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The GPA Debate – What is the value?

October 25, 2018

CompassWinners.2018I had an interesting conversation with a Saline parent the other day. This conversation was with a parent that has several children in the District, each of whom is very successful, in both academic and extracurricular endeavors. This conversation was similar to ones that I have had many times over the years, but it reminded me about the dilemma that many parents face (or perceive) regarding what is best for their offspring.

The conversation goes something like this,  “I want my child to take a challenging course load. However, I am concerned that if they don’t earn an “A,” it will impact their chances of getting into an elite university.”  This motivation is clearly fear-based, stemming from the potential disappointment of not gaining acceptance to a highly selective college.

When guiding students, are parents opting for the “easier” route in pursuit of the higher grade point average, or are students being advised to pursue a more rigorous course load regardless of the grade? There is no right answer, just as there is no “right” college for every student. Ultimately, students should be taught to take a course load that challenges and motivates them to learn, regardless of the final grade. However, this is not an option for many families. Family values are also a factor. Seeking and securing admission to a coveted university weighs heavily and is too often a deciding factor in course selection. If attending an elite, highly selective university is the family’s expectation, grades are important.

The admissions process at many selective colleges and universities involves a review of the applicant’s grade point average, test scores, community service, and extracurricular involvement, as well as the rigor of the student’s high school coursework. In a highly competitive academic environment, a student’s grade point average is important. However, does that number truly define who that student is? High school is a time for students to explore a wide variety of classes and to discover a passion for learning. Thus, students should be encouraged to try difficult courses without fearing the possible adverse outcome of a grade that is less than perfect.

I will say over the ten years I have been superintendent, and having handed out over 5,000 Saline diplomas, that I can point to only a few students whom I feel did not get into their chosen school based solely on a GPA concern. Having said that, in the long run, it is far more important that the student enrolls in a college or university and finishes the degree program. It is unfortunate that student interest and willingness to pursue a challenging course of study is muted by having to “play the game” related to the college admissions process.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Michael Rogers permalink
    October 25, 2018 1:17 pm

    I like this article. I think it is very well written. I agree that every kid is different and different kids need different approaches. Truly elite universities want you to take full advantage of everything your school has to offer and excel at whatever you do. However, this does not mean that you must take Calculus BC for example get get into Harvard. Take challenging classes that interest you and are consistent with your chosen field of study. With all of that said, schools do have to make decisions and do use some statistical measures. One measure appears to be top 10% class rank but as the article suggests, Universities are savvy and they evaluate the entire candidate regardless of GPA. Just know that spots in elite Universities are limited and there are many qualified candidates out there and not all of them will earn a spot….it’s just plain (AP) Statistics.

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