Over the past several years, more colleges have become standardized “test optional.” This trend has brought relief to countless high school students and their parents, as more people realize that focusing on that single snapshot of those three, anxiety-producing hours is not always an accurate reflection of how a student will succeed in college.
Some kids are excellent test-takers but some suffer from debilitating stress that causes them to freeze up and forget even simple math formulas. Some can afford extensive, private test prep classes and can re-take a standardized test four times, while many simply do it all on their own and perhaps watch a couple of online videos to prepare.
But what about the other factor with the white-hot spotlight on it in college admissions? Is a student’s grade point average a true indicator of their future success in higher education and beyond?
Focus on GPA is not always fair
As my own kids started to make their way through high school, and the all-encompassing pressure to get good grades really ramped up, I began to truly understand how subjective a GPA can be.
Here are just a few examples.
My daughter’s first high school math teacher was a young man beloved by his students. The kids thought he was super chill, and he really connected with them. For whatever reason however, all the midterm and final exams that his students took were written up by the Math Department Chairperson. Therefore, some of the concepts on these tests were never covered by my daughter’s teacher, and the students in her class were at an unfair disadvantage.
And what about the whole concept of extra credit? Some high school teachers are big fans of this, while others are not inclined to offer it. Several of my kids’ high school teachers would offer students extra credit for things like bringing in canned goods for a food drive, going to see a certain movie or play on their own dime, and for illustrating their notebooks neatly and artistically! Really.
And most importantly, there’s an element of human nature involved. Some teachers are extremely dedicated and hard-working. There are those who volunteer their weekend time to offer extra study sessions before finals and AP tests. Many do not. Then there are those who let personality conflicts affect their grading. Many do not. And some teachers bump up grades for a respectable work ethic or to get a parent off their back. Many do not.
Scenarios like these happen every day in high school classrooms all across our country. Drop the same student in different high schools in ten different cities and you will undoubtedly end up with seven different GPAs. Yet, when the students are applying to colleges, their grade point averages are judged against one another for the same admission spots.
Of course, it’s understandable that college admissions offices want to make things easy on themselves. They need quick data points for ranking applicants, and a high school GPA is one of the most convenient comparison numbers. They are fully aware that this number is not produced on an even playing field, yet GPA still weighs heavily in making that first decision as to which application goes into the Further Review file or which is sadly sent to the Reject bin.
Students and parents are laser focused on the almighty GPA, and this one little number can induce so much anxiety throughout both high school and college. Scholarships are won and lost over it, majors are changed many times because of it, and hopes of graduate and professional schools hang in the balance.
Mental health, one of the hottest topics surrounding college life these days, is closely interwoven into the GPA struggle for many of our students. No matter at what point on this numerical spectrum they are currently situated, they all seem to stress about it: How can I raise my GPA to avoid academic probation? What if my GPA falls below that magical threshold for a chance at that internship or job interview?
We parents know that our kids are so much more than their grades, but we all still must exist in a culture that elevates its magnitude. We need a thought revolution when it comes to GPA.
How about deliberately moving away from the current acronym in our heads that supports the Grades Produce Anxiety association with GPA?
Following are alternative definitions to GPAs
Good People Ascend. Let’s celebrate the kids who consistently lift others up and call out ignorant and hateful behavior when they see it happening at their schools. Think about the empathetic kids who may not ace a Calculus test but are friendly and respectful to everyone.
Great Persistence Award. Bravo to the kids who persevere and keep working at being a better version of themselves each day. These are the ones who will be successful adults, independent of whatever career they end up having. Tenacity is often undervalued.
Goofy, Playful Ability. Big shout out to the kids who can keep others laughing, and who can laugh at themselves. We need a whole lot more of that in our divisive and quick-to-anger world. Where would we all be without the humorous among us?
Gratitude Perspective Awareness. Some kids are gifted with this from a young age and are lucky enough for it to last throughout their lifetimes. They don’t sweat the small stuff and are often delighted with the smallest things. Cheers to students who are full of appreciation for what they have and choose to not focus on deficiencies.
Gradual Path Adventurer. Props to the educational late-bloomers. The reality is that a lot of kids are just never excited nor engaged by traditional schooling, or don’t become enthusiastic about learning until they are out of high school, or even college. The path to success is often a long and winding road, full of twists and U-turns and exits that head off into beautiful and exciting landscapes.
Graduation Pursuit Acceptance. Here’s the reality that is often difficult for kids in the grip of grade insanity to grasp – there will come a day that you forget what your GPA even was on the day you graduated from college. It will become an insignificant number that probably has very little to do with your contentment in life. The saying “C’s get degrees” gets thrown around a good deal for a reason. Graduation in and of itself is a worthy goal, that many people never even have the opportunity to experience.
So, while high-grade point averages are wonderful, so too are the kids who demonstrate and excel in kindness, emotional intelligence, grit, artistic skills, and humor.
Great People All.