College admission can be a competitive and stressful process. Trying to get into college with a weak GPA or a non-traditional diploma (GED or HISET) can cause even more anxiety.
This is something I learned firsthand during my personal higher ed journey.
Homelessness and becoming a mother at a young age left me a high school dropout with a low grade point average and a GED instead of an actual diploma. Thankfully, my personal obstacles didn’t stop me from getting accepted into a college or earning several advanced degrees.
The key was finding a program that didn’t require a certain GPA and focusing on my strengths.
What’s Considered a “Good” GPA?
If you’re a college hopeful looking for a way to compensate for a low GPA, the first step is knowing where you stand. You’ll need to figure out how to calculate high school GPA averages. You can do this by hand, or there are tons of online options to make this process easier.
Start by calculating your GPA using one of these platforms.
Once you know your number, you’ll need to compare it to the average high school GPA. Studies show that the current average for graduating seniors is 3.38. So, if you’re wondering how your own ranks, you can look to these numbers as a baseline.
But keep in mind, most college admission departments don’t look for average.
Instead, they target students with a 3.5 to 4.0 high school GPA. If you have a particular school in mind, do some research on acceptable GPAs for that institution.
What are some Alternative Admission Strategies?
If you’ve missed the mark when it comes to GPA, you’ll have to get creative and apply for programs that consider more than past academic performance. A low number can be disappointing but it’s simply a hurdle, not a game-changer. There are many colleges that would love to have you as a student despite a few low grades.
You still have options to choose from, including the following four:
Option 1: Schools that are Labeled “Community Colleges”
For me, the solution was to apply for admission to a community college instead of a four-year university. I did have to retake some core classes that I failed or didn’t complete during high school, but the admission process was simple.
Though at the time I would have preferred to have started at a more prestigious school, my community college experience was transformative. By the time I finished my first degree, I was a much stronger student and felt more prepared to attend a larger university.
Another bonus is that the staff at junior colleges tend to be more involved and advocate for students. This will help you feel supported as you work to improve your academic track record.
Option 2: Schools with Low GPA Requirements
Not every school requires a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher. Many colleges willingly accept students with a 3.0. Some will consider you even if you are in the ‘2s’. Here’s a list of schools that are known for looking past an imperfect GPA:
If your grade point average falls between 3.0–3.4
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
California State University Bakersfield
San Francisco Art Institute
Western State Colorado University
Central Connecticut State University
Delaware State University
University of Tampa
Columbus State University
Georgia Southern University
Idaho State University
Indiana State University
Salem State University
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Hawaii at Hilo
University of New Orleans
If your grade point average falls between 2.5–2.9
University of Baltimore
Alabama State University
Albany State University
Georgia Gwinnett College
University of Alaska Southeast
University of Denver
Western Connecticut State University
Kentucky State University
Option 3: Schools with Open Enrollment
If your GPA is too low for the schools listed above, you should look for schools with open enrollment policies. An open enrollment policy, also known as open admissions, means that a school does not have a high school GPA requirement.
Does this mean that every student will be accepted? Absolutely not. These schools still have an application process and can be competitive in other ways since lots of students may be applying for the same spot.
For the most part, only community/junior colleges fall into this category. However, there are some four-year schools with inclusive admission policies. Starting out at such a school can help you improve your GPA so that you can apply for more competitive programs down the road.
Option 4: Schools with Alternative Admission
If your struggle is not only with GPA but also not meeting other entrance requirements, an alternative admissions policy might help you. This is common for students who graduated from a non accredited high school or didn’t complete certain classes.
For example, the University of Oregon requires a GPA of 3.0 or higher but considers students with lower GPAs when they list it in the special circumstances section of the application. Many states have their own rules regarding alternative admission, so be sure to do some research on your area if this is the route you choose.
Are there Other Ways to Improve Admission Odds?
If you have your heart set on a particular school but don’t meet the GPA requirements, there are other things you can do to improve your chances of being accepted.
For one, you can focus on getting good standardized test scores and writing a killer admissions essay. Even though I had a GED and not a traditional diploma, I had a very high ACT score. This is one thing that made my admission process more straightforward.
Another tactic is to get recommendation letters from teachers and counselors who can speak highly of your work ethic, unique talents, and overall academic strengths. Reading the words of educational specialists who believe in you might influence those who make college admission decisions more than your high school GPA.
Finally, consider asking your current or former guidance counselor for assistance as they often have resources and out of the box ideas that can’t be found elsewhere.
Above all else, don’t give up. A low GPA can be a stumbling block when it comes to college acceptance, but it isn’t a deal-breaker. Continue to pursue alternative routes and soon, an acceptance letter will be headed your way.