#114 Decoding GPA: Insights for College Admissions with Jess Chermak Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 00:36

One of the most pivotal factors in college admissions always comes back to the GPA, but with varying calculation methods across high schools, is like comparing apples to oranges. So how do colleges assess and interpret these numbers? And how does that affect your team’s chances of admissions? Today, we’re joined by Justin cermaq, an independent educational consultant with a deep understanding of the intricacies behind GPA calculations, and their significance in the admissions process. Together will unravel the complexities of weighted versus unweighted GPAs. And while the focus should often be on the latter, just will shed light on the challenges of recent grade inflation and how it affects the reliability of GPAs as college readiness indicators, providing your family with clearer guidance on navigating admission successfully, you won’t want to miss our college bound task of the week at the end, which will make you understand your teens GPA in a whole new way. So you have a realistic expectation regarding their admissions. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation.

Lisa Marker Robbins 01:59

Jess, welcome to the show.

Jessica Chermak 02:01

Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:04

I was excited to have you on because you and I are in a group of other professionals of independent Educational Consultants. And I always see you adding such valuable insights and information. And you’re so well thought out. And I’m like, this is someone who serves the families that she is working with really well. And we need to have our listeners get Jess gems out into the world. So to help them it’s true, it’s true. So just take take the compliment. So today, we really want to unpack GPA, because as you know, and I know how we look at this, how colleges look at it is very different from the families, our listeners sitting at home, where they constantly if I ask a family, what’s your kids GPA? They always give me the total cumulative GPA that is weighted.

Jessica Chermak 03:13

The higher the number, the better it sounds. That is That is like the that’s how they approach it.

Lisa Marker Robbins 03:21

It really feels good, right? I mean, we all as humans like to feel good. And so yeah, they just deviate to that. And we know that, you know, that’s not necessarily how colleges look at it. Yeah,

Jessica Chermak 03:34

well, and also the, you know, on the common app, you have a choice of entering your weighted or unweighted. So when the question is, which one do I put? How can the answer not be the higher number? Right?

Lisa Marker Robbins 03:45

Well, and that’s okay, so that’s a really good, let’s start there. So, listeners, if your child has not yet applied to college, over 1000 schools are using the common app. And when they go to apply, when they report when they self report that GPA, it does give you the option of weighted or unweighted. So let’s start there. Like let’s kind of start with that. And right there, and then we’re going to back up and then back into the admissions office again. So what do you how do you advise your clients on that?

Jessica Chermak 04:19

I think it really depends on the student and the context. So there are some schools that don’t actually give an unweighted GPA, some only give weighted and vice versa. Some only give an unweighted GPA. I think, for us, it really is a conversation about how their school functions if we have the ability to we’ll pull their school profile.

Lisa Marker Robbins 04:40

And in this case, we’re talking about high school, the high school profile high school transcript has Yep, exactly

Jessica Chermak 04:46

like what it explains. For those who don’t know, it explains what the school offers. It also explains kind of the breakdown of where students at the school fall for the GPA and what you know Their weighting system, any nuances in their education system at the school so that students can be read in context. And if we can pull that awesome, sometimes we can’t, though. And we work with students around the globe, and there are so many different GPA scales and weighting system. So some schools only give, you know, a point three boost for an AP class, while others are giving a full point. So you can get like a 5.0 instead of a 4.3. And then you end up in the situation where students are taking free periods and taking, for example, my high school, we did four classes at a time. So we did the whole year and a semester, long, single blocks, block schedule, but not the typical block. And the interesting piece there is if you were in four classes, and three were AP and one wasn’t, the highest GPA you could get was around a 4.7 4.8. But if you took a free period and only had the three AP classes, you could get a 5.0. So taking more classes actually hurts your GPA. And the reason why I’m bringing it up is because we really do have to have these conversations with students to help them understand how Arbeter arbitrary, the like weighted GPA might be.

Lisa Marker Robbins 06:16

It just doesn’t mean a lot. It really does like a smoke and mirrors. And it prevents this. I’m sitting here in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I could go once I could go the school district that I live in one school district to the east one to the west, all three have a different way of calculating this. And so there’s you don’t have an apples to apples comparison, right.

Jessica Chermak 06:41

And even when weighting systems aren’t comparable in most cases, but neither are GPA scales, we have students who are on a seven point scale, a 12 point scale, 100 point scale, we have schools that don’t do pluses and minuses. Or that like an A minus as in the 80s were like the entire GPA scale is actually on a curve. There’s zero consistency across the country, and certainly the globe, we have schools, I actually we partner with a couple of high schools, and one of them uses a mastery transcript. So this school currently is still giving letter grades. So the students do have a, you know, more typical traditional transcript too. But the mastery transcript is interesting. And a lot of schools are moving towards it.

Lisa Marker Robbins 07:25

So what I want the listeners to first of all hear before we, you know, peel this onion a little bit more is what your child’s GPA is, really can’t be compared to anybody in any different district. There’s a lot of I always say there’s a lot of noise in the transcript and in the GPA in the GPA, there’s a lot of noise. And so at the college level, then the the team that’s sitting in the admissions office, that’s really a sticky situation to be in, but they do figure out at each college, how they’re going to navigate that. So like how then is a college? How are they even using the GPA? When it’s so noisy? And there’s no apples to apples? I

Jessica Chermak 08:17

think most colleges are recalculating the GPA. They’re they’re taking what they see on the transcripts. And they’re attributing their own weighting system or, you know, they’re just pulling the classes that they want to use, which generally are those core classes, right? The Science, Math history. thing or language English? Yeah. And then, of course, in California, that’s a whole different beast, where they’re only using grades from 10th and 11th. But classes from nine and potentially eighth for certain subjects. And that’s the only the public schools in California are kind of the only schools that will incorporate Visual and Performing Arts. And there’s a million classes that are required to graduate from California high school that are not included in that GPA recalculation.

Lisa Marker Robbins 09:06

So everybody hear that? It doesn’t matter really what I mean, it doesn’t matter what’s on the transcript as far as what classes you’ve taken, and the grades that you’ve earned, but that GPA that that feel good GPA of, oh, my kid has a 4.4 or I have a four or 5.0. It that part is meaningless. So they’re gonna recalculate it and your team might apply to 10 schools, and every school is going to take a different approach to how they’re going to look at it. Exactly.

Jessica Chermak 09:40

And I’ll throw this out there. I am not convinced that every admission officer or every admission office recalculates GPA the same for every student. And that seven

Lisa Marker Robbins 09:53

within the same college within the app that a little bit more. Yeah. So

Jessica Chermak 09:57

for example, we have As professionals know that there are certain high schools that have really strong relationships with, let’s just say the highly selective universities and right, there are certain schools that send dozens a year to the Harvard and Yale’s right. And I know students, I’ve worked with these students who have much lower GPAs, they’ve got those 3.4 is getting into Harvard, because there are institutions, high school institutions that are well known to be highly academic, where a 3.4 is really impressive. And it should be right like that, that should not be somehow an air quotes, mediocre GPA, but when you’re on these parent forums, about paying for college, or just like talking about college things, parents are like, Please don’t make any comments about my kids really bad GPA, and it’s like a 3.8. You’re like, Oh, my goodness, how can you say that?

Lisa Marker Robbins 10:55

Because it’s like, right, it’s, it should be a great GPA.

Jessica Chermak 11:00

It really should. But I do believe that for the schools, the high schools that have really strong relationships with institutions, and in general, I think we really are just talking about the selective ones, where there has to be some way to differentiate between all the incredible applicants. I really, I don’t work in those admission offices, but I have a very strong feeling that there is some differences in how they interpret those GPAs. Even when they’re recalculating it,

Lisa Marker Robbins 11:31

I agree, I actually had somebody who was a director of admissions on the podcast, and they have since switched institutions. So with that person, we were actually talking about that it actually it wasn’t about this particular topic, but test optional came up. And this admissions officer, and this is from a state flagship. That’s not they admit most of the students who apply, but they have some programs where they’re admitting under 10% of the applicants, right. So then is those programs in computer science was one of them computer science business in psychology. And they made the point that, okay, we could fill many freshmen classes. And so we’re admitting fewer than 10%. But the university as a whole was admitting around 50%. And he made the comment, he said, you know, there, if it’s a high school, where we don’t have a lot of applicants from, we really need test scores, because I don’t know how valuable that a or that B is how hard or easy it is to get that grade. But if we’re flooded with applicants from a high school, I know a B, their means and maybe a B, their means an ace somewhere else. And I don’t need test scores, but they were really we were talking in this instance, about test scores. But that relationship about if we know the rigor of your high school, then that’s gonna give us a lot of information on how valuable that A is. Yeah, and this wasn’t I just want to say like, I think you’re right, that’s probably more common on these highly selective or highly rejected schools. But this was just a state flagship that in general, admits 50% of the students.

Jessica Chermak 13:27

Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a good point. And I would not be surprised if that is a pretty universal thought across the institutions that are taking students test optional.

Lisa Marker Robbins 13:38

So if a family is listening in, they’re like, holy smokes, what does this mean about my kids GPA, then? And I agree with you, I think colleges have their own way of doing it. But let’s talk about in a general sense, if a family wanted to kind of say, Okay, we’re going to look at my child’s GPA, and recalculate it ourselves, and a way that a college would be likely to do so. And we both know, there’s lots of nuances. How would you advise a family to do that?

Jessica Chermak 14:15

So great question, I think so. There are some institutions that actually lay it out very clearly on their website, how they recalculate their GPA, and some even have a GPA calculator that you can use. So I’ll throw it out there. I believe Arizona State and University of Arizona do both of those. What I would recommend, and this might only apply to some people, because it’s easier. Essentially, there will break this down. There are schools that don’t give letter grades, there are schools on different GPA scales, for the sake of like ease, I guess, let’s talk about a 4.0 scale that has A through F. And do we want to add in the pluses and minuses B because that changes the weights that you would use to recalculate. Right?

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:04

I’m gonna let you decide. And by the way, I’m gonna, after we’re done recording, I’m going to jump over and if, if Arizona State University of Arizona have that on their website, I will put those recalc information into our show notes. So families can just go to the show notes, click Go over there, because that would be a really good tutorial for them. And I’ll also link to the very complicated way that the University of California system does GPA. Oh, no. Well, we’ll put all of those in the show notes. But okay, so I’m gonna let you decide if we’re doing pluses and minuses. Okay, so

Jessica Chermak 15:41

I’m gonna say no, my high school didn’t. And I’m on this side of things. As a professional, I am pretty convinced that that was a very conscientious choice for ease of recalculating GPAs. Yeah, I went to high school in Southern California. So it kind of makes sense. So let’s pretend there are no pluses and minuses and an A is between 90 and 100%. In the classroom, A B is 80 to 89.9, or whatever, you get the gist? Yeah. And let’s say this is a 4.0 scale, none of the weird four point threes for right sevens we’re talking

Lisa Marker Robbins 16:16

about and we’re talking about even if your kid gets is in, you know, AP Calc BC, by one of the hardest classes that they could take it, we’re still going to call an A in there, a form is worth the four point out, it’s not worth the 4.5. It’s not worth five points, okay, take

Jessica Chermak 16:36

it away, because because even colleges that report their middle 50% of admitted students as a weighted GPA, if it’s ever above a 4.0, it’s typically weighted. They’re still using an unweighted GPA to evaluate students, even if that’s not what they’re reporting. Yeah, throwing that out there, because that’s how it works at most schools. And again, everything only applies to some or most or it depends. Okay, so breaking down the GPA, we’re going to talk about just the five main core classes, because that’s what most schools are looking at. I will say some schools believe Arizona State, again, they’re doing away with a foreign language requirement, because it’s a barrier to entry. And that’s kind of awesome. But for now, most schools are using it. So we’re going to include that in this calculation. So essentially, what a family will do is look at the transcript and pick out the classes that they took each year. And, in general, most schools are only looking at the GPA from freshman to junior year, because most students will apply during some early rounds, or application deadlines might just be earlier. So there isn’t even time for senior year grades to be included.

Lisa Marker Robbins 17:46

I think it’s important. Everybody hears that. Because the number of times I’ve had a spring Junior family say, Well, you know what, he’s really committed to working harder in the fall and getting that and I’m like, newsflash, the colleges aren’t gonna see that. So for the vast majority of universities and colleges in the United States, whatever that GPA is, at the end of whatever the classes and the grades are at the end of junior year, that’s what you’re dealing with.

Jessica Chermak 18:12

Yeah. And also keep in mind, a GPA is a grade point average. So when you finish sophomore year with a 3.1, you’re not actually going to be able to increase that GPA significantly by the end of junior year. So going in knowing that is really critical. And also, that should not deter you from trying really hard to increase your GPA. It’s not meant to be, you know, a downer, but it’s meant to at least provide some context for how averages work. But okay, so, back to our calculation, you pull out the classes that are those five core classes. So what math classes were taking each year, what science classes, what history classes, what English classes, and what foreign language classes, and where it gets a little strange is some students took foreign language in middle school, and sometimes it’s on their high school transcript. And sometimes it’s not, but most colleges will take that as credit, whether or not it’s on the high school transcript. If you start freshman year of high school and Spanish three, the assumption is you’ve taken one and two. Yep. And again, not super universal, but for the sake of this exercise. These are the rules. Yeah. Well, and

Lisa Marker Robbins 19:27

what about two? If they took, it’s common for a kiddo who’s accelerated in math to take algebra one as an eighth grader, and that’s typically going to be on the transcript? Yep. So we’re gonna Yeah, stuff like that. Right. So sometimes

Jessica Chermak 19:43

it’s not just those four years of math. Sometimes you might have five or six. The high school I went to I had the opportunity to take eight math classes in high school because we were on a four by four schedule. So like, there’s a lot of variety over here. Also consider that most students only takes three years of science and three years of history. And those classes tend to be the biochem and physics. And the history classes are world, US and government econ counts in that social sciences. So we’re not even talking full buckets necessarily. It’s not for class, it’s not for years of four classes. If you’re not taking four years of English, that’s a disservice and will definitely impact you in the college admissions process, you should absolutely make sure you’re taking the four years of English, ideally, you’re taking four years of each of these core classes. But at some high schools that you can only take six classes a year, there isn’t a lot of flexibility for that. And sometimes those elective classes or other graduation requirements like health and PE, are also crucial to take for the sake of graduate just

Lisa Marker Robbins 20:48

to get the the well and I want to go back to right before we look like finalized how to do this recalculation, keeping in mind the college major as well. Right. So my specialty is college major and career coaching. And depending on what the major is going to be, really dictates how you know, if you should pull your foot off the gas, maybe in social studies, or math, or you know what those classes are. So you got to keep that in mind when you’re making those decisions about what to take. Okay, so now, they’ve sat down with the transcript, they’ve got English, social studies, science, math, foreign language, they’re gonna write down all of their grades, right? A B.

Jessica Chermak 21:35

Yep. And honestly, for the sake of this exercise, remove whatever pluses and minuses exist at your school. That might not be how most colleges are doing it, but it will make this calculation a lot easier. So any A is going to be assigned to four, A, B is a three, a C is a two and a D is a one, F don’t get anything. But here’s the catch DS don’t often get anything either. It depends on the school. So a lot of schools won’t even include a class if you don’t have a C or higher, or C minus technically, but again, for the sake of zero for that

Lisa Marker Robbins 22:09

D off right. So the

Jessica Chermak 22:11

the classes essentially doesn’t exist in the calculation which, with averages. To calculate an average, you have to add all those numbers up and divide by the number of classes you took. So not only is that lower grade a disservice by being a lower grade, it’s a disservice by not even getting included in the calculation. So if those other grades aren’t significantly higher, that GPA gets pulled down really quickly. Yeah.

Lisa Marker Robbins 22:36

So you’ve got your GPA, right?

Jessica Chermak 22:39

Yeah. Basically your math? Yeah. Divide. It’s, well, it’s

Lisa Marker Robbins 22:44

the same way you’re doing an AC T superscore. Right? It is doing that the same way. Okay. So colleges are going to use some semblance of a recalculated GPA most of the time, not just accept what’s on the what, what’s on there. Now, a few other things that are impacting this, like, Great inflation is getting a lot of attention right now. You know, we talked about it back on episode 42. With Brian neuf injure had a lot of data on if great inflation would hurt somebody’s teenager, I did a solo Episode Episode 110, on how to know if college is still worth it, that really leans into a Wall Street Journal article where it said Americans have lost their faith in college. And one of the reasons cited was actually even grade inflation, not just at the high school level, but at the college level. So are you seeing students having much higher grades? And how does that impact all of this? Yeah, I

Jessica Chermak 23:46

mean, yeah, across the board, students seem to be having higher grades. And also, their performance isn’t necessarily reflective in those grades. That’s the great inflation, like we have students with 4.8 GPA is who really struggled to string a couple sentences together. They don’t know what a transition is, or active or passive voice. We have to explain what an Oxford comma is. There’s just things that I think there’s gaps, and part of that I think might be pandemic related. I think there are certainly gaps in education where, you know, we’re finally kind of moving away from the students who were in the GPAs. were impacted by a lot of these things significantly in that when they went pass fail in high school. There’s no those don’t get calculated into the GPA, there’s not a number to associate with a pass or fail. Because it’s, it’s a yes or no, it’s a it’s a, it’s binary. It’s one zero. And that can that certainly can pull GPA as well. But in any case, I think that the grade inflation thing is a huge it’s a huge problem for a number of reasons. And one of those reasons is how can colleges actually interpret it what’s on the transcript? Because even if we’re saying, pull off those pluses and minuses, forget your weighting system, we’re going to do it our way. On top of all of that, they still don’t mean anything. These grades don’t mean anything. Unless the college itself the people in the college making decisions are familiar with the education system at that particular high school. And a lot of times they’re not they’re not how could they be? How many? How many high schools are there in this country? 40 something 40 Something 1000

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:34

it about? It’s 30 something? I think I did look it up not too long ago. I mean, so nearly 40,000 High Schools is impossible.

Jessica Chermak 25:41

Well, I think the numbers of valedictorians it’s even higher, because some schools have more than one. Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:46

and we have a school here that actually got rid of valedictorian, salutatorian for student mental health practices is largest high school in the state of Ohio. And so they did away with that. And they also tried to like calm down the weighted GPA piece, they got a lot of flack from families, because again, it feels good. But that wasn’t good for students. And it’s not really impacting who gets in and why. Now, interestingly, at the time that we’re recording this, which is we always have to say when we’re going to give time sensitive information, February 23 2024, we’re going to drop this a little bit later. But we’ve had some schools returning to requiring test scores for next year. And one of the reasons that they cited was these A’s don’t really mean a whole lot anymore. Yeah.

Jessica Chermak 26:41

And for further context of how meaningless grades can be, and this is a hard conversation to have, because students do work really hard in high school, they, especially those really high achievers, and this process is hardest for the high achievers, those middling. And by middling, I mean, still incredible GPAs that are in the three, five range, it’s so much easier to identify what a target or a likely school is, in terms of like likelihood of admission, because when you have a high GPA, everything looks like you shouldn’t, in theory be eligible. There’s just not enough seats. But one thing I will throw out there, I don’t know how it was in Ohio. But what I do know in Colorado, my local district, Boulder Valley School District did some really weird things with their schedule during the pandemic. Yeah. And by weird, I mean, they went to a quarter schedule, which in theory should have been fine. But what they did was they had students taking three or four classes each quarter. So quarter, one might have been Calc, Spanish history and English in quarter two, wasn’t the second half of that class. quarter two, was starting the first half of the other four classes. Oh, my goodness.

Lisa Marker Robbins 27:53

So these kids, yeah, we didn’t do anything that crazy. Yeah,

Jessica Chermak 27:57

these three months off between the first half of Calc, and the second half of Calc, and Spanish. And, like subjects where if you stop halfway through and take three months off, like, raise your hand if you went on summer vacation and came back remembering everything you had learned?

Lisa Marker Robbins 28:14

Well, those are the those classes that are building blocks, typically in math and foreign language.

Jessica Chermak 28:20

And these are, these are schools that have very strong relationships with a lot of schools around the country, they are well known. Builder is you know, we’re a pocket of education here. We’re fortunate that education system is fabulous. And yet, the school report did explain the school profile did explain that shift. But how can those grades possibly be a reflection of the student’s abilities in those courses? And maybe it is a strong reflection of the students who were able to get that A in the first and third quarter? Which are the two class like the two sections of the classes they had to take. But what about the kids who didn’t do well in that way? Because how was that reflective of their performance in college when no college would ever do that? Well, taking a three month gap highway through a class. Yeah.

Lisa Marker Robbins 29:07

Well, this is you know, this also, as we wrap up, it makes me think like, Duke announced this week that you know, they’ve always taken that the students and given them a numerical score between one and five on six different areas. And those areas, I’m going to probably screw it up, so just correct me. So it was like rigor, what classes did you take? How rigorous were that your grades, your extracurriculars? Your recommendation letters, your test scores in your essays. Wow, I got them. Okay, that’s awesome. I had enough coffee this morning. And so they used to always sign a score between one and five. And then they would kind of look at that would tell them who they’re going to do a deeper dive to like look at to see it was really like art. You admissible? Okay? Yes, there’s this group now we’re gonna do a deeper dive on who they are. But they are dropping the essay and and what was it the essays and the test score number. And now they’re gonna keep it to extracurriculars, rigor, GPA, and recommendation letters. I think what I, the note I want to end on is to say, families, your kid is much more than his GPA. And I think we delivered some like sobering news of like mad to your point, just like these kids are working their tail ends off. And we don’t mean to be Debbie Downer. However, we need to be realistic. We need to understand how grades are calculated, but colleges are looking at a lot more when.

Jessica Chermak 30:46

Absolutely. And I mean, we didn’t even touch on rigor, and I know we’re wrapping up. But what about those schools that don’t offer AP and IB classes? What about the schools that don’t offer rigor there are students in rural South Dakota, that have access to no classes like this. And sure they can sign up for rigorous classes in other ways, but that often costs money that their families might not have. The barriers to entry here in higher education are astounding.

Lisa Marker Robbins 31:17

Yeah. Well, that sounds like there’s another episode right there. So we’ll have to have you back.

Jessica Chermak 31:23

I would love to be back. Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 31:25

obviously, you are stellar at advising families. If any of our listeners want to get to know you a little bit better and check you out. How do they do that?

Jessica Chermak 31:34

Yeah, our website is virtual college counselors.com. You can also email info at Virtual College counselors.com That will be that will go to both me and my business partner. So one of us will respond sooner than the other. We also are on Facebook. Our business page is facebook.com/virtual college counselors, LinkedIn or virtual college counselors, Twitter, Virtual College. See, we’re gonna get instagram first shout out slurs. Yeah, you can find us anywhere. If you Google virtual college counselors, typically, we are the first ones to come out. Given that that is our business name.

Lisa Marker Robbins 32:11

I love Well, that was a smart business name. Thanks, guys for joining. We’ll definitely have you back on in the future.

Jessica Chermak 32:18

Awesome. Thanks for having me Have a great day.

Lisa Marker Robbins 32:26

As we wrap up today’s discussion with just on the nuances of GPA calculation and its role in college admissions. It’s clear that understanding this aspect can significantly impact your teens college application journey, and help you navigate the admissions landscape more effectively. We’ve included a valuable resource in the show notes that link to the Arizona State University GPA calculator. This tool can help you recalculate your team’s GPA in a way that aligns with how many colleges evaluate academic performance, offering a clearer perspective on where your student stands. Head over to the show notes to demystify the GPA calculation process and take a proactive step in your college admissions strategy. Thank you for joining us on College and Career Clarity. If you have a friend who could also benefit from changing their perspective about weighted GPAs please share this episode with them. Sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future