How Do Colleges View Good Test Scores but Not-So-Good GPA?

Question: Do colleges look for improvement? Can a high ACT/SAT Score help me during admissions if my GPA is low? I went from a 2.4 uw GPA and a 2.6 w GPA freshman year to a 2.85 uw GPA and 3.4 w GPA midway Junior year.

Yes and yes ... with qualifications.

High test scores can sometimes help compensate for a low GPA ... but commonly not at the most sought-after colleges. So “The Dean" should really be saying “It depends" rather than a flat-out “Sure." Some admission officials, eager to boost their institution's median test statistics, will accept a student who has scored well on standardized tests, even if his or her GPA is sub-par. But many colleges—especially those that turn away more candidates than they accept and where the median test scores are already high—are NOT impressed by big test numbers unless good grades go with them. In fact, having high test scores and a so-so GPA can often hurt an applicant because admission officials may feel that the student is slacking.

What will actually work in your favor the most is your ever-improving GPA. If your record continues to rise through next fall—the first semester of your senior year--the college folks will focus on your more recent grades and not those you earned as a freshman or sophomore. So when seeking colleges that will be realistic options for you, you can certainly consider places where the average admitted-student GPA is in line with your junior and senior GPA and not with your grades in 9 and 10, especially if your test scores are at or above the norm.

So keep up the good work. Although strong SAT or ACT results are always a plus, admission officials do look most closely at the transcript and not at the tests.