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Most of the conversation around entry requirements to US colleges revolves around SAT or ACT scores, application essays, extracurricular activities and other achievements.

However, that does not mean that grades are not important. In fact, the applicant’s grades can make a huge difference in their application, and strong academic results are certainly the foundation of any stellar college application.

Particularly as many US colleges commit to being test-optional for another application cycle, the applicant’s grades will be the basis upon which the application is evaluated.

How Do US Colleges Look At Different Education Systems?

A Levels

While US colleges are certainly most familiar with the American system, they do also get a large number of applicants coming from the British A levels or Singapore-Cambridge GCE A levels systems.

A levels translate to GPA in the following way:

GradeGPA 4.0 Scale
A+4.0
A4.0
B+3.3
B3.0
C+2.4
C2.0
D+1.3
D1.1
E/F0

International Baccalaureate

US colleges are also familiar with the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP or simply IB), as a large number of international applicants from all over the world pursue that system.

One of the main challenges for IB students applying to the US is that they need to apply with predicted grades rather than their final IB results, which come out after the application has been submitted.

Here are the average IB results of applicants in the 10 US colleges that receive the highest number of IBDP transcripts.

Boston University
Average IB: 34 overall
University of Southern California
Average IB: 35 overall
University of Pennsylvania
Average IB: 38 overall
University of California - San Diego
Average IB: 35 overall
University of California - Los Angeles
Average IB: 38 overall
University of California - Berkeley
Average IB: 38 overall
Purdue University - West Lafayette
Average IB: 34 overall
Pennsylvania State University
Average IB: 32 overall
Northeastern University
Average IB: 32 overall
New York University
Average IB: 36 overall

When Do Grades Start To Matter?

How important are grades for US college admissions

Generally, US college applications are based on a student’s academic and extracurricular performance in Grade 9 through Grade 12. Therefore, any grades achieved earlier are not going to be considered.

For students in the Singapore education system, O level grades (equivalent to Grade 10) will be considered for university admission. Majority of the students will be applying to colleges before their final A levels or IB grades are released, which makes O level grades even more important. Predicted grades at the point of application are also considered.

Most importantly, US colleges are looking for evidence that the student is on track to fulfil the requirements and graduate with a strong academic record.

How About Test-Optional Schools?

How important are grades for US college admissions

It is important to highlight that grades become even more important if a test score (SAT or ACT) has not been submitted as part of the application. The past couple of application cycles have seen a number of top US colleges become test-optional, meaning that students can submit an SAT or ACT score if they want to, but if they don’t, that would not be a disadvantage to their application.

For the 2022-2023 cycle, test-optional colleges include Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, UPenn, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, among many others. When students choose not to submit their standardised test scores, colleges will inevitably look at other parts of the application – such as grades, profile, essays, achievements – to make the admissions decision.

There is also a small category of test-blind schools, namely those in the University of California system – UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Davis, among others. These schools do not look at a candidate’s standardised test scores. Yet, as you might have guessed, they certainly require good grades.

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