How Do AP Classes Impact Your GPA?

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses has many benefits: it exposes you to and prepares you for college-level work, it could earn you college credit, and it demonstrates that you’re a serious applicant who is willing to challenge yourself.

 

One additional advantage? AP course participation can boost your weighted GPA. How does this work? Let’s take a look.

 

What Are AP Classes?

 

The AP program from the College Board offers college-level courses across 38 subjects, including arts, English, history and social sciences, math and computer science, sciences, and world languages and cultures. Students who participate in AP classes often take an end-of-year exam that assesses their knowledge of and skills in the subject. 

 

Based on components like multiple-choice questions, essays, and short answers — variable depending on the specific test — students receive a score from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Some colleges award credit to students who earn high scores, usually a 4 or 5, and in some cases a 3. Even if a college doesn’t award credit, they may use the exam for course placement, allowing you to place out of introductory classes.

 

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to take the AP exam even if you take the course. Most students choose to do so in hopes of earning college credit, though. On the other hand, you also don’t have to take the corresponding course to sit for the AP exam; some students may choose to self-study APs. However, be aware that this is extremely challenging and won’t allow you to boost your GPA.

 

AP exams are quite expensive, and cost anywhere from $95-143, depending on the exam and your location. There are fee waivers, but students who don’t qualify can expect to spend quite a bit of money just on testing.

 

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPAs

 

An unweighted GPA doesn’t take into account the rigor of your courses. A weighted GPA, meanwhile, assigns extra value to AP and IB courses, usually a full point on a 4.0 scale, with a 4.0 representing an A. That means if you earn an A in an AP course, it will factor into your GPA as a 5.0. This is how many top students end up graduating with GPAs higher than 4.0.

 

Although colleges may see your weighted GPA on your transcript, they will likely recalculate them according to their own system because high schools weight GPAs differently. 

 

On your college applications, you should generally list your weighted GPA, unless the application asks for unweighted GPA specifically.

 

AP Class Grading Scale

 

Here is a chart that lets you know how AP vs. standard classes are weighted.

 

Grade Standard AP Weighted
A 4.0 5.0
A- 3.7 4.7
B+ 3.3 4.3
B 3.0 4.0
B- 2.7 3.7
C+ 2.3 3.3
C 2.0 3.0
C- 1.7 2.7

 

To get a better sense of how weighted and unweighted GPAs work, take a look at this sample schedule:

 

Course Grade Unweighted Grade Weighted Grade
English A- 3.7 3.7
AP US History B+ 3.3 4.3
Precalculus A 4.0 4.0
AP Chemistry A- 3.7 4.7
Honors French A- 3.7 4.7

 

For your unweighted GPA for this schedule, simply add up the numerical grades and divide the total by five, the number of courses: (3.7+3.3+4.0+3.7+3.7) / 5 = 3.68.

 

You’ll follow the same math to find your weighted GPA, but, of course, you’ve already added a point to each grade for honors and AP courses: (3.7+4.3+4.0+4.7+4.7) / 5 = 4.28.

 

As you can see, taking three higher-level courses elevates your GPA to above a 4.0, even though your unweighted GPA is a 3.68.

 

Learn more about calculating your GPA (both weighted and unweighted) or use our free GPA calculator.

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Why Colleges Like to See Students Take APs

 

While having a good GPA demonstrates that you did well in your courses, that’s not enough. Colleges want to see that you challenge yourself. Taking AP courses is one way to show that you do. 

 

If you’re aiming for a top-20 school, adcoms will expect to see plenty of APs on your transcript — you should take as many as you can handle, especially in your best subjects.

 

If your school doesn’t offer AP classes, don’t worry. Colleges will evaluate you in the context of the opportunities you have available to you. It is still possible to get into a top college with little to no AP classes, as long as you performed well relative to your peers.

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.