Thursday, April 9, 2009

GPA: Myths and Realities

I don't know how many times I've heard statements like the following: "I have to make all A's!" or "If I don't have a 4.0, I won't get in!" My heart breaks each time I hear a student making that claim because I can't imagine the kind of pressure that student must be feeling to make perfect grades. While no one will deny the fact that the higher the GPA, the greater your chances of being admitted into a selective major, the reality is that there is much more to the admissions process than simply having a high GPA.

For those of you who are numbers-driven, though, I refer you to the official website of the University of California system to see those numbers for yourself: Look at the table for California community college transfer students, and you will see that not all of those students admitted had perfect GPA's. In fact, the tables don't even indicate how many students had a perfect 4.0!! I looked at the statistics for UC Berkeley, for Fall 2007 (the most recent data available). For that semester, there were 1,536 community college transfer students enrolled for the first time. Of those students, about 85% had a transfer GPA of 3.4 or higher, and about half had a GPA hovering somewhere around 3.7. So, what about that 15% with a GPA less than 3.4? What did they have that UC Berkeley wanted?

While it's difficult to answer that question without having been a fly on the wall in the rooms where those admissions decisions were made, we can surmise that a student's other qualifications are considered in the admissions process. Any university wants to admit students who display leadership qualities. This doesn't mean that you have to be the student body president, or the founder of a new club or organization; it just means that you are self-guided and self-motivated, that you know how to lead others while being a good follower, yourself. Your extra-curricular activities should reflect these qualities. Also, universities want students who are community-minded and have a global perspective, so performing acts of community service will help you gain these qualities. Don't choose an activity simply because you think it will look good on your application; if you do that, your heart won't be in it, and therefore you'll learn little from it. Instead, consider what you feel passionate about, and find an opporunity to make a difference in your community in that context. Are you passionate about the environment? Participate in a recycling program! Do you love children? Volunteer in a shelter for homeless families! Are you an animal-lover? Offer your time to a local rescue association or animal shelter. There's something for everybody out there. Finding the opportunities might be difficult, but just ask around. You can also search online. [] is a good resource when looking for volunteer opportunities in the Bay Area.

Finally, while it's true that California residents get priority when it comes to admissions into the UC and CSU systems, all campuses of the CSU and UC value the unique contributions that international students make to the diversity of the campus community. Make yourself as competitive as possible in all ways, not just when it comes to GPA. However, to help you have as high a grade as possible, here are two suggestions: First, visit your instructors during their office hours to ask questions about the lectures and the assignments. Having that one-on-one connection might be just what you need to be successful in the course. Second, utilize tutoring services on campus. DVC tutors are well-qualified and trained to help you be the best student you can be, and tutoring in a variety of subjects is offered each semester. Visit the Tutoring Services website for more information:

Have a great Spring Break!