.)? If so, which one plays the biggest role?

A: Unless you are applying to college as a recruited athlete, your academic record will be the most important part of your application. Different colleges have different criteria for evaluating academics. Most schools look at a combination of high school course rigor and grades as well as standardized test scores like the SAT or ACT. And, yes, admissions officers will toss applications with academics that do not meet their admissions criteria. However, it is not as simple as just looking at numbers like GPA or SAT scores.

A GPA means nothing to an admissions officer without an understanding of the grading policies and course rigor at your high school. Because of this, every high school produces something called a high school profile, which they attach to the transcripts they send to colleges. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your high school profile. It includes information on things like:

  • High school course offerings (How many APs/honors courses are offered? How many students take them? Are there limits on how many honors courses a student can take? Do students need to be granted permission to enroll in honors courses?)
  • Grading policies (What is the grading scale? Are grades weighted or unweighted?)
  • Grade distribution (How many students get As? How many get Bs? What is the distribution of grades in the class?)
  • Standardized tests (How many students take AP or SAT Subject Tests? What are the average results on these tests? What are the average SAT or ACT scores for students in the class?)
  • How many students in this school go on to two- and four-year colleges?

A high school profile helps admissions officers interpret grades and understand whether or not you took challenging college-prep courses as compared with other students in your class. At most highly selective schools, admissions officers will want students who are performing at the top of their class both in terms of the grades they get and the courses they take. And they will toss otherwise strong applications if the academic quality is weak.

For schools that require standardized test scores, you can find average ranges of scores for admitted students on the College Board or Department of Education College Navigator websites. Yes, some colleges do toss applications with test scores that fall well below their range.

If your high school subscribes to Naviance, take some time to play around and see average GPAs and SAT scores from students in the past who have been admitted from your high school to a particular college. This is a great guide to see whether or not your numbers are in range for the colleges on your list.

Have a question you’d like answered for next week? Submit it HERE on our Contact Us page with the heading “Ask An Expert” in the message box! Read our blog discussing how to choose between the SAT and ACT as well as our Admit Advice on how to prep for the exams from a Brown studenta UNC student, and a current junior.

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MIT ‘20


Accepted to MIT, Princeton, Duke, Stanford, UGA, GA Tech, UNC

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UNC ‘18


Accepted to Yale, UPenn, Davidson, UNC, UMich, Emory, Northwestern, Wake Forest, UVA, UKentucky, William & Mary, Miami OH, Vanderbilt

Passionate about education from the great state of Kentucky.
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UCLA Class of 2020. Orange County native.
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