Weighted vs unweighted GPA – it’s a concept that confuses many students.
When it comes to college admissions, your GPA is one of the most important factors in your application.
You need to have a clear understanding of not only what GPA you should aim for, but also how your GPA is calculated.
One point of confusion for many high school students is weighted vs. unweighted GPAs.
In this guide, we’ll look at the difference between the two, how each one is calculated, and how this affects you and your college applications.
What does GPA mean?
To start with the absolute basics, GPA stands for Grade Point Average. It represents your average performance in all classes.
What is an unweighted GPA?
Unweighted GPAs are measured on a scale of 0.0-4.0. The difficulty of your classes is not factored into the unweighted GPA.
How do you calculate your unweighted GPA?
Calculating your unweighted GPA is simple. Here’s the numerical value for each letter grade:
- A=4 points
- B=3 points
- C=2 points
- D=1 point
- F=0 points
So, if you have three A’s, two B’s, and one C, you’ll add 4+4+4+3+3+2, which equals 20.
Next, you divide by the number of classes you’re taking. In this case, you’re taking six classes, so you would divide 20 by six. Your unweighted GPA is 3.33. This means your average performance is slightly above a “B.”
Simple, right? It gets slightly more complicated when we look at weighted GPA.
What is a weighted GPA?
Typically, weighted GPAs are measured on a scale of 0.0-5.0. Some scales may go higher.
The weighted GPA does factor in the difficulty of your classes.
How do you calculate your weighted GPA?
In most cases, you’ll receive an extra point (1.0) for an AP class and an extra half point (0.5) for an honors class.
So, an “A” in a class that is not AP or honors is still worth four points. In an honors class, it’s worth 4.5 points.
And for an “A” in an AP class, you’ll get five points.
So, let’s say you still have three A’s, two B’s, and one C.
But now that we’re calculating your weighted GPA, we need to consider the difficulty level of your classes.
- “A” in AP class= 5 points
- “A” in honors class= 4.5 points
- “A” in an introductory class= 4 points
- “B” in AP class = 4 points
- “B” in honors class = 3.5 points
- “C” in AP class = 3 points
So, you’ll add these numbers together to get 24. Again, you’ll divide this number by six (the number of classes you’re taking).
Your weighted GPA is a 4.0. Taking the difficulty level of your classes into account, you are an “A” student.
Keep in mind that these are common calculations for weighted GPAs, but some schools may use a different system.
If you’re unsure, check with your school for specific grading policies.
The Big Difference
So, the big difference between unweighted and weighted GPA is that the weighted GPA takes course difficulty into account, while the unweighted GPA does not.
Ultimately, the weighted GPA is a more accurate representation of an individual student’s ability level and accomplishments.
Why does weighted vs. unweighted GPA matter?
The GPA calculation your school uses will determine your class rank.
If your school calculates unweighted GPAs, all A’s in AP classes will result in the same GPA as all A’s in introductory classes.
If, on the other hand, your school uses unweighted GPAs, the rigor of your classes plays a role in your class rank.
- For example, let’s say two top-tier students take AP and honors classes throughout high school. Both students never earn a grade below an “A.”
- However, one of the two students took a P.E. class in ninth grade. Because it was an introductory level class, the “A” this student earned in P.E. was worth only four points.
- So, who graduated as the valedictorian? The student who took only AP and honors classes.
This doesn’t mean you should never take a P.E. class. But it does mean that if your school uses weighted GPA for class rankings, you’ll need to take a rigorous schedule to compete for a high rank.
In recent years, however, class rankings have become less important. More and more high schools are getting rid of rankings altogether, making them less significant to colleges.
It looks good to say you’re in the top 10 percent of your class on a college application, but it’s not going to make or break your chances.
What GPA do colleges consider?
The way your school calculates GPA can impact your class ranking. But will it also impact college admissions? Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA?
In most cases, colleges consider the weighted GPA to be more useful information than the unweighted GPA.
- The most important point to remember, however, is that colleges look at your GPA in context.
- They won’t simply glance at the number itself.
They’ll also consider the rigor of your schedule and how you’ve improved over time.
In general, colleges don’t provide a minimum GPA they’ll consider or a minimum amount of AP courses you should take in high school.
Colleges want to see:
- Challenging courses on your schedule, preferably the most challenging courses available at your school
- Increasing rigor over your four years of high school
- Growth and improvement
- Strong academic performance
Ultimately, colleges want dedicated students who push themselves to reach their full academic potential.
Students who go outside of their comfort zone, tackle challenges, and demonstrate academic growth in high school will likely do the same in college.
- To get into a competitive college, you’ll need an excellent GPA, but it’s not only about the number.
- Challenge yourself, strive to learn more, and demonstrate that you’re a dedicated scholar.
In the end, your school’s GPA calculations won’t have a significant impact on your college admissions.
It’s all about the opportunities you pursue and how well you rise to the challenge.
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What if my school doesn’t have AP classes?
For some students, it’s discouraging that colleges emphasize strength of schedule.
Some high schools don’t offer AP classes, and others offer very few.
If that’s the case for you, there are several options you can pursue:
- Take honors classes at your school.
- Take online or in-person college courses.
- Self-study for the AP exam. (You can take an exam without taking the course, but you need to be highly motivated.)
What truly matters, though, is that you take the most challenging courses available at your school.
- Colleges evaluate transcripts in the context of your high school.
- Otherwise, a student from a rural high school wouldn’t have a fair shot against students from NYC high schools offering 20 plus AP classes, microbiology, multivariable calculus, astrophysics, and History of the Spanish Antilles.
John Latting, the dean of admissions at Emory University, says, “We know if there are not AP classes offered at a given school.
- And so we do not expect, of course, an applicant to have taken AP classes if they’re not available.”
Colleges are looking for students who make the most of what’s available to them. If for you, that’s not AP classes, then don’t worry.
Take as many honors classes as you can and challenge yourself in other ways, either through the options above or through internships, summer enrichment programs, self-directed research, and so on.
Colleges won’t count it against you.
What’s a competitive GPA for college admissions?
When it comes to GPA, it’s not all about the number, but the number does matter.
This is especially true if you’re applying to a competitive college with a low acceptance rate.
The GPA you need to aim for depends on the colleges you’re interested in attending. The guidelines below are extreme generalizations, but will give you an idea:
- Ivy League: 40 or higher
- Non-Ivy Top Tier Schools (Duke, Stanford, Northwestern): 4.0 or higher
- 30-40 percent acceptance rate: 3.8 or higher
- 50-60 percent acceptance rate: 3.5 or higher
- 60-80 percent acceptance rate: 3.0 or higher
- Other four-year colleges: 2.0 or higher
To get into any four-year college, even the least selective in the country, you’ll need at least a 2.0.
If your GPA is lower, you still have the option of attending a two-year college, building your GPA, and enrolling in a four-year college later.
- When colleges calculate the average GPA of accepted students, it’s based on numbers provided by the high school, so it will be a blend of weighted and unweighted GPAs.
Some schools do have official minimum GPA requirements, like the following:
- University of North Carolina: 2.5, weighted
- University of Florida: 2.0, unweighted
- University of Mississippi: 2.0, unweighted
- Massachusetts Public University System: 3.0, weighted
As you can see, these GPA requirements are achievable and not unreasonable.
And again, remember that it’s all in context. The rigor of your classes can make your GPA more or less impressive, and so can the difficulty level of your school and the classes available to you.
A 3.6 at your school could be a greater achievement than a 4.0 at another school.
What Do Admissions Officers Think About Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA?
Beth Clarke, senior executive director of admissions strategy and counseling at Sweet Briar College, has this to say about weighted vs. unweighted GPA:
Many colleges will accept the weighted GPA as long as the weighting assigned by the high school is considered standard and customary. For example, at Sweet Briar College, if the high school assigns a weighted GPA that provides more than .5 extra weight to a class on a 4.0 scale, we will recalculate the GPA based on a standard weighted scale.
Otherwise, we will accept the weighted GPA. Some colleges will recalculate a student’s GPA to only include core academic courses (for example, classes such as physical education, woodworking or study skills may be removed from the GPA calculation). It is best to inquire with the colleges and universities on your list to understand their unique GPA acceptance policy.
Final Thoughts: Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA
To put it simply, the weighted GPA provides extra points based on the difficulty level of your classes. The traditional, or unweighted, GPA does not. An “A” is an “A,” whether it was in P.E. or AP Physics.
- The way that your school calculates GPA will determine your class rank (if your school does rankings), and it will determine the GPA that colleges see on your transcript.
But college admissions teams do much more than simply look at your number.
- They’ll take into account what classes are available at your school, consider how much you challenged yourself, and look for evidence of growth and improvement.
Whether your school uses weighted or unweighted GPAs won’t affect your chances of college admission.
Try not to worry too much over calculations, and focus on taking the most challenging classes available to you and performing to the best of your ability.
Colleges will recognize your effort, dedication, and academic ability, and they’ll see your potential to continue achieving on their campus.