A new Chronicle data tool shows the average grade-point average that got students into each University of California campus by every high school — public and private — in California for the fall of 2022, the current freshman class.
At first glance, the numbers might look intimidating — for many high schools, admitted students on average had above a 4.0 GPA for many of the nine UC schools, with UCLA and UC Berkeley typically drawing the highest numbers.
So what do those numbers actually mean?
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The UC system has its own system for calculating GPAs to ensure they are weighted equally. UC-approved courses are divided into lettered categories from A to G, with each letter representing a subject like history, math, etc.
First, students must convert letter grades they received in each A-G course into points — 4 points for an A grade, 3 points for a B, and so on. There are no adjustments for pluses and minuses.
From there, students add an extra point for Advanced Placement classes, International Baccalaureate classes or UC-certified honors classes. UCs also count classes only from the beginning of sophomore year, including the preceding summer, through the summer after junior year.
The minimum GPA to be considered for undergraduate, first-year admission to a UC is a 3.0 for California students and a 3.4 for out-of-state students. Any applications with GPAs below those will not be considered.
In total, the UCs look at three GPAs — the weighted, capped GPA; the fully weighted GPA; and the unweighted GPA. The weighted, capped GPA, in an effort to account for differences in what schools offer, caps the number of extra points that can be added for honors or AP classes to eight. The information in The Chronicle’s data tool reflects the weighted, capped GPA.
But UC colleges can also see the fully weighted GPA, which does not limit extra points for advanced courses, as well as the unweighted GPA, which rewards no extra points for advanced courses. These numbers are all taken together as part of the UC’s holistic admissions process, UC officials said.
That holistic process includes a “comprehensive list of factors” that UC campuses use to determine admission. Other factors include how many UC approved and AP courses a student took relative to the opportunities they were offered; outstanding work in one subject, project or field of study; “recent, marked improvement” in academic achievement; special talents or skills; community service; life circumstances, and the location of a student’s school and residence.
Notably, that process no longer includes standardized test scores — the result of a 2019 lawsuit that argued including test scores disadvantaged low-income students of color and students with disabilities.
Han Mi Yoon-Wu, executive director of undergraduate admissions at the University of California Office of the President, couldn’t quantify how important GPA is as part of the admissions process, but she explained that it gives application readers “an initial view” of a student’s achievement in 10th and 11th grades. The readers are also able to look at an applicant’s GPA in relation to other students from the same high school, which helps account for variations in grading and offerings at different schools, she said.
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And the different UC campuses look at all of the information differently, including the capped and the fully weighted GPAs, depending on their individual admissions process.
“We do ask for a lot of information because we want to use it to the greatest degree that we can,” Yoon-Wu said, noting that the UC application is extensive.
That means that, while GPA matters, the number itself is only a slice of what colleges are looking at, explained Iris Berkley, a UCLA-certified college counselor based in Newport Beach.
UCs also look at the rigor of classes, she added — including those from freshman year and senior year, even though those grades are not counted in the GPA. So a hopeful math major who took AP calculus might look better than one who took AP statistics, even though both count the same in the GPA, because calculus is more rigorous and attuned to the math major.
While the drive to achieve the highest GPA possible with the hardest classes possible in an effort to get into the most competitive schools may mean some students take on more than they should, Berkley said she’s found that the students she works with have a good grasp of their mental health, and they try not to push themselves over the edge.
“I’ve seen a lot more students thinking, ‘That’s too much for me to take on. Even if it might improve my chances of getting in, I’m not going to do it,’ ” she said.
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And while application readers do look at what classes were offered at an applicant’s high school, Berkley said she recommends that students describe in the application any limitations they had for any reason, just in case — spell out if their school only offered three AP classes, but they took them all, or whether they had a scheduling conflict that prevented them from taking something they would have liked to.
At the end of the day, she said, looking at the average GPA for admitted students shouldn’t scare anyone off — or give them too much confidence. Many UCs admit students by academic department, she explained, so students trying to get in for engineering might need higher GPAs, while students trying to get in for art or theater might need stellar portfolios or auditions.
“It really tells such a small piece of the story,” she said.
Reach Danielle Echeverria: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @DanielleEchev
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