What do you think matters more to top ranked schools: your GPA or Test Scores (SAT/ACT)??

Anyone have an opinion on the topic or a good article that you’ve read that discusses this?

Please don’t say BOTH - lol - if you had to pick one, which do you think gets “weighted” more in the decision?
Granted its a “holistic” decision making process and all - but of these two factors - does one carry more importance than the other??

If I had to pick, I’d say GPA. From what I’ve heard, since many high schools calculate GPAs differently (some have weighted, some have unweighted only, some have 4.0 or 5.0 systems, some are purely numerical like 95.xx/100), colleges will usually recalculate everyone’s GPA so there is more of an even comparison for the college’s sake.

Standardized test scores are important too, but I think GPA shows how you’ve performed in all of your classes, indicating a long-term work ethic, (usually grades don’t vary too much) whereas studying for the SAT/ACT is usually short-term in comparison to taking all your classes (unless you’ve prepared for those tests since middle school!) and a difference between 1520 and 1570 could just be luck!

Look pretty the DS for each school and you may find. Nevertheless, there is no simple answer. It depends on your actual GPA and score. Afterall, both are important, you like it or not.

As unsatisfying as it is, I agree with @billcsho. Not a simple answer, and I’m sure the particular college matters a lot.

I will say that a very high SAT or ACT score sure does seem to open doors for good-not-great students. The B+/A- kid who bangs out a 34 will probably have a lot of options. The A kid with a 26 ACT will also have lots of options, but maybe different options…

Of all the presentations I have been too…college counselors, college info sessions (at colleges and at high schools) every single one said GPA most important followed by test scores.

^Agreed. There are schools that state on their admission website that GPA is more important than test scores. Never the other way around. Yale for example says the following
“While there is no hard and fast rule, it is safe to say that performance in school is more important than testing. A very strong performance in a demanding college preparatory program may compensate for modest standardized test scores, but it is unlikely that high standardized test scores will persuade the admissions committee to disregard an undistinguished secondary-school record.”

OP you may want to read this document published by NACAC called the NACAC 2015 state of college admissions. Page 17 has the relevant info. Per that table grades in college prep courses is #1 with 92% of the ACs saying it is either of “considerable importance” or “moderate importance”.

Link to NACAC website is at : https://www.nacacnet.org/news–publications/publications/state-of-college-admission/

Click the Read the Report button to download the doc

Good luck!

Obviously, most schools consider the GPA to be more important as it is derived from 3-4 years of cumulative effort. A great test score may just be an outcome of a few months of hard work. Nevertheless, there is no way to generate a conversion chart, for instance, how much higher GPA or test score that may compensate each other. As the admission stat already shows the median of GPA and mid 50 of test score for each school, one may just use that data to gauge their own chance. The admission stat is basically the outcome of whatever weight the school use on GPA and test score.

Both. If either is not close to the maximum possible, your chances at the super-selective schools are greatly reduced (even compared to the small chance those with maximum or close to maximum possible GPA and test scores would have).

Schools keep it loosy goosy to pick and choose without justification. It is both but it is also extremely fluid because there are so many exceptions: a high GPA with okay test scores may read grade inflation or an extremely hard worker. Both are very different things. A very hard worker may manage a liberal arts curriculum but not necessarily a STEM curriculum. High test scores with a mediocre GPA may say smart but not so motivated OR it could mean the student is in an extremely rigorous school? Or that student may be heavily involved in a demanding EC. I believe that the value placed on the various components will change even within schools.

Every college I visited with my sons said “curricular rigor” was the foremost criterion, so that means GPA for academically-demanding classes. The most selective colleges are seeking applicants with near-perfect stats, plus compelling personal stories. The rest want to “juice” their Common Data Sets, and will therefore find ways to accommodate high scorers. It’s not unreasonable to presume that, if you’re interested in the handful of ultra-selective colleges, as with high-end luxury goods, “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.”

If you apply to a school with a 3.5 GPA and a 36 ACT, you might get in.

If you apply to the same school with a 4.0 GPA and a 30 ACT, you have a lesser chance of getting in.

Work ethic when you were 14 and 15 is not what should decide where you go to college. The SAT and ACT are standardized while GPA falls victim to grade inflation.Not to mention a bad teacher can kill you 4.0 pretty easily. Honestly, anybody can get at least a 3.9 GPA with enough hard work.

The truth however is that both are important. I would say that test scores should be more important and probably are more important but when it comes to top colleges both a bad GPA and bad tests will hurt you.

Colleges publicize the scores of their admitted students not their incoming GPAs.

@Center They do post the admission GPA in CDS.

Many top schools don not post --i.e “do not track”. Why? Because it would be ludicrous to equate GPAs out of contxt. They are simply not comparable. Thats why the SAT/ACT matters so much.

For practical purposes, if your GPA is not an unweighted 4.0 or very close to it in the most demanding course selection, your chances at a super-selective school are diminished compared to all of those applicants who have that (as well as top-end test scores).

Of course, top-end grades in the most demanding courses and top-end test scores are no guarantee. Some other top-end achievement or something else that makes you attractive to the college’s admissions readers typically needs to be present to differentiate yourself from numerous other top-end stat applicants.

@Center Yes, GPA is not in a universal scale even with 4.0 max. Nevertheless, schools do post the admission GPA information. Not sure what you mean by tracking. It is what it is. Data is published officially every year in the CBS and often posted on their websites.


This is an interesting article (it’s a few years old , but still relevant).

*“Generally speaking, the SAT is not very important,” said Marilyn McGrath, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard College. “It helps us calibrate a student’s grades.”

“We are fully aware that [standardized tests] are not a perfect measure,” McGrath said. “Some people perform very well on exams and others don’t and we understand that.”

McGrath said Harvard looks for a record of excellent performance over time, a requirement a standardized test can’t satisfy.

“You have to have done well in all of the things you put your mind to doing,” McGrath said. “The application should show a record over time of academic success. Without that, it doesn’t make sense to bring a student to Harvard.”

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University also called the SAT “not terribly important.” Duke’s admissions office uses the SAT and grades as one of three pieces in rating a student’s academic credentials, he said.

“We look at the academic credentials (the scores and the grades), what’s in the school profile (what courses the school offers) and what a student takes,” Guttentag said.

Duke then assesses whether the student’s overall academic credentials are competitive within the overall applicant pool.

After a student is deemed academically competitive, the two most important pieces of a student’s application at Duke are the letters of recommendation from the school and the extracurricular activities, Guttentag said.

“We’re looking for evidence of engagement and impact, whether it’s intellectual, social, in the community or in the classroom, those two qualities become very important,” he said.*

I remember reading somewhere that standardized test scores are more important than selective colleges typically admit, but they are less important than applicants think. This supports the idea that once a threshold is passed (which can differ from school to school), a higher score doesn’t really add much to the strength of a candidate’s application.

GPA and test scores only determine whether adcoms will look at your application.

Admissions comes down other things.

Neither. What matters most to top ranked schools is the transcript.