What Your GPA Can Predict About Your Future Salary

A recent study shows your high school grade point average 'strongly predicts' future income.

(Photo: Ryan Balderas/Getty Images)

May 20, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Traditionally, a 4.0 is considered a perfect grade point average, but Dhara Patel, a senior at Plant City High School in Hillsborough County, Fla., has earned an off-the-charts 10.03 GPA.

This is good news considering the new link between GPAs and salary. A recent study by researchers at the University of Miami states that a one-point increase in high school GPA raises annual earnings in adulthood by around 12 percent for men and 14 percent for women.

The study also shows that even a one-point increase in GPA doubles the likelihood of students completing college—from 21 percent to 42 percent—for both men and women.

"Conventional wisdom is that academic performance in high school is important for college admission, but this is the first study to clearly demonstrate the link between high school GPA and labor market earnings many years later," says Michael T. French, professor of health economics at the University of Miami and corresponding author of the study.

To contribute to her astronomical GPA, Patel took 17 Advanced Placement classes. AP classes, which are on par with college courses, are often weighted, meaning that students who take them receive extra points. That helps those students accumulate a GPA way off the traditional 4.0 chart. While we are unsure if this is the highest GPA ever, we certainly can't find any other press about it. Ravi Medikonda, then a senior at King High School in Hillsborough County, Fla., earned a 9.3079 GPA in 2012.

Aside from the AP classes, Patel also spent nights, weekends, and summers studying at Hillsborough Community College. To add to her accolades, she’s earned her associate’s degree even before graduating from high school.

It’s not just books and good grades for Patel. She is a member of seven high school clubs, holding leadership roles in half of them, and sits on the executive board of student government. She also volunteers at a local hospital. While none of this factors into Patel's GPA, her résumé paints the picture of what colleges and universities are looking for in a 21st-century student.

There’s an ongoing debate among educators about what makes a student ready for college and, subsequently, a career. For years, a high GPA and high standardized test scores indicated a successful student who was prepared for college. Annual surveys by the National Association for College Admission Counseling show that most admissions officials put a high priority on grades, especially grades in college-prep courses. The NACAC’s 2013 State of College Admission report showed that "students' grades and the academic rigor of their course loads weigh more heavily in decisions to admit than standardized test scores, high school class rank, or demonstrated interest in attending."

Mark Naison, a professor of history at Fordham University and a cofounder of the anti-testing group Badass Teachers Association, says that he would use Patel as an example of a well-rounded student.

"A student with a high GPA and many extracurricular activities is a more attractive candidate than someone with just high SATs and high scores on state tests,” says Naison.

Frank Milner, president of Tutor Doctor, a global "in-home" tutoring franchise, says that the Miami study is right on point.

“Having a higher GPA can open more doors for high school students when the time comes to apply for college,” says Milner. “Many colleges set a minimum GPA and will only look at students’ applications if their GPA exceeds the minimum, so this could be the difference between making the review pile or the garbage pile. A high GPA also leads to increased opportunities for grants and scholarships. Also, most employers require students to include their GPA on résumés, so a higher GPA can help students get their dream job or internship going into college.”

So aside from being an academic whiz kid like Patel, how can students increase their GPA? Milner says that tutoring helps to push kids to higher limits, especially if they are weak in a subject area. “If you have the right tutor, it can have a profound impact on GPA,” Milner says.

Various studies prove Milner's theory right. One report from the Omaha, Neb., school district shows that the more after-school tutoring sessions school athletes attended, the higher their grade point. Another study by the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab points out that students at risk for dropping out of school improved their academic skills and GPA when they were targeted for tutoring.

If parents don’t have the financial means to hire a tutor, students who want to increase their GPA should ask their teachers for help, see if free tutoring services are provided by their school, and seek out educational websites and online forums.

Other ways for students to improve their GPAs, besides AP classes and tutoring, include asking a teacher for extra-credit work, which could be used to improve grades. If students performed poorly in a class—a grade of D or F—they should ask to retake the class or have the grade removed from their transcript through grade forgiveness.

Even if a student's GPA isn't stellar, focus can be placed on other areas to impress college admission officers.

"Portfolios, essays, interviews, recommendations, life experiences, and community involvement—applying those criteria, colleges can ensure admitting students who are well matched to their programs and thereby will matriculate and hopefully contribute as alumni," says Faye Hanson Hall, a high school gifted and talented coordinator in Jaffrey, N.H., who helps students focus on college and career readiness.

Hall has nothing but kudos for Patel and says other students can learn from her success.

"It sounds like she seized the opportunities available to her," Hall says. “Plant City is pretty rural, but the local schools are world-class. Students should take advantage of the different opportunities available to them, including online classes through virtual schools and MOOCs. She knew what interested her and pursued it.”

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.