As you probably know, one of the most important factors admissions counselors take into consideration when evaluating your college application is your academic performance. After all, universities are academic institutions. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that they place a great deal of weight on an applicant’s academic record.

Your academic performance can be assessed by various methods, from your course load to your class rank to your GPA. The latter metric is often measured in two different ways: weighted GPA and unweighted GPA.   

Both methods of calculating GPA help give colleges a better idea of your high school academic record. However, you may be wondering which method colleges pay more attention to in the admissions process. What matters more: your weighted GPA or your unweighted GPA?

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through differences between these two measures of grade point averages and explain how colleges view and interpret each one.

Differences Between Weighted and Unweighted GPA

There is a significant degree of variance in how grade point average is calculated across high schools. For the purposes of this blog post, we will be referring to the standard 4.0 GPA scale, as it is the metric most widely applied.

Generally speaking, unweighted GPA does not take into account the rigor of a student’s course load. Every class is worth the same amount of “points”, which is to say that a grade of A corresponds with 4 points, a B corresponds with 3, a C corresponds with 2, and a failing grade corresponds with 1 or lower.

These values apply for every course in a student’s schedule. In other words, it does not matter if a student earned a B grade in Physical Education or in AP Environmental Science — they will earn 3 points regardless. A student who earned all A’s in AP and honors courses will have the same GPA as a student who earned all A’s in regular courses.

On the other hand, weighted GPA reflects how difficult a student’s course load is, and students taking harder classes have the opportunity to earn higher weighted GPAs. Typically, the more challenging courses tend to be weighted. This often includes Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Honors courses.

The scale for weighted courses is higher than that of unweighted courses. Although different high schools weigh classes differently, one common practice is to assign one extra point value to weighted classes on the GPA scale. In other words, a grade of A corresponds with 5 points, a B corresponds with 4, a C corresponds with 3, and a failing grade corresponds with 2 or lower.

Because of this, weighted GPAs better reflect the overall difficulty of a student’s course load. For example, a student who earned a B in an AP English Literature and Composition course would receive 4 GPA points — just as a student who earned an A in a regular English course would.

Which is more important?

Schools want you to challenge yourself. Admissions officers look for students who push their intellectual horizons, take demanding classes, and have rigorous course loads. As we mentioned earlier, at their core, universities are academic institutions. As such, they want students who are truly excited by academics, which can be communicated by the rigor of a student’s class schedule.

Additionally, colleges want students who enjoy learning for the sake of learning. They aren’t looking to admit those who only go through the motions and simply take what is absolutely required of them. They want students who are passionate about their education. Thus, colleges prefer students who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take courses that they know will push them.

As such, weighted GPA tends to be more important in the admissions reason for the simple reason that they can help communicate how challenging a student’s course load is. Weighted GPAs demonstrate how many advanced classes you’ve taken, and your performance in them. Unweighted GPAs simply do not capture that aspect of your course load.

Weighted GPA is especially important for extremely competitive schools. For these kinds of universities, it is imperative that you take a rigorous course load with advanced classes if they are available to you. What’s more, you not only need to take these classes, but you must also do well in them.

Keep in mind that the middle 50% of the weighted GPAs for top schools is usually between 4.0 and 5.0, meaning that applicants to these schools are taking difficult classes and earning top grades. In order to compete in such a pool, you need to ensure that you are taking a healthy number of difficult classes and are succeeding in them.

Generally, college admissions officers pay more attention to a student’s weighted GPA. This is especially true if you are aspiring to go to a top school. Additionally, for these kinds of universities, your weighted GPA should be between 4.0 and 5.0 in order to be competitive.

Additional Considerations

Although taking a challenging course load is important, you must also ensure that you can handle the classes you are taking without feeling overwhelmed. If you prioritize weighted class too much and overburden yourself to the degree that you are earning poor grades, this will hurt your overall application. For example, a 4.0 with all B’s in weighted classes is typically viewed less favorably than a 4.0 with all A’s in unweighted classes.

Colleges want to see that you are succeeding in the classes you are taking, and that you can handle a rigorous schedule. If you aren’t performing particularly well with a challenging course load, this signals to colleges that you may have some difficulty with courses at their university. Ultimately, you should opt to take the most challenging course load you can comfortably handle and perform well in.

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Lydia Tahraoui

Lydia Tahraoui

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.
Lydia Tahraoui

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