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Why your GPA isn’t as important as you think

Oct 3, 2018

When we talk to students about applying and gaining admission to top-tier colleges and universities, we talk a lot about grades. We want to make sure that students are committed to earning the best ones in the toughest classes. To that end, we stand behind the oft-repeated mantra in the world of college admissions: “what’s better, getting an A in a regular class or getting a B in an AP class? Getting an A in an AP class.” For better or for worse, grades are an extremely important part of any candidate’s profile. We cannot and do not want to in any way underemphasize this immovable fact.

At the same time, we at Command believe that your GPA isn’t as important as you think. Yes, you read that right. While qualified applicants should receive top grades, the world doesn’t begin and end with that one little number—contrary to what your guidance counselor may have told you. Here are a couple of our reasons:

1. Having good grades isn’t a “hook”

We have talked to a surprising number of students (and their parents!) who assume that they are uniquely attractive to elite schools because of their 4.0 GPA. These students also assume that having multiple 800s on SAT Subject Tests and a perfect score on the General Test makes them the best thing since sliced bread. As is frequently the case in life, context is everything here. While such scores may earn you widespread acclaim in your high school and an article in the local newspaper, they might capture the attention and interest of an admissions officer for all of 30 seconds. Grades, no matter how perfect, will never set a candidate apart from others at the top level–they’re nice but not nearly enough to secure a spot at Harvard.

2. There are other kinds of intelligence

Our biggest gripe with focusing too much on GPAs is the simple fact that this number cannot measure other personal attributes that have just as much—if not more—of an influence on student success. Emotional intelligence, which refers to the ability to recognize and respond to our own emotions as well as the emotions of others, has a tremendous impact on one’s academic and professional life in high school and beyond. If you have amazing grades but low emotional intelligence, it will be difficult for you to apply your intellect to practical settings and situations. And even if you manage to get into an Ivy League institution, it’s unlikely that you will take full advantage of the resources available. After all, part of the allure of a top school is the ability to establish and strengthen personal relationships with talented people from around the world. Your GPA can’t and won’t measure your capacity to do this.’

So if your GPA is not the tell-all crystal ball we sometimes assume it is, then what does that mean for college-bound students? You should worry about your grades, yes, but think of it this way–a 3.89 GPA will not preclude you from admission at a top university. Failing to foster positive relationships with your teachers or having a lackluster list of extracurriculars, however, will. Your move.