How to Calculate Your GPA for the College Admissions Application

college admissions Sep 10, 2021

Working hard to select the best classes, score high, and do your very best is necessary.

Most students think a lot about their GPA in high school. There’s no doubt that GPA is one of the most important pieces of information colleges will consider in your application. However, GPA can vary drastically in the way it’s calculated at different schools. Some high schools use unweighted GPAs and some use weighted GPAs. I’ll give you an overview of the differences between the two and what each type of GPA might mean in the context of your personal experiences.

Basic Differences Between Weighted and Unweighted GPAs

So what are weighted and unweighted GPAs? Here are the main differences between the two.

Unweighted GPA

Traditionally, GPA is calculated on an unweighted scale. Unweighted GPA is measured on a scale of 0 to 4.0. It doesn’t take the difficulty of a student’s coursework into account. An unweighted GPA represents an A as a 4.0 whether it was earned in an honors class, AP class, or lower-level class.

 How is unweighted GPA calculated?

Unweighted GPA is measured on a scale of 0 to 4.0 and it does not take under consideration the difficulty of a student’s coursework.

The weighted GPA represents the student’s academic accomplishments as it does take under account the course difficulty and it is measured on a scale of 0 to 5.0, some even higher. So, an A in an AP class might translate into a 5.0 weighted GPA, and an A in a regular class will translate into 4.0 weighted GPA. If the student took honors classes, the highest weighted GPA earned will be 4.5.

Now that we know what they mean, let’s see how they are calculated.

Unweighted GPA - since there is no consideration of the level of classes, the calculation is easy. For example, if the student is taking five classes, and in two the grade is As = 4.0 and in the other three it is a Bs = 3.0. The unweighted GPA will be the sum of all = 3.4.

Here is a visual representation incase the grades earned are all over the map.

Letter Grade Percentile GPA
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 Below 65 0.0

Most schools more or less follow this scale for unweighted GPAs. Yours may be slightly different, but it shouldn’t vary too much. Weighted GPA - if we use the same example as above, As+As+Bs+Bs+Bs, to calculate the weighted GPA we have to consider each grade in conjunction with the class level.

Translation: using the unweighted GPA conversion scale for grades in regular classes, adding 0.5 to the scale for honors classes, and adding 1.0 for AP classes. So, it will look like this:

Grade A in regular class =4.0

Grade A in honors class = 4.5

Grade B in AP class = 4.0

Grade B in honors class = 3.5

The sum of all five grades divided by 5, and the weighted GPA is 4.0.

Not all schools will use this exact weighted GPA scale, but as you can see, there can be a big difference between the numbers you get for unweighted GPA and weighted GPA, based on the types of classes you’re taking.

The question to ask the school is if they use weighted or unweighted GPA

Whether your school uses weighted or unweighted GPA can impact your class rank and experiences in the college admissions process.

If Your School Uses Unweighted GPAs…

Admissions committees look at your coursework in conjunction with your GPA to reach conclusions about your academic potential. They understand that some schools do not take the difficulty of students’ classes into consideration when calculating GPA. If you challenge yourself in your classes but don’t have a perfect GPA, you will look better in the college admissions process than someone in regular-level classes who has a 4.0.

It may be harder to stand out from your classmates with your GPA because more students will have GPAs that are at the same level when class difficulty is not a factor in the calculation. If class rank is based purely on unweighted GPA, your class rank may not reflect the effort you expended. Students with a lot of AP classes can have lower unweighted GPAs than students who took less difficult classes despite being more academically driven.

College admissions officers are aware of the limits of the unweighted system, and they will look closely at your course record to determine whether your GPA is an accurate reflection of your academic potential. The bottom line is that colleges will look deeper than the raw numbers when evaluating your high school academic record regardless of whether your GPA is weighted or unweighted.

If Your School Uses Weighted GPAs…

First off, you should know that having a 4.0 weighted GPA doesn’t mean you can get into any college. A 4.0 may be the commonly accepted gold standard, but with weighted GPAs everything shifts upward. A truly elite GPA under the weighted system will actually be close to a 5.0, so you will need to make sure you adapt your concept of what constitutes a high GPA to fit this model.

With a weighted GPA, your class rank is more likely to reflect your academic drive and ability because your GPA is a reflection of both your grades and the levels of the classes in which you earned them. You’ll have a higher rank than someone who earns the same grades as you in lower level classes.

Weighted GPAs mean that you need to be careful because they can be deceptive. A lot of the advice that's out there is targeted towards unweighted GPAs, so you'll need to adjust your thinking to account for the size of the GPA scale at your school.

Admissions officers will be able to tell which classes you took and how much you pushed yourself, so your GPA by itself becomes only one part of a much larger picture. 

You will also be required to lift the weight of your GPA times 40 in order to walk at graduation, so start training. Why do you think valedictorians are always so ripped? 

Do Colleges Look at Weighted or Unweighted GPAs?

So, which do colleges care more about then, your weighted or unweighted GPA? The short answer is that most colleges care somewhat more about weighted GPAs because they do a better job showing the difficulty of the classes you took.

However, colleges care more about your entire record of coursework than just your GPA out of context. They'll look to see which classes you took, how difficult those classes typically are, and what your class rank is. All of these factors are going to give them a better understanding of your GPA. So, when you're wondering which GPA is more important, the real answer is that colleges will look at all the information they're given to get the best idea of your academic skills. They won't just glance at your GPA and decide whether it's a good number or not without looking at other factors.

If your transcript shows increasing difficulty in your coursework, this will look impressive to colleges, even if your GPA isn’t perfect. If you have a 4.0 GPA but took all the least challenging classes in high school, colleges will be less impressed since you didn’t push yourself academically. This means you should continue working on taking difficult classes and getting high grades in them in order to be as impressive as possible.

Summary

Your high school GPA may be measured on either an unweighted or weighted scale. The main difference between the two is that weighted GPAs take into account the difficulty of your coursework and unweighted GPAs don’t. Most unweighted GPAs are recorded on a scale of 0 to 4.0, and most weighted GPAs are recorded on a scale of 0 to 5.0.

For the most part, whether your high school uses unweighted or weighted GPA shouldn’t affect you in the college application process. Colleges will look at your GPA, but they will also consider the bigger picture. Their greatest concern is that you’ve managed to challenge yourself intellectually with your coursework. GPA is important, but proof of your determination and perseverance in the face of academic struggles is often more impressive than a 4.0.

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