Do UGA and other colleges weight GPA more than test scores? Should they?

Do grades matter more than test scores now in college admissions? (AJC File)

I’ve been skeptical of the claim by colleges they care more about grades than test scores, but the University of Georgia may turn me into a believer.

UGA says its main criteria are the rigor of the courses and the grades. I’ve talked to several kids admitted early action into UGA last month on the strength of their GPAs, which were all 4.0 or better, rather than their test scores.

How do I know their GPAs outpaced their test scores? Because these teens are taking the SAT or ACT again in an effort to raise their scores enough to qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship, which covers full tuition. To earn Zell, a Georgia student has to have at least a 3.7 GPA in core courses and earn a minimum combined score of 1200 on the math and reading portions of the SAT or a minimum composite score of 26 on the ACT. The catch — they have to do it in single sitting; they cannot mix and match the best scores from several sittings, known as super scoring, as they could for admissions.

A 1200 SAT or a 26 ACT far exceeds the statewide average, but it is below what’s typically required at highly selective schools. For example, the mid-range for this year’s freshmen class at Georgia Tech was 30 to 34 on the ACT and 1330 to 1490 on the SAT.

To further build the case about UGA putting more faith in GPA, consider these recent Reddit and College Confidential comments from high school seniors disappointed not to be admitted early action despite strong test scores. They were deferred into the regular admission pool and will find out in the spring if they are admitted:

•I applied early action and was deferred so I’m wondering what my chances are of getting in now.  Here are my stats: SAT- 1360 (710 English & 650 Math), GPA is 3.65. By the end of the year, I will have taken 8 AP courses.

•I have a 3.7 GPA and a 1290 SAT with Dual Enrollment. Multiple extracurriculars and leadership in them.

•With this first half of senior grades in, I’ll end up with around a 3.65 core GPA and will have taken 8 APs. And a 32 on the ACT.

•I was deferred with a 3.79 GPA and 31 ACT.

In talking to readers about this issue, several maintained UGA shouldn’t trust GPA since grade inflation is rampant in Georgia. And some of the folks were teachers.

What’s surprising about the grade inflation argument is that it doesn’t hold up when you look at the research on student performance in college. A major 2014 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found no difference in the academic performance of students at colleges that don’t mandate SAT scores and those at schools that do require test scores. The study also showed high school grades predict student success. High school graduates with strong high school grades and low tests scores end up earning strong grades in college as well.

What do you think?

Reader Comments 0


The recession of 2007-2008 was a perfect case study. Tons of kids had to transfer from High School  A to High School B for financial reasons; I saw dozens of kids go from having to work til 1am to muster a 3.6 to having a 4.2 with a vibrant social life at the new, less rigorous school. 

UGA listed their middle 50% GPA for this year's early action admits as 4.00-4.26, meaning 75% of early admits had above a 4.0 (you can get higher than a 4.0 because AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes are given an extra 1 entire point unless schools already weight it themselves). 

Though test scores are just one imperfect variable in a symphony of imperfect variables, wide variation in high school's philosophies on  doling out AP classes is actually what makes GPA wildly inconsistent and suspect.   When many schools have rules that cap the number of  AP classes at "none freshman year, 1 soph, 3 junior,  3 senior," and other schools grant 12-14 to anyone whose parent calls the counseling office enough, the GPA inflation achieved at the latter school (a whole 1.0 point added to the grade in each AP class) makes it impossible for the student at the former to catch up. If someone takes 12 AP classes out of their 48 classes, and the non-core classes get thrown out (e.g. gym, band), you could see someone with a "4.0" who only had 2/3 A's and 1/3 B's (a 3.66 in reality). Or that same kid achieve a "3.65" with only 1/3 A's, etc.  

Grade inflation does parents a disservice, because they assume all is going just fine because junior has a 4.1, but then takes the ACT cold and gets a 17.25. Happens daily. 

On the other hand, the percentiles on the standardized tests do not change.  A 30 is a top 6% score today, just as it was in 2010, 2007, etc. It's a zero-sum game where inflation is not possible.  

MaureenDowney moderator

FYI: This is from Bob Schaeffer of Fair Test: 

Having trouble logging on to comment, but wanted your readers to know about the most definitive, independent study of the grades vs test scores question:

P.S.  Because of the strong correlations between test scores, family income and race, requiring such a high score ACT/SAT cut-off for the Zell Miller Scholarships guarantees that the bulk of funds will go to families who least need financial aid -- upper-middle class whites as opposed to talented low-income students from all ethnic groups, particularly first-generation and minority applicants

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
contributor: SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions


"Such a high score"?  I'd argue that 1200 (math and verbal) is the bare minimum you need to do legitimately college-level work.  The cut-off for a full academic scholarship should be at least 1400. 


"What’s surprising about the grade inflation argument is that it doesn’t hold up when you look at the research on student performance in college."

What is even more surprising is that you don't see the weakness of this assertion. AS IF grade inflation isn't occurring at the college level. 

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum


It is as if the ACT and the SAT has more merit as a measure of

college success as long as an increased number of high school

students are not progressing.

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

Grade inflation should not be the biggest concern, but

testing deflation should be a concern. As student test

preparation yields better scores , test questions and

the difficulty of the test also increases. It is as if the

ACT and the SAT has more merit as a measure of

college success as long as an increased number of

high school are not progressing beyond a certain

statistical point (Bell Curve). When students increase

their preparation (Honors Classes, AP Classes, College

Dual Enrollment, Tutoring/Cram Schools etc.) and

SAT and ACT scores increase, many people in the 

public complain that the test has been watered down

in its rigor which often leads to an adjustment in the test.

If the grade point average and the types of classes taken

do not have a dominant weight in university decisions,

some students would not focus on the challenging

curriculum, but would strictly focus on test preparation

and only in math and English. 


Standards in grading differ widely. Move an "A" student from DeKalb to a good high school with high standards and the student will likely get significantly lower grades and suffer from inferior preparation in elementary and middle school.