Do Colleges Look at Weighted GPA?

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

If you’re gearing up to graduate high school and head off to college soon, you’re probably tired of hearing about GPAs. But as much as teachers, parents, and counselors love to go on about the importance of a “good GPA,” they might not always do the best job at explaining what it really is or why you should prioritize it, even in difficult classes. Let’s figure it out together.

GPA stands for ‘grade point average.’ It represents your overall academic performance throughout all your high school courses. The goal of measuring grade point averages is to help schools assess whether or not your grades meet academic standards. In high school, your GPA might determine if you can be on a sports team, you can attend honors courses, or if you’ll be able to graduate at all. For college applicants, GPA is one of the factors that determine your admission to the program of your choice.

Well, that’s pretty straightforward. Now, what’s the deal with weighted and unweighted GPAs? If you’re confused about the difference between these types of GPAs, you’re not alone. Keep reading to learn more about GPAs, how to calculate them, and how they factor into the college admissions process.

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What Is an Unweighted GPA?

Your unweighted GPA is essentially a representation of your grades all by themselves. It reports how you did overall throughout your school career without including details like which classes you took, the ones in which you were successful, the difficulty of the courses, etc. It’s simply an average of all your grades that is meant to provide a quick look at your success so far as a student.

Schools calculate unweighted GPA on a 0.0–4.0 unweighted calculation scale. Each letter grade from A to F corresponds to a numerical point value between 0 and 4. Here’s a quick breakdown of how many “grade points” each letter grade is worth on the unweighted scale.

  • A+: 97-100%, 4.0.
  • A: 93-96%, 4.0.
  • A-: 90-92%, 3.7.
  • B+: 87-89%, 3.3.
  • B: 83-86%, 3.0.
  • B-: 80-82%, 2.7.
  • C+: 77-79%, 2.3.
  • C: 73-76%, 2.0.
  • C-: 70-72%, 1.7.
  • D+: 67-69%, 1.3.
  • D: 65-66%, 1.0.
  • F: Less than 65%, 0.0.

Keep in mind that some high schools may or may not offer the “A+” grade, so colleges generally treat it the same as the typical “A.” Similarly, anything below a “D” counts as a failing grade in the eyes of admissions officers, including a “D-” grade.

Calculating Your Unweighted GPA

You can discover your unweighted GPA the same way that you calculate any average: the sum of the parts divided by the total number of parts. If you’re still a little unsure, don’t fret! Just follow these steps:

  1. Convert all your letter grades into their corresponding point values.
  2. Find the sum of all the point values.
  3. Divide the sum of the point values by the total number of classes taken.

And presto, you just found your unweighted GPA! Easier than you thought, right?

What Is a Weighted GPA?

Weighted GPAs are where things start to get a little more complicated. While your unweighted GPA represents your grades in isolation, your weighted GPA attempts to account for the types of courses you take, particularly their difficulty level. If you choose to take intermediate or advanced classes, your grades in them will be weighted differently.

The origin of the weighted GPA comes from the gradual expansion of the curriculum in high schools. Educators noticed an unfairness in the calculation of unweighted GPAs. Students taking harder classes might receive lower grades than their peers in standard classes due to the difference in difficulty level. This discrepancy could discourage students from challenging themselves to take higher-level courses for fear of ruining their GPAs.

For example, let’s say you decide to enroll in an AP or honors class. One of your friends who wants an easier schedule decides to take a gym class. At the end of the term, you come out with a B in your AP class, while your friend receives an A. Your unweighted grade, then, is less than that of your friend even though you challenged yourself with a much more difficult class. In this case, you might feel discouraged from—or even punished for—enrolling in challenging classes again.

Unfortunately, the weighted GPA scale is not regulated nationally. This means that different high schools may use different grading scales (some even use a 0.0–6.0 scale!). The most common system, however, is the one indicated above, in which your point value essentially increases by a full letter grade when you take an AP or honors course compared to a normal academic course.

Take note: failing grades in higher-level classes have the same value as those in others: 0.0. This prevents students from exploiting the weighted system in order to receive credit even when they fail a course.

Calculating Your Weighted GPA

The weighted GPA solves this dilemma by adding an extra point to the letter grades you receive for AP and honors classes. So, rather than running from 0.0-4.0, the weighted GPA measures on a 0.0-5.0 scale. This change only applies to weighted scale courses, which will usually be your upper-level classes. Any normal academic classes will still be reported using the 0-4.0 scale.

Here’s a breakdown of the grade points corresponding to each letter grade on the weighted GPA scale.

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  • A+: 97-100%, 5.0.
  • A: 93-96%, 5.0.
  • A-: 90-92%, 4.7.
  • B+: 87-89%, 4.3.
  • B: 83-86%, 4.0.
  • B-: 80-82%, 3.7.
  • C+: 77-79%, 3.3.
  • C: 73-76%, 3.0.
  • C-: 70-72%, 2.7.
  • D+: 67-69%, 2.3.
  • D: 65-66%, 2.0.
  • F: Less than 65%, 0.0.

Figuring out your weighted GPA involves a few more steps than the unweighted GPA, but it’s still pretty easy to manage if you follow these instructions:

  1. Calculate your unweighted GPA using the steps listed above.
  2. Multiply your unweighted GPA by your total number of courses.
  3. Add 1.0 for each higher-level course.
  4. Divide your new sum by your total number of courses.

Weighted Vs. Unweighted GPAs: Which Do Colleges Prefer?

Now that you understand the difference between your weighted and unweighted GPAs the question is: which one will college admissions officers assess? Is there one they prefer over the other when reviewing a college application?

The truth is that most colleges don’t really have a set preference between weighted or unweighted GPAs. In some instances, looking at weighted GPAs may be slightly unfair, as a large, well-funded high school might offer more AP classes than a smaller high school, giving students fewer opportunities to enroll in an advanced class. Since admissions officers don’t want to punish students from smaller schools, they might be more inclined to look at unweighted GPAs over weighted ones.

That doesn’t mean that enrolling in challenging courses doesn’t matter when it comes to college admissions decisions. In fact, it makes all the difference what class difficulty you choose, regardless of which GPA your school of choice takes into consideration. You would be hard-pressed to find a school that only considers your GPA in isolation without also contextualizing it alongside your transcript. They will take time to review each class, which ones are considered advanced (and those that aren’t), and which courses are part of your school’s standard curriculum. Reviewing your transcript and GPA together is key to painting a holistic picture of you as a student.

It’s Not Always So Simple

Not all advanced classes are equal in perceived difficulty. That would be too easy, right? Instead, college admissions officers know that there can be discrepancies hidden within weighted GPAsl. Some AP classes are notoriously easy, while some are much more challenging. A student who took AP Calculus or AP Physics, for instance, might receive a lower grade than one who took AP Psychology or AP Environmental Science because the courses themselves are understood to be harder.

That’s not to say the latter courses are easy, but their reputations can affect how they are perceived.It’s important to remember as well that colleges aren’t only interested in your grades, regardless of how stellar they may or may not be. They also take into account your extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, community service, work experience, and much more. Grades are an essential piece of the puzzle, but they aren’t everything. Admissions officers want to get to know you as a person, and you’re much more than your grades!

GPA Is Important, Not Everything

Every college you consider will have slightly different requirements when it comes to the admissions process. Some might place a higher emphasis on extracurriculars and community involvement, while others prioritize your high school curriculum. In either case, it’s not all about GPAs or numbers on a page. At the end of the day, what admissions officers really want to see is that you’re a well-rounded, hard-working person who is willing to engage with the school’s community.

If you feel scared or overwhelmed while researching school requirements, you’re not alone. But remember that there’s a school out there for everyone. For those who are more academically focused, a college that prioritizes grades and strong test scores might be ideal. And for those who are more community focused, universities that prioritize personal accomplishments rather than academics may be the best choice. No matter what your unique talents are, you can find your ideal learning environment.Don’t freak out too much over your GPA, weighted or unweighted. Continue to work hard and excel where you can. As you continue to fill out your applications, we’re here to help. Colleges of Distinction’s Advice section is full of resources to help you find, apply to, and prepare for the school of your dreams.