In recent years, new research has supported the notion that a student’s GPA is a much better predictor of a student’s success in college than standardized tests, which include the SAT and ACT.
According to this research, “High school GPAs were found to be five times stronger than ACT scores at predicting graduation rates, and that the effect of GPAs was consistent across schools, unlike ACT scores.”
Of course, the first thing that may come to mind is GPA inflation and GPA variance across high schools. However, the studies take this into consideration; plus, colleges are familiar with high schools. Colleges know what type of courses that each high school offers, including the wide range of honors and AP classes. In short, colleges compare students to their high school peers.
“The researchers suggest that the number of factors playing a role in GPA scores helps make them a robust indicator of future success. These factors include effort across a whole semester in different types of classroom, demonstrating a variety of academic skills and adapting to the expectations of different teachers.”
Realistically, your GPA might not represent the same experience of a student with the same GPA at another high school. However, because colleges compare you to other students from your high school, colleges can still use GPA to predict your success (plus, they have the historical data to support their views).
“Researchers at the University of Chicago compared the relationship between GPAs and SAT scores with college graduation rates, and found the former had a much stronger correlation than the latter.”
Therefore, in a seemingly counterintuitive way, standardized tests offer less information to colleges, not to mention the ongoing debates about the ability to score higher on these tests through financial advantages such as affording tutoring and prep boot camps.
“Student[s] with a GPA under 1.5 had a 20% chance of graduating college, up to 80% for those with a GPA of 3.75 or higher, once student background and college characteristics were taken into account.”
In addition, for students applying to private schools that accept letters of recommendation, the research suggests that teachers are better judges than standardized tests as well.
“The findings suggest that effort put into coursework is more effective than preparing for standardized tests, said Kallie Clark, co-author of the study and a doctoral student at the University of Chicago.”
In conclusion, the recommendation of taking as many challenging courses as manageable and cultivating a positive relationship with teachers and faculty still stands strong. Students with lower standardized test scores but with high GPAs and strong letters of recommendation will be more successful, which translates directly into higher acceptance rates: colleges routinely remind us that they are looking at student profiles holistically – we need to believe them.