Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Your GPA Probably Isn't Below Average

Are you worried about your GPA? Most students would say that they are and naturally so. It is an important indicator of potential college choices, and is also an important indicator of academic success and academic self-efficacy once a student ultimately gets to college.

According to Prep Scholar, the average GPA for an American high school student in core academic subjects is a 2.79 GPA.  I recently pulled up my high school transcripts and get ready to be blown away by my academic prowess:
  • My high school GPA was a 2.52 unweighted (as a junior) and when adding in the 4 semesters of AP coursework, my weighted GPA jumped to a 2.65.
  • My SAT (old version) was a whopping 1500, which translates to a 1090 SAT or a 21 ACT using current scales.
  •  I took no subject tests and ultimately took 3 AP tests, passing both the US Gov and US History AP tests with a 4, and scoring a strong 1 on the AP Bio test.
Using Prep Scholar again, I scored slightly above the average ACT test score (which is a 20.8 nationwide), however I did take a wide swath of AP classes, taking AP Bio, Gov, Spanish, and History. 

Here is a picture of my transcripts:

*One thing to note is that I did improve my GPA quite a bit during my senior year. Not that it mattered greatly, but I was trending positively when I entered college.

I ranked in the bottom third of my class for overall GPA at graduation, and only applied to three schools as a history/humanities major :
  • CSU Monterey Bay
  • Cal Poly SLO
  • Cuesta College
Ultimately, in many ways I was very lucky to be admitted at CSUMB, as I wasn’t an outstanding high school student. Primarily this was due to effort, if I am being completely honest.

But where the story takes a turn is when I went to college. I was able to graduate from CSUMB with a 3.8 GPA in Human Communication (with an emphasis in history), and went straight into a graduate program where I also graduated with a 3.8.

So how did that change happen?
  1. I stopped being lazy. Look, I know that some people work their behinds off and struggle in school. But, I wasn’t one of those people. I frankly just never did my homework after my first semester of high school. How I even got a 2.5 GPA shocks me sometimes.
  2. As such, I actually started to study. The problem was I had really no idea where to start and would basically perform a form of rote memorization, where I would read and re-read chapters until I knew vocabulary, formulas, theories, etc. inside and out. I don’t think this was a strong method for my quality of life, but I guess it worked!
  3. I stopped worrying about failure. In many ways, I had nowhere to go but up. I had seen what academic failure felt like it and wanted to do better. It needed to start with me if I was going to actually do well.
  4. I stopped being afraid of subjects. I used to hate math, and I still do, but I didn’t let that stop me from taking these classes and trying to learn the material. After rarely getting an A in math in high school, I passed stats both in undergraduate and graduate studies with As and can generally understand the material.
  5. I also stopped putting my energy towards doing as little as possible, and put it towards learning. Instead of thinking of how to do the bare minimum, I just did my homework the best I could all the time. It is surprisingly easier to do well when you aren’t trying to calculate how you can do the least amount of possible to pass. Seriously, it is a ton of work to scheme how to barely pass a class!
  6. I asked for help. Being willing to ask a professor for help made me learn the content better and let me get to know my professors. This applies just as much to a high school student, your teachers will ultimately be your recommenders.

I wanted to write this because I think that many times I see students comparing themselves to hypothetical students that are generally rarer than people often assume. Most students are getting sub 3.0 GPAs and not crushing standardized tests.
Now, I’m not saying to aim to low, you should always aim high. But realizing that past mistakes won’t necessarily hurt you is important to making changes that will help you succeed in the future.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard from teachers, counselors, etc. that I wasn’t going to be able to go to college. I always thought they were being rude to me or just trying to use me as an example in front of my peers. But in reality, they were right. I barely snuck into college and once I realized I could succeed if my put my energy towards that, versus blaming my teachers or the subjects for my shortcomings, I became more successful. 

I know that I am overlooking a portion of the student body that gives their all, but just won’t reach a certain GPA threshold or struggle with test-taking. I get that those students do exist and you may be one of them. I would say that I don’t think I’m the most intellectually gifted human being out there (hell, the writing on this site likely proves that theory). Effort got me through most of my academic studies, not shear brilliance. Using some of the above steps I outlined will likely still help you, and if not, support exists at your high school (and your future college) that will help you to succeed. Don’t let fear keep you from being successful.

But, I also write this as a cautionary tale. I barely met the requirements to apply to the CSU system, and would have zero chance at any decent private school or UC. My college options were extremely limited, but I made the best of a "bad" situation. If I were to do it over again, I'd be the Ryan that understood that I could succeed in most subjects, even if I wasn't naturally good at them. I'd also know that my own self-image controlled my success and that I was in control of where I wanted to go in my life. It might sound silly, but taking agency in your studies will make you that above average student you think that you aren't.

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