By Allen Grove. College Admissions Expert
Allen Grove is the former director of a program for new college students, a professor of English, and a freelance writer who focuses on college admissions, student success, and the transition from high school to college. Read more
Many high schools weight grades. Others don't. And colleges may calculate a GPA that is different from a student's weighted or unweighted GPA. The article below explains the confusing ways in which GPAs are calculated.
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In an effort to acknowledge the effort that goes into challenging courses, many high schools weight the grades for AP, IB, honors and accelerated courses. The weighting isn't always the same from school to school, but a typical model on a 4-point grade scale might look like this:
AP, Honors, Advanced Courses: 'A' (5 points); 'B' (4 points); 'C' (3 points); 'D' (1 point); 'F' (0 points)
Regular Courses: 'A' (4 points); 'B' (3 points); 'C' (2 points); 'D'(1 point); 'F' (0 points)
Thus, a student who got straight 'A's and took nothing but AP classes could have a 5.0 GPA on a 4-point scale.
High schools will often use these weighted GPAs for determining class rank -- they don't want students to rank high just because they took easy classes.
Selective colleges, however, usually aren't going to use these artificially inflated grades. Yes, they want to see that a student has taken challenging courses, but they need to compare all applicants using the same 4-point grade scale. Most high schools that use weighted GPAs will also include unweighted
grades on a student's transcript, and selective colleges will usually use the unweighted number.
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I've had students confused about being rejected from the country's top universities when they have GPAs over a 4.0. The reality, however, is that a 4.1 weighted GPA may be just a 3.4 unweighted GPA, and a B+ average isn't going to be very competitive at schools like Stanford and Harvard. Most applicants to these top schools have taken large numbers of AP and Honors courses, and the admissions folks will be looking for students who have unweighted "A" grades.
The opposite can be true for less selective colleges that struggle to meet their enrollment targets. Such schools are often looking for reasons to admit students, not reasons to reject them, so they will often use weighted grades so that more applicants meet minimum enrollment qualifications.
The GPA confusion doesn't stop here. Colleges also want to make sure that a student's GPA reflects grades in core academic courses, not a bunch of padding. Thus, a lot of colleges will calculate a GPA that is different from both a student's weighted or unweighted GPA. Many colleges will look just at English. Math. Social Studies. Foreign Language and Science grades. Grades in gym, wood working, cooking, music, health, theatre and other areas will not be given nearly as much consideration in the admissions process.
To get a sense of the unweighted GPAs needed to get into some of the country's top colleges and universities, check out these GPA-SAT-ACT graphs for admitted and rejected students (GPAs are on the Y-axis):