GPA vs SAT Score: Which Is More Important?

GPA vs SAT score, which one is more important? We’re frequently asked this question by students sending out college applications. The truth is…it’s complicated.

GPA vs SAT Score? The truth is both numbers are important in your college applications for very different reasons.

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GPA Measures Actual Results

Your GPA shows what you’ve accomplished.

Being a good test-taker doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the subject. It just means you can do well on test day.

There are plenty of kids who don’t sweat taking tests, especially if they cram. Besides intelligence, they exhibit:

  • The ability to focus under pressure
  • The ability to adapt

However, they often don’t remember that subject information going forward. This logic often applies to the SAT too. Your GPA, however, illustrates your proven hard work over the years.

College admissions officials look at your GPA for patterns. If they see that you struggled early on, but then improved your average significantly by junior or senior year, it gets their attention.

They’ll notice:

  • You’ve recognized your class problems
  • You put in the hard work to overcome them
  • You successfully received the higher grades

They’ll see your focus and determination, alongside intelligence, over four straight years.

SAT Scores Are Standardized

SAT scores compare you across the nation.

GPAs are determined by individual high schools. With no standard metric to go by, grades are relative in value.

An ‘A’ in one instructor’s Geometry class in Chicago could be a ‘B+’ in a corresponding Manhattan-based class. The curriculums, instructors, and districts are not equal across the board.

Not only that, but some schools inflate grades in order to raise the overall class GPA. They then appear more competitive and attract higher-quality students.

SAT scores, on the other hand, are derived from the same test administered to everyone. There are no higher or lower-level tests given out based on demographics, education, etc.

Your final SAT score reflects against students across the nation taking the same test as you, at a given time. College admissions officials place more trust in that score because they know it’s been impartially generated.

The SAT’s Aptitude Reputation

Intellectuals tend to place more weight on SAT scores.

The SAT measures intellectual aptitude and admissions officers value intellect in applicants. Because of that fact, there is an unfair weight placed on SAT scores when measured against your GPA.

For example, is Student A submits a 1530 score with a 2.5 GPA, an admissions officer can say that the student is obviously bright but likely unchallenged in school. That lack of challenge means A will likely shine when placed in a college environment.

If Student B submits a perfect 4.0 GPA but only a 1250 score, then that same officer can argue that the student’s transcript is suspicious. While this isn’t always the case, too often SAT scores will come out a little ahead of GPA.

College Admissions Want High SAT Score Classes

It comes down to marketing.

Every college admissions board is looking for high SAT score student applicants. Why? Because their incoming class’ average score is boosted.

That boost makes it appear highly selective versus other schools, especially in-state competitors. High selectivity also brings other benefits to them:

  • Attracts naturally stronger applicants
  • Attracts additional funding
  • Boosts brand image and reputation

Just like businesses, colleges and universities compete for the highest value applicants to boost their bottom lines.

Don’t Count Out GPA

Despite the obvious tip in favor of SAT scores, GPA still provides value on your applications.

GPA showcases the work you’ve actually accomplished over four hard years of study. More importantly, if you’ve taken AP courses, those will count highly when your transcript is analyzed.

Your GPA works best when showing how you’ve improved and grown intellectually over time. Where your GPA really stands out is when your application is compared against students with similar SAT scores.

Officials want your GPA and transcript to show:

  • Consistently strong grades or improvement over time
  • Willing to take challenging courses

If it does, then you have a clear advantage over those other similar score applicants.

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