What is a Weighted GPA? How Do You Calculate it?
If you are the parent of a high-achieving student, you may find yourself having to learn firsthand how much high school has changed since you attended. With increasing options for advanced classes, you may start hearing your student talk about their weighted GPA and you may start seeing colleges list their average incoming freshman GPA at well above a 4.0.
As you see ‘weighted GPA’ more and more, you may be wondering how important the weighted GPA is for your student and their long-term academic goals. Here’s what parents need to know about navigating the world of the weighted GPA.
What is a Weighted GPA?
There are more options for taking advanced courses than ever, with Honors, AP, IB, dual enrollment, AICE, and many others. Many of these programs satisfy the general requirements for a high school diploma while being more academically challenging, and they sometimes 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 that theses students put in the extra effort to achieve the grade they earned. After all, if your student takes an AP class and another student takes the standard or regular version of the same course, shouldn’t your student 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. The table below gives you an idea of what the scale might look like:
|Letter Grade||Unweighted (4.0) Scale||Weighted Scale|
How Can You Calculate a 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. If you’re not sure how to calculate a standard GPA, check out our post How to Calculate Your GPA: Use This Step by Step Guide.
Many high schools may automatically calculate a weighted GPA for you and include it on report cards and transcripts. You may even be able to ask your student’s guidance counselor for the 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.
Let’s look at an example. This is an imaginary student’s schedule and their fall semester final grades.
|AP English Language||B|
|Algebra 2 Honors||B|
|AP European History||C|
Using the scales in the table in the previous section, we can calculate two GPAs for this student: a weighted and an unweighted GPA. Here’s what that would look like:
|AP English Language||B||3||4|
|Algebra 2 Honors||B||3||4|
|AP European History||C||2||3|
|GPA (total divided by 7)||3.0||3.6|
Although the weights 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 honors and AP classes.
Why Are Weighted GPAs Important?
While the weighted GPA certainly looks better on paper than the unweighted GPA, you may be wondering if weighted GPAs are going to impact your student in a more substantial way. The short answer is yes: colleges consider both weighted and unweighted GPAs when making their admissions decisions.
Remember when we said that high schools have a wide variety of weighted scales? Using your student’s transcript or self-reported grades, most colleges will recalculate your student’s weighted GPA in order to make all their applicants’ GPAs uniformly calculated. This way, they can more fairly compare GPAs of students from different high schools.
How Do Weighted GPAs Play Into the Admissions Process?
Weighted GPAs give college admissions officers a quick look at how much a student challenged themselves in high school, as well as how well they did in those courses overall. It also tends to be the GPA they report when it comes to their freshman profile numbers.
However, weighted GPAs are not the only piece of information that admissions officers look at when evaluating your student’s academic profile. Some schools don’t offer any advanced courses or they have a limited offering, and this becomes trickier when you include international students and homeschooled students with less traditional course offerings.
Also, colleges want to see that students did well in their advanced courses. Rather than encouraging your student to sign up for every AP class, talk with them about what course load they can handle and consider their extracurricular, work, and family obligations. If they are naturally strong in a subject, they may want to take an advanced version of that course, and stay in regular courses for subjects they might have struggled with in the past.
Ultimately, a weighted GPA is an important piece of a student’s application, but there are many factors that contribute to a strong profile. While you want your student to be academically challenged (or academically engaged, if you prefer) you also want them to truly learn in their classes and make the most of their high school experience.
Wrapping it Up
As a rough indicator of how challenging your student’s 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.
If all this talk about advanced classes and weighted GPAs have left you wondering what classes your student needs to take, then we have you covered. Through our Early Advising Program, your 9th or 10th grader will be paired with a student from a top 30 institution who will advise your student on classes and extracurriculars to develop a strong foundation for college admissions. Find out if our Early Advising Program is right for your student!
For more information on student success, check out these posts:
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.