Weighted or Unweighted GPA: Don’t Freak Out Over the Numbers

weighted unweighted gpa scales

During the college admissions process, you might take a long hard look at your transcript. You might notice the “weighted” GPA and “unweighted” GPAs. You might then freak out and think BUT WHICH ONE DO COLLEGES CARE ABOUT? We’re here to tell you the facts: It’s a bit of both, and a little bit of none of it.

Let me explain.

Weighted or Unweighted GPA

First, what is a weighted GPA and what is an unweighted GPA?

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An “unweighted” GPA or “traditional” GPA is measured on a scale of 4.0 to 0, with an A being a 4.0 and an F being a 0. Unweighted GPAs don’t take the class levels into account, so the AP or honors classes will still be 4.0, as will your intro level Art class, and so on.

A “weighted” GPA gets a bit more complicated, and it’s often different for each school (keep that point in mind). For a weighted GPA, some schools will record an AP or honors class (a “higher level” course) on a 5.0 scale. In this scale, an A is worth a 5.0, and an F will be a 1.0. They do this in consideration that these classes are a rigorous step above the average content, and they reward the grades accordingly. To further complicate matters, some other schools might even use a 6.0 scale.

So Which One Do Colleges Use to Make Their Decision?

Here’s the scoop: Your GPA is only part of your acceptance decision, and it’s not the starting point for any admissions counselor. Contrary to popular belief, universities do not “throw out” applications below a certain GPA level. 

First, colleges look at what courses you’ve taken at your specific school, and how well you’ve done in those classes. At the same time, they look at all of the classes offered at your school. They do this because realistically, every high school is different and offers different classes. Colleges have to be able to compare your high school, with its three AP classes, and an NYC high school offering twelve AP courses, fourteen languages, and advanced hot yoga as PE option.

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Those grades then create your GPA. But remember, your GPA is measuring your grades at your school, while others GPAs are measuring their grades at their schools. You’re all high school students, but you aren’t compared apples-to-apples… you’re not even compared apples-to-oranges. If you haven’t the chance to take hot yoga, you shouldn’t get compared to people who can.

You’re reviewed on on your own merit in your school. Period.

So even if you’ve applied to a college that historically averages a 3.5 GPA in their acceptance pool, and you have a 3.0 unweighted and a 4.0 weighted, the admissions counselor is going to look deeper into your transcript. They’re going to look at the full picture of you as a student.

Think Courses First, Weighted or Unweighted GPA Second

So what do colleges do in the admissions process?  They look at your selected classes from within your high school (your transcript will often be accompanied by a high school snapshot, provided by your guidance counselor), your grades in those classes (and they’ll often re-calculate your GPA to match their needs… yes, they just might!), and what classes you didn’t choose. Did your school offer 12 AP courses but you only took two? Did your school offer three AP classes and you aced them? That counts.

So what’s the lesson here: Breathe. Don’t get hyperfocused on the GPA part of your transcript. Create a compelling story in your applications and essays around your classes, interests, and dreams. Let the numbers speak for themselves.

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