At the end of your report card every year, listed under your current grades, is your cumulative GPA. You might know what is typically seen as a great GPA—for example, something at or near a 4.0— and what numbers represent weaker GPAs. But you may not know how your GPA is calculated, how it will influence your college admissions process, and how you can use it to decide what kinds of colleges might fit you best. Your cumulative GPA is a powerful marker of where you are academically and what kind of academic performance you might be capable of later on. When looking at your GPA from this past school year, keep these four important facts in mind:
1. Your cumulative GPA may be weighted—and different schools have different methods of weighting GPAs
If you take some honors or AP classes, your grades from these classes might result in your cumulative GPA being calculated with higher numbers. For example, some schools grade AP classes on a 5.0 scale and honors classes on a 4.5 scale, thus making it possible for your cumulative GPA to be over a 4.0. If your school “weights” these more advanced classes by adjusting the grading scale, then your cumulative GPA may be a “weighted GPA,” intended to reflect the increased rigor of your courseload. Furthermore, the way one school weights its more challenging classes may not be the way other schools weight theirs, and some schools may not weight their classes at all. Before you get excited about your GPA, figure out if your school weights classes and if the cumulative GPA on your report card is weighted or unweighted.
[RELATED: How LSAC Calculates Your GPA]
2. Colleges may place more emphasis on your unweighted GPA
Colleges receive a copy of your official high school transcript that may include both your unweighted and weighted GPAs. Because high schools calculate their weighted GPAs in a myriad of ways, many colleges look to standardize the grading scales of their applicants by putting everyone back on the old 4.0 scale—meaning that colleges may look at your unweighted GPA as well. Colleges can then assess the rigor of your courseload by looking at which classes are listed on your transcript. Thus, if you have an unweighted GPA of 3.7 and took four AP classes, you might be more enticing than a candidate with an unweighted 4.0 who took no challenging courses.
3. You can use your GPA to determine how competitive of a college applicant you might be
Most colleges share the average GPAs of students in their recent entering classes, and you can use this data to help determine if you are a competitive applicant for certain schools. Applying to a few reach schools is standard for most students, but it should be noted that your reach schools should be just that—within reach. Use your GPA as a guideline during your application process. However, keep in mind the college admissions process is typically holistic, meaning the application reviewers review all aspects of your academic history and what you have to offer, so try not to completely write off a potential school due to a target GPA mismatch. Your GPA can act as just one of many guiding factors as you research colleges to find which are the best statistical fits.
4. Colleges may use your GPA as an indication of how well you will perform academically at the collegiate level
Colleges know that a past record of strong academic performance typically begets future strong performances. Colleges look at GPAs not only as evidence of your high school accomplishments, but as likely predictors of future promise. Your GPA may represent what you will bring to a school academically and how well you might do once you graduate from college. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward by working consistently hard and challenging yourself throughout your high school career so that your GPA reflects a promising candidate who is ready to take on a collegiate courseload.
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