When Did a Perfect GPA Become the Standard?

By Amelia Lipcsei

With the competitiveness of college expectations nowadays, I’ve come to realize that having a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) is no longer an accomplishment—it is the standard at most schools. At UC Los Angeles, the average highschool GPA is 4.33. At UC Santa Barbara, the average GPA is a 4.02. Even at Cal Poly SLO, the GPA range is 4.08-4.25. When did having a 4.0 become the expectation?

Recently, I talked to one of my close friends about her application progress. A straight A student with 3 AP’s under her belt, I expected to hear about all of the UC’s she was applying to; instead, I learned she wasn’t applying to any of them. “There’s not really any point in applying because I’m not gonna get into any of them,” she explained. Although the UC’s are competitive, it seems crazy that the reason a straight A student wouldn’t apply is simply because they weren’t “competitive” enough. I’m not saying that everyone should apply to the UC’s, but I do think that everyone should have the option. I mean seriously, when did having a 4.0 become the bare minimum?

Juggling multiple AP’s, good grades, and extracurriculars, highschool students are essentially forced to go “above and beyond” for the entirety of their highschool careers. Yes, trying hard to learn in school is important; however, grades don’t necessarily reflect understanding. Although personally, I am glad I took the AP classes that I took—not because they look good on college applications, but because I learned the most from them—I don’t think that “Advanced Placement” classes should be the standard. They literally are titled “advanced” for a reason. In the same way, having straight A’s should not be an expectation. Not everyone learns the same way. Different people often learn the same amount yet have drastically different grades. Being able to apply knowledge to projects and hands-on activities should be more emphasized than tests that only certain types of students will do well on. Unfortunately, standardized tests are still considered the “normal” way to measure understanding. 

If we want students who can apply their knowledge to real life situations, grades should not be measured in terms of test-taking abilities. Rather, we should be looking at a student’s interest in certain areas (and not just the extracurriculars that they often do to “look good on college apps”). Chances of success in future careers often stem from enjoyment of certain subjects. However, by pushing students to take multiple AP’s a year (often for subjects they are uninterested in), colleges are taking away from their abilities to grow their genuine interests. So, while yes, learning is important, putting so much importance on grades often stifles the enjoyment of gaining knowledge to pupils. Something needs to change in the admissions process. Students should be celebrating their perfect GPA’s; instead, people tend to focus on the “lower” grades they received throughout their high school years. Let me remind you: if you have a perfect GPA that is a huge accomplishment! You should be incredibly proud. Whether making classes more difficult, or focusing less on grades, colleges and high-schools need to shift their mindsets. Seriously, a 4.0 should never have become the standard.