Is GPA or SAT score more important?

Applying to college is an important stage in life. Lots of organizing needs to be done for your application to go smoothly. To determine what is most important read on.

You need GPA to get offered a college place. SAT scores are required in most but not all colleges. Colleges look at both to determine your place. High scores in both reinforce your application.

We need to look in depth as to why we think one is more important than the other. Applying to and prepping for college doesn’t happen in 5 minutes. It’s a lot of hard work. Here’s what you need to know about both scores.

  1. How do GPA and SAT differ?
  2. What does each score tell the admissions officer
  3. Both GPA and SAT counted together are better
  4. The importance of prepping
  5. Much more to your application than GPA and SAT

How do GPA and SAT differ?

What exactly is GPA and why is everyone in your class fretting about their SAT scores. The main differences are the GPA that you have is school-based, and your SAT, well you’re on your own against the nation on that one. Your GPA is a showcase of how much work and effort you have put in over the past four years. You GPA is calculated on class tests. It is only comparative to the rest of your high school year. An ‘A’ in one high school math class could well be a ‘C’ in another school. It all depends on the teacher and the pool of kids. SAT results, on the other hand, compare you and the rest of the nation, on a single day, in a four-hour period. GPA is calculated on each subject you take, being given a grade, each grade is then allocated a number – ABCD – 1234.

Should I take both the SAT and Act? is another one of my posts that you may be interested to read.


The SAT on the other hand is broken into two main sections, each with a max score of 800, in total 1600. Both tests have 58 questions. You get a raw score for each correct answer – wrong answers are not negatively marked.

Each score is then equated to a mark. They must equate them so if you sit the test in August it has the same level of difficulty as the test in October and so on. The two sections are then added to give your final score. Because wrong/ incorrect answers are not negatively scored ensure every answer is marked with something. A guess could be correct. A blank will give you no marks.

What do GPA and SAT tell the admissions officer?

Admissions officers go through each application and are trained on what they should look for. When they are looking at your scores they are not looking at them individually. If we look at two different circumstances

  1. A student has an above-average GPA of 3.5. This student works hard in class and has earned this GPA. They now consider their SAT score. They are surprised that it is only 1200. There are a couple of explanations. The student was nervous on the day of the test, Did they submit more than one SAT score, how do the others compare? If they are all around 1200, they still could be a nervous test sitter, or has their GPA been inflated by the high school they attend?
  2. The second student has an amazing SAT score but not a great GPA. Why is this? They studied and prepped really hard for their SAT and go to a tough grading high school which resulted in a low GPA. Or they are incredibly bright and they are bored with high school classes.

Looking at both students the outcome of their SAT is what they would make their judgment on. However, they can’t come to that decision without considering your GPA.

Colleges are also looking for overall SATs so they can increase their own class average. Colleges are very competitive and all want the very best students. They can then boast about how great they are as a school to fund managers and prospective students.

My post, are SAT subjects tests hard? goes into more detail on the SAT’s.

Both counted together are better

If college admissions are looking at your scores and can see that you have grown as a student throughout high school and then went on to get a good GPA score they will see you as a good bet. Your willingness to put your head down and work hard has paid off. It suggests your will to succeed and more than likely will continue to work hard in college. A high SAT score cannot be fudged. It shows good intellectual ability. Good scores together give you the best possible outcome. There is no clouded judgment on the part of the admissions officer.

If your GPA is low then it’s never too late to correct that. If you are serious about increasing your GPA then sign up for some honors classes, AP classes, or SAT subject tests. This will show that you may have slipped slightly but you know what has to be done and you have worked hard to turn your GPA around.

The importance of prepping

The bottom line is if you’re not working hard you are not going to get the college you want. All colleges have minimum entry requirements. The first thing you should check out is what your dream college is looking for. From here you can then see whether you are on track with your GPA or how much more prepping you need to do. By doing a test run SATs you can also judge where you need extra work. You can take the real test more than once, which is definitely advisable as nerves will most likely get the better of you the first time out.

Taking the SAT first time senior year is one of my posts that touches on the preparation for the SAT’s and what to expect if it is your first time.

There is lots of help available both in school and online. All teachers are generally willing to give extra help when the need is genuine. Online the learning opportunities are endless. From sitting test run SATs, to online tutor classes. This has really taken off since the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more classes and study groups moved online.

At the end of the day, you’re not going to ace your exams in high school or in your SAT without putting in some really hard work. Get a study plan in place and stick to it. Set up a reward system and look forward to your finals and the summer before college when you can sit back and know you did your best.

Much more to your Application

Of course, it is important to question which you should be concentrating on more, GPA or SAT but there is so much more to your application to consider. Yes, they are what matters and without them, you are not going to college but if you have run into difficulty with your GPA, for example, there is always the opportunity to explain why on your application.

As long as it’s a valid reason you can write this in the ‘Extra Information’ box. You may have been, or someone in your family may have been unwell. You maybe had to take on the responsibility of looking after siblings or finances. You might have had to get extra hours in your part-time job to help pay bills. Due to this, your grades have suffered. The admissions officer will definitely take this into consideration.

Your personal essay can also be used to explain drops in GPA. You can tell them that your new interest or activity has taken up a huge amount of your time because you want it to be a success. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, our son is an archer on a national team. This takes up hours of training and competitions. Being good enough for a national team requires focus and commitment which will show the admissions officer that you stand apart from the many others.

You are selling yourself as a whole package. There is always a reason to work harder, try harder. Raise that GPA to the highest you can get it and ace that SAT so you even surprise yourself.

Tara Cunningham

Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort. I hope that you find our thoughts and ideas useful and interesting.

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