A Guide to Weighted vs. Unweighted GPAs

In high school, students are asked to think about a lot of different things. Class load, homework, and test scores account for only parts of the total package, while GPA (or grade point average) sits at the forefront. GPA matters as you begin to think about study plans for AP classes, pursuing internships, and college applications. GPAs, however, don’t always get evaluated in the same way. A guide to weighted vs. unweighted GPAs involves an understanding of how certain classes are weighted differently from others, as well as how those numbers factor into your academic transcript.

Every high school is different in how they calculate a student's GPA, the difference being weighted vs. unweighted GPAs. The variation between weighted and unweighted GPAs is easy to distinguish, but can seem foreign at first glance. When it comes to understanding how your high school and potential colleges look at GPA, it is important to have all of your facts straight. Here is a guide to discovering the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs:

The basics of weighted vs. unweighted GPAs

Most GPAs are calculated using an unweighted scale, which extends from 0 to 4.0. These GPAs do not look at how difficult a student’s coursework may be, and represents an A as a 4.0, regardless of class or curriculum.

[RELATED: 4 Important Facts to Know About Your GPA]

A weighted GPA, on the contrary, reflects a student’s academic coursework more accurately. It weights different classes by giving a different letter grade to GPA conversion depending on course difficulty. It exists on a scale of 0-5.0, so an A in one class is equal to 4.0, but an A in another may be a 5.0. Some schools even have mid-level classes that award a 4.5 for an A.

Doing the math: weighted vs. unweighted

For an unweighted GPA, you simply need to assign numbers to your letter grades and add them up. If you have three As, two Bs, and a C you would:

  • add 4.0+4.0+4.0+3.0+3.0+2.0=20

  • divide by total number of classes (6)

  • GPA =  3.33

To calculate a weighted GPA, each grade is considered in accordance with its class level. You’d follow a similar method to the one described above, though you’d make adjustments for higher- and lower-level classes.

What weighted vs. unweighted GPAs mean on college applications

Comparing weighted and unweighted GPAs can be difficult, because it is like looking at apples and oranges—you’re still viewing fruit, but the similarities don’t extend much further. Colleges understand that not all students can offer a weighted GPA, so many look at coursework and make these distinctions themselves.

If you’ve challenged yourself and received a B, a school may look more favorably on that than if you’ve skated by on easy classes. Coursework is especially important here; many students may share a similar GPA or class rank, so your specific pathway may make a lasting impression.

The good news is that college admissions professionals are quite used to unweighted GPAs, so they’ll know how to sift through those applications to assess your potential for academic success.

If you go to a school that has weighted GPAs, you’ll also need to be aware that a 4.0 is actually not top-tier—aim for somewhere closer to a 5.0. You’ll also need to think more about class rank, since you’ll be ranked higher based on difficulty of your classes.

Weighted and unweighted GPAs: the bottom line

No matter the GPA system in place at your school, you’ve got a unique set of challenges—and a unique set of opportunities. Both require that you think carefully about the courses you choose to take and your academic performance in them. Weighted or unweighted, your GPA and class selection can determine whether or not you are accepted into a particular school, what scholarships you receive, and what courses you are eligible to take.

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