You have likely heard the terms before- weighted and unweighted GPA- but the definition of those varies significantly from high school to high school and college to college. In this blog, we will go over the important details to know and shed some light on this complicated topic.
The more easily defined of the two is unweighted GPA. Most high schools and colleges go by the same formula for calculating this. An unweighted GPA is calculated by taking just the final grades from major subject courses and assigning it a number from 0 – 4.0.
Here is the chart:
Regardless of course level, a final grade is matched with a number and the average is calculated to determine an unweighted GPA. Colleges use unweighted GPA’s to make the playing field even between students in different high schools. Regardless of any scoring system an individual high school might have, a college can determine a student’s unweighted GPA based on this scale. However, the college will very likely separately determine the level of difficulty of the student’s courses and take that into account in the admission decision. For example, a student may have a 3.0 unweighted GPA, but have taken nearly all AP and Honors level courses, which will make them a stronger candidate than a student who earned a 3.0 in less difficult courses.
Nearly every high school calculates a weighted GPA differently. I once worked at high school that calculated it onto a 9.0 scale; they had a very unique system. A weighted GPA adds in numeric value for more difficult courses, as determined by the high school. They may give an extra point, or half point, for Honors and AP courses, for example. Many high schools will calculate a weighted GPA and then use that information to convey to colleges where a particular student falls within their graduating class. Colleges take this information into consideration, but will likely recalculate the student’s GPA based on their own weighted system, or calculate an unweighted GPA and take into account the level of difficulty of the courses separately, as noted above.
To help make this clearer, if possible, take a student named Mark. Mark has earned A’s and B’s in a mix of Honors and College-Preparatory courses. His unweighted GPA is a 3.5. His weighted GPA, as calculated by his high school, which adds a half point for Honors courses, is a 3.8. His colleges will likely take both numbers into consideration, but may have their own system where they add one point for Honors courses. So, every student that applies to that college will have their transcript and GPA reevaluated and calculated based on their system. That way, Mark can be evaluated with students from other high schools fairly.
I know it’s confusing; there is no simple explanation of weighted vs unweighted GPA. And, this is a lot of information to throw your way on just one topic. But I’m hoping that the more information the better so you can get a sense of just how these numbers play out in the admission process. The important thing to remember is not to get too caught up on the details of the numbers, Every high school and college is different. So, students should keep earning good grades in the most challenging courses for them, and colleges will see, and calculate in their own way, that effort.