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. So how do you know which GPA to report to colleges? I know, confusing, right?! The good news is that we’ve got you covered. Keep reading this post on weighted vs unweighted GPA to learn which matters most to colleges.
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.
Why does GPA Matter?
When you apply to college, admissions officers will look at your GPA to decide whether or not to accept you. And if you’re thinking about going to graduate school or applying for certain jobs in the future, your GPA will be important too.
Having a high GPA can really help you stand out and give you a better chance of getting into your dream college or getting the financial aid you need. But if your GPA is low, it could make things harder for you.
One thing to keep in mind is that some schools use different methods to calculate GPA. They might use an unweighted GPA, which just counts all your grades the same, or a weighted GPA, which gives you extra points for taking more challenging classes. So when you’re filling out college applications, make sure you know which GPA they want you to report.
Where unweighted or weighted, having a good GPA is important for your future academic and career opportunities. It can help you open doors and reach your goals, so it’s definitely worth putting in the effort to do well in your classes!
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.
What Colleges Prefer: Weighted vs Unweighted GPA?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as different colleges and universities may have different preferences when it comes to weighted vs. unweighted GPA. However, in general, colleges that value a strong academic record and rigor may prefer to see a weighted GPA.
For example, colleges that are highly selective and have competitive admissions processes may be more likely to look at a student’s weighted GPA as an indicator of their academic potential. Additionally, colleges that place a strong emphasis on challenging coursework and academic achievement, such as Ivy League schools, may also prefer to see a high weighted GPA.
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.
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.
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 unweighted GPA for American high school students has been increasing. A decade ago, it was 3.0, while today it’s 3.15. However, what constitutes a good GPA depends on your goals, the colleges you’re considering, and the career field you aspire to enter.
For example, if you plan to attend community college, a GPA of 2.5 (C+) may be sufficient. Many scholarship contests also set a minimum GPA of 2.0 (C) to 3.0 (B). On the other hand, for competitive colleges, you’ll want to aim for a higher GPA, with a target closer to 3.7. While colleges claim to look at more than just grades, GPA is still an important factor in college admissions.
According to 2019 admissions data from Stanford University, the average GPA of admitted students was 4.0, indicating that most students earned all As in their coursework. This trend is consistent with other competitive colleges, and the closer you can get to a 4.0 GPA, the better your chances of admission will be. For weighted GPAs, you should aim for a score between 4.0 and 5.3 (on a 5.0 scale).
It’s worth noting that many colleges will recalculate your GPA on their own scale. This method ensures that they are comparing apples to apples when evaluating two students with different academic backgrounds. For example, a student who took AP courses and earned a 3.0 GPA may be evaluated differently than a student who took no AP courses and earned a 4.0 GPA.
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. Convert your letter grades to numbers. Each letter grade corresponds to a number on a 4.0 scale. For example:
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. Add up your grade points. For each class, multiply the number value of your grade by the number of credits the class is worth. For example, if you got an A in a 3-credit class, you would multiply 4.0 x 3 = 12. Do this for all of your classes.
Step 3. Add up your total grade points. Add up all of the grade points you calculated in step 2 to get your total grade points.
Step 4. Add up your total credits. Add up the total number of credits you earned for all of your classes.
Step 5. Divide your total grade points by your total credits. This will give you your unweighted GPA.
For example, let’s say you got the following grades:
- English: A (3 credits)
- Math: B (4 credits)
- Science: A (3 credits)
- History: C (3 credits)
To calculate your unweighted GPA, you would do the following:
- English: 4.0 x 3 = 12
- Math: 3.0 x 4 = 12
- Science: 4.0 x 3 = 12
- History: 2.0 x 3 = 6
Total grade points = 12 + 12 + 12 + 6 = 42 Total credits = 3 + 4 + 3 + 3 = 13 Unweighted GPA = 42 ÷ 13 = 3.23
So in this example, your unweighted GPA would be 3.23.
Calculating weighted GPA
Calculating your weighted GPA can be a bit more complex, but it’s still an important part of your academic record. Here’s how to calculate your weighted GPA:
Step 1. Assign a weighted value to your advanced classes. Depending on your school, advanced classes like honors or AP classes may be assigned a higher point value. Here are some typical weighted values:
- A = 5.0
- B = 4.0
- C = 3.0
- D = 2.0
- F = 1.0
Step 2. Multiply your grade value by the credit value of the course. For example, if you got an A in an honors English class that was worth 1 credit, you would multiply 5.0 x 1 = 5.0.
Step 3. Add up all of your weighted grade values, and divide by the total number of credits attempted. This will give you your weighted GPA.
For example, let’s say you took the following classes:
- American History: A (0.5 credits, honors)
- French: A- (1 credit, AP)
- Algebra: B+ (1 credit)
To calculate your weighted GPA, you would do the following:
- American History: 5.0 x 0.5 = 2.5
- French: 4.7 x 1 = 4.7
- Algebra: 4.3 x 1 = 4.3
Total weighted grade values = 2.5 + 4.7 + 4.3 = 11.5 Total credits attempted = 0.5 + 1 + 1 = 2.5 Weighted GPA = 11.5 ÷ 2.5 = 4.6
So in this example, your weighted GPA would be 4.6.
If you don’t have time to manually calculate your GPA, save time using our GPA calculator below.
Weighted and Unweighted 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. In addition to traditional college courses, The College Board offers the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), which consists of standardized subject-based tests. CLEP exams are designed to test your knowledge of a particular subject and are accepted by over 2,900 institutions as a way to earn college credits.
However, it’s important to note that high school coursework alone may not adequately prepare you for CLEP exams. To perform well on these exams, you may need to take a college-level course in the relevant subject, such as those offered on platforms like Coursera.
It’s also important to check with each college on your list to see if they’ll award CLEP credit. While many colleges accept CLEP credit, each institution sets its own policies regarding which exams they will accept and what score is required to receive credit. Some schools may not award credit for certain exams or may require a higher score than others.
If you’re considering taking a CLEP exam, it’s important to do your research beforehand to ensure that the exam is a good fit for you and that you’re adequately prepared. You can find more information on CLEP exams, including study resources and testing locations, on The College Board’s website.
CLEP offers exams in a variety of subjects, including:
- Financial Accounting
- Introductory Business Law
- Information Systems
- Principles of Management
- Principles of Marketing
- Composition and Literature:
- American Literature
- Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
- College Composition
- College Composition Modular
- Foreign Languages:
- French Language (Levels 1 and 2)
- German Language (Levels 1 and 2)
- Spanish Language (Levels 1 and 2)
- History and Social Sciences:
- American Government
- History of the United States I: Early Colonization to 1877
- History of the United States II: 1865 to the Present
- Human Growth and Development
- Introduction to Educational Psychology
- Introductory Psychology
- Introductory Sociology
- Principles of Macroeconomics
- Principles of Microeconomics
- Social Sciences and History
- Science and Mathematics:
- College Algebra
- College Mathematics
- Natural Sciences
It’s important to note that not all exams are offered at all testing centers, so it’s a good idea to check availability and make sure the exam you need is offered at your preferred testing location.
While MOOCs and CLEP exams won’t directly impact your GPA, they can be a valuable tool for reducing the cost of your college education and potentially shortening the time it takes to earn your degree.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA
What is an unweighted GPA?
An unweighted GPA is just what it sounds like – all of your grades are given the same value, regardless of how challenging the classes are. For example, getting an A in a regular English class would count the same as getting an A in an honors or AP English class.
What is a weighted GPA?
A weighted GPA takes into account the level of difficulty of your classes. For example, getting an A in an honors or AP class would be worth more points than getting an A in a regular class. This means that a weighted GPA can be higher than an unweighted GPA.
How do colleges look at weighted vs. unweighted GPA?
Every college is unique, but typically they will consider both your weighted and unweighted GPA when evaluating your application. This is because colleges want to see that you’re taking challenging courses and doing well in them, but they also want to have a complete understanding of your overall academic performance.
It’s important to keep in mind that some colleges may recalculate your GPA to make it easier to compare you to other applicants. This means that even if your high school calculates your GPA differently, the college may use its own formula. Therefore, you should focus on doing your best and taking challenging courses rather than worrying too much about which type of GPA is more important.
Remember, your GPA is just one factor that colleges consider when evaluating your application. They also look at other things like extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation.
Which one should I report on my college applications?
In many college applications, such as the Common App, you will usually be asked to provide both your weighted and unweighted GPA. This allows colleges to see both how you’re doing in challenging courses and how you’re doing overall. It’s important to calculate both accurately and report them honestly.
One thing to keep in mind is that you can choose to report the GPA that is highest and would be most advantageous for your college applications. For example, if your unweighted GPA is higher than your weighted GPA, you can choose to report that instead. However, it’s important to make sure that you are reporting accurately and not inflating your GPA in any way.
How can I improve my GPA, whether it’s weighted or unweighted?
Improving your GPA takes effort and dedication, but it’s definitely achievable. Here are some tips to help you boost your GPA:
Work hard in your classes: This may seem obvious, but the best way to improve your GPA is to put in the effort and work hard in your classes. Attend all of your classes, take good notes, and participate in class discussions.
Study regularly: In addition to attending classes, it’s important to study regularly. Set aside time each day to review your notes, read your textbooks, and work on assignments. This will help you to better understand the material and prepare for exams.
Complete assignments on time: Missing assignments or turning them in late can hurt your GPA. Make sure you understand the deadlines for each assignment and work on them well in advance.
Ask for help when you need it: If you’re struggling with a particular subject or assignment, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your teacher or a tutor for extra support. They can help you understand the material and improve your grades.
Take advantage of extra credit opportunities: Some teachers may offer extra credit opportunities to help boost your grade. Make sure to take advantage of these opportunities if they’re available.
Weighted vs Unweighted 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.