fbpx

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA: What to Report?

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: January 4, 2022

The most critical factor in your college application is your grade point average or GPA. Your GPA can influence academic awards, college acceptance, scholarships, and financial aid. With more test-optional schools, colleges use your GPA to predict your chances for academic success. A 2020 research study conducted by Allensworth and Clark supports that your high school GPA shows colleges your ability to succeed in better than standardized test scores.

A high GPA puts you in the most competitive pool for admissions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a low GPA may limit your college choices altogether. However, many schools calculate two GPAs for students, an unweighted GPA, and a weighted GPA. In most cases, colleges don’t say which they prefer to see in your college application. The Common App provides fields to report one or both. So how do you know which GPA to report to colleges? I know, confusing, right?!

At Stand Out College Prep, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading this post on weighted vs unweighted GPA to learn which matters most to colleges.

Grades weighted vs. unweighted GPA

Key Takeaways

Table of Contents

What is a GPA?

Grade Point Average, or your GPA, is a number that shows the average performance in courses attempted for a grade. Your GPA is a point value assigned to your grade multiplied by the number of credits earned. Then, you will divide this number by the total number of credits you attempted. Colleges will use your GPA to determine how likely you are to succeed at the college and in your chosen degree program.

Use this Template for Blog Cover Photos (7)

What is a Weighted GPA?

When your school gives you a weighted GPA, they have recalculated your grade point average to account for the more challenging courses you have taken. With schools and the classes they offer varying across the country, a weighted GPA shows you have completed the most difficult courses offered at your high school, such as honors, Advanced placement (AP), international baccalaureate, and college-level. Added value is figured into your GPA and indicates your ability to succeed in rigorous courses.

The typical GPA scale ranges from 0 to 4.0. A weighted GPA scale ranges from 0 to 5.0 based on the difficulty of the course. The more challenging courses are worth more, up to 5.0 points. This means if you take your school’s most challenging courses, you can have a weighted average higher than a perfect 4.0 GPA.

If your high school does not report weighted GPAs, don’t fret. College admissions offices will read your high school’s profile and review your transcript for evidence of academic rigor. Many colleges will recalculate your unweighted GPA and reward you with points, accounting for the rigor of your course curriculum. Your B in AP Literature will hold more weight than a student’s A+ in regular English.

What is an Unweighted GPA?

You’re probably already familiar with the unweighted GPA. After all, most high schools use the unweighted GPA to measure student success. The unweighted GPA is reported on the 4.0 scale. This means that a student with a 4.0 has all As on their transcript. If there are all Fs on the report card, then the GPA would be 0.0.  

The unweighted GPA does not consider the difficulty in your academic program. So you don’t get extra credit for taking harder courses. Therefore, students are not rewarded for challenging themselves with AP, IB, or accelerated courses. You can take all AP courses and get B-s and end up with a 2.3 GPA. Meanwhile, other students in your class, can coast through regular classes, earn all As, and graduate with a 4.0 GPA. Many thought this was unfair In fact, I remember in the early 2000s when my high school moved to weighted GPAs to give extra points for taking advanced level courses as a way to level the playing field and better portray student’s readiness for college when standardized tests don’t tell the most accurate story.

GPA Conversion Charts

Check out this chart that outlines how to convert your GPA from letter grade to percent and 4.0 GPA scale, and converting weighted vs unweighted GPA.

mom and teen discussing weighted vs. unweighted GPA

It's important to find out how your school calculates your GPA.

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA: What's the Difference?

In summary, the key difference between a weighted GPA and an unweighted GPA: the difficulty of each class you take. Your school is considering your more challenging courses for the weighted GPA, giving you extra points for challenging yourself with rigorous coursework. The unweighted GPA considers all the classes you take and the grades you earned equally. 

To illustrate:

Unweighted GPA Student Example

Monique earns a B+ in AP Psychology, B in AP Chemistry, and A+ in AP Literature. Each class is worth one credit. If her transcript only featured these three classes, her GPA would be 3.43. Branford earns an A in Regular Psychology, A in Regular Chemistry, and A in English 3. On his transcript, he would have a 4.0 GPA.

Weighted GPA Student Example

Using the same scenario, where Monique earns a B+ in AP Psychology, B in AP Chemistry, and A+ in AP Literature, her weighted GPA would be 4.53. The school would add a 1.0 point to each class’ calculated value since they are AP courses. Three classes total, divided by three credits, add 1.0 to her overall GPA. We’ll discuss how to calculate GPA below.

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA Explained

Branford’s GPA would not decrease under a weighted system. It would just stay the same, a 4.0. Monique’s 4.53 to Branford’s 4.0 show that she took more challenging classes at their high school. With this example, you can clearly see how the weighted GPA can make things seem fairer.

What is a Good GPA?

Since the early 2000s, the average GPA has been on the rise. A decade ago, the average unweighted GPA for American high school students was 3.0. Today it’s a 3.15 GPA. Nevertheless, a good GPA depends on your goals, your college list, and the career field you aspire to enter. For example, a 2.5 GPA or C+ may be what you need to attend most community colleges. Many scholarship contests set a minimum GPA of 2.0 ( C) to 3.0 (B).

For competitive colleges, you’ll want to aim for a GPA closer to 3.7. While colleges tend to say they don’t make admissions decisions based on grades, remember that grades matter. 2019 admissions data from Stanford showed the average GPA was a 4.0, meaning most admit earned all As in coursework. This is true for most competitive colleges. The closer you can perform to the higher range of the scale you’re reporting your GPA on, the better. This means if you are reporting an unweighted score, ideally, you’ll be above a 3.7 and as close to 4.0 as possible. For a weighted GPA, you’ll want to have between a 4.0 and 5.3 GPA (if on a 5.0 scale).

Also important to know: many colleges will recalculate your GPA on their own scale. This method further ensures they are not comparing apples to oranges when evaluating two students, one who mainly took APs and scored a 3.0 GPA versus one who took no APs and scored a 4.0 GPA.

The average high school student has a 3.15 GPA.

boy writing in notebook

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA: What Matters Most to Colleges?

We know that grades matter in college admissions. The Common App gives you a choice in adding your weighted GPA or unweighted GPA to your application. Colleges don’t have a preference on which you report and therefore, you should aim to choose the higher GPA and may give you a boost. For example, if your weighted GPA is 4.3, but your unweighted GPA is 3.75, you should report the 4.3. If you are unsure, you can always reach out and ask the college directly.

As you review college applications, scholarship applications, and other finanxcial aid forms, pay attention to which GPA they ask for, the weighted vs unweighted GPA and report the right one.

Calculating weighted vs unweighted GPA

Calculating unweighted GPA

Follow these steps to calculate an unweighted GPA.

Step 1. Assign each grade a numeric value:

A = 4.0

A- = 3.7

B+ = 3.3

B = 3.0 

C+ = 2.3

C = 2.0

C- = 1.7

D+ = 1.3

D = 1.0

D- = 0.7

F = 0.0

Step 2. Multiply the value of the grade you earned in the course by the credit value of the individual course.

Step 3. Divide the numerator by the total number of credits attempted as the denominator.

For example, let’s suppose you earn an A in gym (0.5 credit), A in American History (1 credit), and B+ in French (1 credit). Here would be the math:

[(4.0*.5) + (4.0*1) + (3.3*1)] /2.5

= 9.3/2.5

= 3.72 

Your GPA would be a 3.72.

 

Calculating weighted GPA

The easiest way to calculate your weighted GPA is to convert the value you assigned to classes based on the additional value your school assigns for accelerated classes. 

Step 1. Assign advanced classes a weighted value:

A = 5.0

A- = 4.7

B+ = 4.3

B = 4.0 

C+ = 3.3

C = 3.0

C- = 2.7

D+ = 2.3

D = 2.0

D- = 1.7

F = 1.0

Step 2. Multiply the value of the grade you earned in the course by the credit value of the individual course.

Step 3. Divide the numerator by the total number of credits attempted as the denominator.

From the previous example, if the American History and French classes were both AP classes, then your GPA would change. Here’s the math:

[(4.0*.5) + (5.0*1) + (4.3*1)] /2.5

= 11.3/2.5

= 4.52 

Your weighted GPA would be 4.52.

If you don’t have time to manually calculate your GPA, save time using our GPA calculator below.

Weighted and Unweighted GPA Calculator

courses

GPA Calculator

My School Doesn't Offer AP Classes

Unfortunately, many high schools do not offer AP classes. Or, your high school may limit the number of AP courses you can take. This will affect your ability to use a weighted GPA. Also, it will be harder for you to show colleges that you can handle difficult college courses.

If this is the case for you, you have a few options, including:

Online or in-person college courses. Sign up for Coursera, one of the most popular Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), with classes offered by schools like UPenn, Stanford, University of Illinois, and Northwestern. While not eligible for college credit, nor will it factor into your GPA, achieving a certificate shows colleges your mastery of college-level topics like coding, digital marketing, and biotechnology. Check out courses made specifically for high school students.

The CLEP Program. The College Board offers the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), standardized subject-based tests. High school coursework will not adequately prepare you for CLEP. You’ll need to take a college-level course, like one offered on Coursera. Scoring well on CLEP can earn you credits from over 2,900 institutions. However, you should always check with each college on your list to see if they’ll award CLEP credit.

 >>More: Help! My School Doesn’t Offer AP Classes.

UC GPA

The University of California (UC) have their own GPA, the weighted and capped UC GPA. UC calculates a GPA to determine if applicants meet its GPA requirement for admission, a 3.0 for California residents and 3.4 for non-California residents.

The UC GPA, like the regular weighted GPA that many high schools use, takes into account the level of difficulty of the classes you have taken. The GPA caps at a maximum of eight semesters and no more than four from 10th grade can be used to boost your GPA. The UCs only consider courses taken from the summer of 9th grade to the summer of 11th grade, and specific courses outlined in this guide, called A-G courses. The pluses and minuses on your letter grades are ignored, so a B+, B, and B- are all Bs.

Honors courses are defined differently by UC as well. If you live in California, honors courses are AP, IB HL/SL, UC-transferable college courses, and honors classes certified by UC. For out-of-state students, honors courses are AP, IB, and transferable college courses.

Calculating the UC GPA

Step 1. With your transcript in front of you, ignore all grades from 9th grade

Step 2. Use this search tool to find if your courses are an A-G course. PE, Health, and many elective classes won’t be approved.

Step 3. Put an asterisk* next to any course that UC considers an Honors course.

Step 4. If you have scored a D or F in a course, then retook the course and scored higher, you can remove the initial D/F course from your calculation

Step 5. Write down the points of the A-G courses for each grade and every semester, organizing them into separate rows: As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs 

Step 6. Multiply each row by the value of each grade: 

A = 4.0

B = 3.0

C = 2.0

D = 1.0

F = 0.0

Step 7. Add one point extra, up to 8 points, for each UC-approved honors course you have taken.

Step 8. Add the total points and divide by the total number of classes taken that are UC-approved courses.

In this example, let’s say you have taken ten courses.

4 As x 4.0 = 16.0 (4 credits attempted)

4 Bs x 3.0 = 12.0 (4 credits attempted)

2 Cs x 2.0 = 4.0 ( 2 credits attempted)

0 Ds x 1.0 = 0.0 

0 Fs x 0.0 = 0.0

Total (Before Honors UC courses) = 32

Suppose 4 of the classes were AP classes, so you can add 8 points to the 32 to make 40.

Now divide 40 by the ten courses, making your UC GPA a 4.0. Now you know how to calculate your UC GPA.

Conclusion + Next Steps

In this post, you learned how to examine your weighted vs unweighted GPA. Your GPA shows colleges your performance in your high school courses. As you move forward in the college admissions process, you should know how to calculate your unweighted and weighted GPA. If you’re applying to a UC school, then you’ll have an added step of calculating your UC GPA. 

Colleges generally don’t have a preference in the scores they accept, weighted vs unweighted GPA. Depending on your goals and the colleges requirements, you’ll report the GPA that will boost your admissions chances. 

Ultimately, the GPA that you earn is connected to the high school classes that you choose. That’s why as a next step, read this post about How to Choose High School Classes to choose classes that demonstrate to colleges you can succeed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Was this article helpful?
YesNo
Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.