What is a Weighted GPA? How Do You Calculate it?
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With increasing options for advanced classes in high school, you may start hearing your peers talk about their weighted GPA, as well as start seeing prestigious colleges list the average GPA of their incoming freshmen class well above a 4.0.
As weighted GPAs become more prominent, you may wonder how important a weighted GPA is for your long-term academic goals. Here’s what you need to know about navigating the world of the weighted GPA.
Use this GPA calculator to better understand how your GPA works and how you could impact it. To get started, make sure you have your most recent transcript in front of you or a list of all your classes. You’ll need the course name, grade, credits, and course type to use the calculator.
What is a Weighted GPA?
There are more advanced course options available to high schoolers than ever, with Honors, AP, IB, dual enrollment, and AICE to name a few. Many of these programs satisfy the general requirements a student needs to meet to receive a high school diploma while being more academically challenging than standard courses. Sometimes these programs will even offer college credit if a student earns a high score on a standardized exam.
Because these courses are more demanding, students and educators want some way to acknowledge the extra effort demanded of students to achieve the grade they earned. After all, if you take an AP class and another student takes the standard or regular version of the same course, shouldn’t you get some additional credit or recognition?
This is where weighted GPAs come in. A weighted GPA awards more points to each letter grade earned in an advanced class to recognize the extra level of effort put forth by students. The table below gives you an idea of what the scale might look like:
You might be wondering where Honors classes come in. At school schools, they’re unweighted, meaning an A is still a 4.0. At other schools, Honors classes are weighted the same as AP classes, meaning an A is given a 5.0 value. In some cases, Honors classes might also be weighted in-between, meaning an A is a 4.5. For the purposes of consistency with our GPA calculator post, we’ll weight each Honors course .5 points higher than the unweighted values.
How to Calculate Your Weighted GPA
You calculate a weighted GPA much like you would a standard GPA, except that you substitute the value of the weighted scale for each advanced class. Consequently, rather than the scale ending at 4.0 like an unweighted GPA, weighted GPAs range from 0 to 5.0. For example, an A in an AP class translates to a 5.0, while an A in a traditional class translates to a 4.0.
If you have your GPA already, but it’s not on the 4.0 scale, you can use this calculator to convert it.
Where to Find Your GPA
Many high schools automatically calculate a weighted GPA for you and include it on report cards and transcripts. You may even be able to ask your guidance counselor for your most recent GPA available.
A word of caution about high-school weighted GPAs: because there is so much variety in high school policies nationwide, there is no “standard” when it comes to what a weighted GPA scale should be. Some schools distinguish between Honors and AP, weighting Honors classes a half-point more and AP classes a full point more, while others just assign an extra point to any advanced class. Some schools may not even weight honors classes, but instead only weight AP/IB or other college-level courses.
How to Calculate Your GPA: An Example
In our example, where AP and college-level courses are weighted 1 point higher, and honors courses are weighted .5 points higher. This means that an A in an AP class is a 5.0, and an A in an honors class is a 4.5. Note that some schools may not distinguish between pluses and minuses, meaning that a C+ the same GPA value than a C. In our case, however, we will be assigning different values to grades with a plus or minus. In this example, a C+ and C will be given a 2.3 and a 2.0, respectively. If you’re not sure about the different values, reference our chart earlier in the post.
This is an imaginary student’s schedule and their fall semester final grades. Using the scales in the table in the previous section, we can calculate two GPAs for this student: an unweighted and weighted GPA. Here’s what that would look like:
|AP English Language||B+||3.3||4.3|
|Honors Algebra 2||B||3||3.5|
|AP European History||B||3||4|
|GPA (total divided by 7)||3.24||3.67|
Although the points for the regular classes didn’t change for the weighted scale, the student’s weighted GPA is higher than their unweighted GPA because of their AP classes.
Why Weighted GPAs Are Important
Colleges consider both weighted and unweighted GPAs when making their admissions decisions. Weighted GPAs give colleges more insight into how you fared in your more advanced courses. Colleges want to see that you challenged yourself, and did well.
Some students wonder whether it’s better to take an advanced class and get a B than to take a regular class and get an A. If you think you can get a B or higher in an advanced class, you should take the harder class.
That said, you should take into consideration your extracurricular activities, work, and other obligations. Some students overload themselves and, as a result, aren’t able to achieve at their potential. Be realistic with yourself about what you can handle while still maintaining your mental health.
Ultimately, a weighted GPA is an important piece of your application, but there are many factors that contribute to a strong profile. While you want an academically challenging (or academically engaging) high school experience, you also want to truly learn in your classes and make the most of your high school experience outside of schoolwork.
How Weighted GPAs Play Into the Admissions Process
You may be wondering how colleges evaluate GPAs, given that they can be so variable across high schools. Some schools don’t offer any advanced courses, or only have a limited offering. It becomes even trickier when you include international students and homeschooled students with less traditional course offerings.
That’s why most colleges take each individual’s transcript and recalculate a new GPA based on their own system. This way, they can more fairly compare GPAs of students from different high schools.
At selective schools, your GPA likely ends up factoring into your Academic Index (AI), which is a metric certain colleges use to determine your academic strength. The AI often represents the strength of your transcript and standardized test scores, and is an easy way for admissions officers to see if you have the academic qualifications for their school. Some colleges actually use AI as a screening tool, and those below a certain threshold get automatically rejected.
If your GPA or test scores are lower because of a special circumstance (family illness, low socioeconomic status, etc), don’t fret. Colleges will likely review your case separately, provided that you mention your circumstance in your application, and you show that you’ve made the most of the resources you did have.
Wrapping Up Weighted GPAs
As a rough indicator of how challenging your schedule was, weighted GPAs are taken seriously by college admissions officers. At the same time, they realize that not every student has the same opportunity for advanced offerings, and they do their best to look at the complete picture to assess a student’s academic ability.
Our chancing engine can help you discover how your unweighted and weighted GPA will affect your odds of admission into your dream school, along with assist you in formulating a list of schools (reach, target, and safety), taking the guesswork out of the college admissions process. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get access to this tool, among many others.
For more information on student success, check out these posts:
What is Actually a Good GPA for College?
What is Class Rank and Why is it Important?
What’s a High School Transcript and Why Is It So Important?
What Is Executive Functioning and How Can Teens Develop the Right Skills?