How Colleges Use Your GPA, SAT and ACT Scores

Test Prep & Grades
November 18, 2019
The College Application Process Can Be Confusing For Many Students...

There are so many moving parts that contribute to any given college’s requirements, and most of them aren’t explained well enough at the beginning of the process.

However, probably the most confusing part for students is what colleges do with test scores, whether that be their GPA or their SAT and ACT results. How can just a few numbers like these tell colleges if you should be admitted? Well, believe it or not, college admission officers have a specific process to help them see more than just the numbers.

If you’re wondering where your scores go and why they matter to the college admissions process, keep reading. It’s important that you know and understand how colleges use your scores for more than just admission purposes. As it turns out, those test scores mean much more than you think.


Why Your Test Scores Matter

As you’re filling out your college applications, you may be wondering why test scores matter in the first place. Admissions officers look at your entire application, right? Why aren’t your extracurriculars, accolades, and essays enough?

The reason why standardized test scores are so important is found in their root word: standard. Colleges have standards to uphold when they’re granting admission to new students, and as a result, they pay very close attention to test scores because they can tell them a lot about the student they’re considering for admission. In recent years, high test scores have become one of the primary requirements of competitive colleges, and extremely selective colleges look for students who graduated in the top percentile of their class.

Test scores reflect your ability in an academic setting. If your test scores are higher than average, college admission officers will see that you worked hard in class, studied properly, and were able to focus on test day. Tests are stressful, and if you can learn how to focus and provide good work in that environment, your scores will serve you well.

Scores like your GPA or your school report show college admission officers specifically how you performed in class. While the GPA seems like just another number on paper, it actually says a lot about your work ethic, ability to focus in high pressure situations, and if you’re ready for a rigorous academic environment.

How Colleges Judge Your GPA


One of the first things college admission officers will look for is your GPA, or grade point average. In high school, your counselor would calculate your GPA by averaging the points that correspond to the grades you received in your classes. Through some simple calculations, your GPA accurately sums up your overall performance.

Most high schools use an unweighted scale in which a total GPA of 4.0 represents straight A’s for all four years of high school. To get to this total number, counselors use a grade point scale where letter grades correspond to numbers.

On a weighted scale, the grade point scale goes up a whole point. So, instead of an “A” equalling “4.0”, it will equal “5.0”. Weighted scales are used primarily for schools that have a large population of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) or honors courses. Weighted scales often give high-achieving students greater GPAs that go beyond the perfect 4.0.

Regardless of what grade point scale your high school used, colleges will be looking at your unweighted GPA. If you have a GPA that was calculated on a weighted scale, more often than not, the college will re-calculate your scores in order to get an unweighted calculation.

However, if you’re applying for an honors program or a scholarship, your weighted GPA may be taken into consideration. Whether or not they used your weighted GPA or convert it using an unweighted scale depends on what kind of student they’re looking for.

Colleges will also cross-reference your GPA with your record. Most high-tier colleges will be looking for a consistently rigorous class schedule over all four years of your high school career as well as honors and AP courses. Having a record of a rigorous class schedule will show colleges that you’re not afraid to challenge yourself, and it will supplement your GPA nicely.


Colleges don’t all operate the same way, therefore, they don’t look at prospective students the same way either. Each college has its own mission, vision, and ultimately its own ideal student. Highly competitive colleges will be looking for students who took rigorous courses and excelled in their standardized tests and classes. In contrast, moderately competitive colleges may be a better option for students who don’t have time to raise their GPA.

Note: Brown is a unique college because it has the highest recorded GPA of incoming freshmen in the U.S., but it is also known as one of the most inclusive schools. They have been known to reject students with perfect scores and accept students who have GPA’s as low as 2.0. Brown does not release any GPA data to the public, and this calculation came from a chart of self-reported GPAs of all students who applied to Brown last year.

What this means is that, regardless of your GPA, there are multiple schools where you will be a perfect fit.

How Colleges Judge Your SAT And ACT Scores

Most colleges accept scores from both the SAT and ACT, and they usually have no preference for one over the other.

The SAT is a nationwide standardized test used to challenge a student’s academic ability. The ACT functions the same way, but it has a different grading system. Both standardized tests help colleges uphold their academic standards and look at one score per student as opposed to multiple.

Standardized test scores allow colleges to compare and contrast students quickly and efficiently. They also help high schools track improvement and make adjustments to parts of the curriculum that may be ineffective.

When a college receives your SAT or ACT scores, they’re thinking about more than just their admission decision. They use your test scores to predict how well you’ll do your first year, or whether or not you’re qualified for a certain honors program or scholarship. Colleges want to admit students who will succeed at their school, and standardized test scores are a vital tool for this purpose.


Your SAT and ACT scores will be kept on record and used by the college for data reports. Most colleges publish the average test scores of accepted applicants, and use this information to help inform future students.

Admissions officers will use your scores to determine whether or not you will be a good fit at the university and in their rigorous classes. They may even use your scores to determine eligibility for scholarships, honors programs, and course placements.

How To Improve Your GPA, SAT, And ACT Scores

Whether you’ve already started applying for colleges or you have some time before you begin, it’s never too late to consider re-taking your tests and improving your scores before its time to send them in to colleges.


If you want to raise your GPA, you’ll have to raise your grade as well. This often means turning in good work, seeking help from a tutor or guidance counselor, and doing exceptionally well on all projects, assignments, quizzes, and tests.

When it comes to raising your SAT and ACT scores, you should focus on extensively preparing, taking advantage of practice tests, and even signing up for an SAT prep course if time allows.

If you’re unsure whether or not your current standardized testing scores are acceptable for your college applications, do some research and see what the average score range was for students who got accepted into the college you’re interested in. The purpose of these tests is to provide a standard, so double-check your scores with others’ to see if you should retake the SAT or ACT.

If you find that your scores were lower than the national average, you should also consider that, just because a score is considered excellent for others, doesn’t mean that it’s excellent for you. At the end of the day,you have to consider what your scores were before you started studying. Also, consider what your involvement was with your school; maybe you were unable to take an SAT prep course, or you were too busy being president of your student body to dedicate the amount of time and effort it takes to achieve a higher than average score.


If you find yourself unable to achieve the test scores you think you need, many colleges understand that test scores can only reflect a small part of you. This is why many great colleges now offer a test-optional portion of their application. If you took the SAT or ACT more than once, yet they still didn’t reflect your true work ethic, you should consider applying to colleges that make providing test scores optional:

If you’ve run out of time to improve your test scores, consider applying to any one of many colleges that are now test-optional. Many colleges now believe that in order to see a student’s true potential, they need to look deeper than test scores. Instead, you’ll be expected to show them who you are through your application, essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities.

Where You'll Go From Here

When a college admissions officer receives an application, they have a big responsibility. They must look at test scores, read essays and letters of recommendation, and consider all the facts to find out if that particular student would excel at their college.

Test scores say a lot about a student. They can show colleges work ethic, consistency, and the ability to focus in stressful environments. Test scores also help colleges know whether you’re eligible for certain honors programs and scholarships, and they can often predict your future success.

As a result, these scores are very important, so if you still have time to raise your GPA or retake your standardized tests, it’s highly recommended that you do so. While those numbers don’t make up the whole picture of who you are, they show colleges that you worked hard and achieved your goals. Providing good scores will serve you well in the application process, so devote some time to it while you still can.

If you’re unsure about your GPA or standardized test scores, reach out to one of WeAdmit’s professional counselors. We understand both the importance of test scores and that sometimes they simply don’t accurately represent who you are. We’d love to show you how you can dedicate the time and effort to improve your scores, no matter what your situation is.

Your Scores Will Help You Get Accepted Into The College Of Your Dreams, So Let’s Get To Work!



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