The Great Debate: Do Colleges Look At Weighted Or Unweighted GPA?

There is one thing all of us will agree on when it comes to college applications: Your grade matters. As clear as day, you might say. 

But, which grade? Problems will arise once someone suddenly brings up weighted and unweighted GPAs. For a long time, Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA?” has always been a subject of debate. I’ve seen countless prospies tear their hair out every year, not knowing which is more important. 

If you are one of them… Well, don’t worry, because JobandEdu is here to help! Below, I will explore the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA and find out which one colleges look at.

By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you will have a thorough understanding of these numbers and know how to use them in your game plan. Let’s dive in, shall we? 

What’s An Unweighted GPA? 

Everyone is familiar with the unweighted GPA. This grade point average reporting scale is used to calculate both middle school grades and high school grades across the U.S. As a student, you probably know it like the back of your hand. Still, I will go over the basics, just in case. 

For the unweighted GPA, each final course grade a student gets (from F to A) has a numerical value (from 0.0 to 4.0). Take a look at the table below: 

Letter GradeUnweighted GPA

In short, to calculate your unweighted GPA, you will:

  • Convert each letter grade into the number that corresponds to it above. 
  • Accumulate the grade points from every class you attended during each semester. 
  • Divide the number by the total amount of classes you’ve taken. 

That’s it, your unweighted grade point average. Do you know why it is “average” now? 

Practically, there wasn’t any flaw in this system… until the launching of AP and honors classes. As you can see, the unweighted GPA scale doesn’t consider class difficulty when calculating students’ GPA. Imagine this: You challenged yourself by enrolling in all the honors classes and achieved B+ for most of them. At the same time, a less ambitious peer took all the regular classes and got A’s for most of them. In the end, your GPA would be lower than hers, yet your schoolwork was much harder. 

What does unweighted GPA mean
Unweighted GPA might be considered unfair for students who take AP and honors classes – Source: Unsplash

“That’s why unweighted GPA is a poor way of measuring students in the first place. It is not an accurate prediction of how you stand compared to others,” Redditor “Prometheus720” concluded, and many students agree. A better way to tell high-achievers apart from those who simply took academic classes is necessary. 

And thus, we have the weighted GPA scale. 

What’s A Weighted GPA? 

As the previous part mentioned, the weighted GPA scale’s main goal is to encourage students to challenge themselves in higher-level classes without worrying that their GPAs will be weighed down. It represents both your performance and the overall course’s difficulty. 

how to calculate a weighted GPA
What are weighted grades? – Source: Unsplash

Normally, the weighted GPA is calculated on a 5.0 scale. This means you will get an extra 1.0 point if you take an AP or honors class. In case a student only takes advanced courses for a few subjects, only some of his/her classes will be graded out of 5.0. The remaining will be on the normal 4.0 scale. 

Let me show you: 

Letter GradesWeighted GPA

While the 5.0 scale is the most common, some high schools have been using a 4.5, 6.0, 9.0, and even 10.0 scale. As you can see, an F still counts for 0 grade points. This serves as a safeguard against pupils attempting to abuse the system: You can’t fail a subject and still obtain credits for it. Good job trying, I guess. 

To calculate your weighted GPA, first find out your unweighted one by using the method above. Then, follow these steps: 

  • Multiply your unweighted grade point average using the sum number of classes you’ve completed. 
  • Add 1 point for each honor or AP class. 
  • Divide that number by your total number of classes again. 

And voilà! That’s your weighted GPA. 

So, Do Colleges Look At Weighted Or Unweighted GPA? 

Now that you understand both scales, let’s move on to this challenging question: Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA? 

weighted or unweighted GPA  which is more important
Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA? – Source: Unsplash

In a nutshell, colleges don’t really prefer one scale over another. Both of them have their advantages and disadvantages. 

For instance, working with just the unweighted GPA is much more convenient since its letter-to-number conversion is relatively straightforward. Furthermore, an unweighted GPA is also the standard scale used during college, giving the admissions committees a more straightforward inference into how you will perform at their schools. 

On the other hand, the weighted GPA proves that you took upper-level courses in high school, which means you are well-prepared for college. The problem with this scale is that not every school offers the same amount of AP courses, not every school allows students to take them in the same year, and not every school even provides weighted GPAs. 

What is the solution, then? Well, instead of looking at your GPA alone, colleges will consider it alongside several aspects:

Your Transcript

Admissions officers won’t just look at your GPA: They will consider it side by side with your transcript. Since every class you took and how you performed in them are shown on the transcript, if your school only provides unweighted GPAs, you don’t have to worry that your 3.9 in an AP class will look worse than someone with a 4.3 in a regular class. 

Keep in mind that colleges, especially competitive ones, want to see their applicants taking on new academic challenges, pushing their boundaries, and growing over time. An example is the two key questions Harvard Admissions officers take into account when reviewing potential applicants, as shown on their website

Harvard Admissions
As the Harvard admissions committee reviews your application, here are some of the key criteria they will look for 

Hence, if your transcripts indicate an increasing difficulty of coursework, this will impress the universities even with a not-so-stellar GPA. On the other hand, when you achieve a perfect 4.0 in the easiest coursework, colleges will be less impressed since you weren’t willing to challenge yourself academically, despite having the ability to do so. 

My advice is, don’t be complacent just because you get straight A’s in regular classes. It’s still worthwhile to challenge yourself in advanced courses, even if your GPA will dip a smidge. Colleges look at the whole picture, and they will appreciate your courage to step out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons. 

The Different Standards Between High Schools 

One thing is for sure: The performance of someone from a high school with lots of funding in NYC cannot be compared to that of someone from a small high school in rural Kentucky. Based on the previous knowledge of your high school, if you achieved a GPA of over 2.5, admissions officers will dig deeper into your academic records, course by course, to ensure that you are a good fit for their colleges.

Some AP And Honor Classes Are Considered Easier Than Others

Last but not least, if you have already enrolled in some upper-level classes, don’t forget that some AP and honors classes are considered less competitive than others. 

The admissions committee will note if you achieve a 5.0 in a notoriously easy class like AP® Environmental Science or choose a more challenging alternative like AP® Calculus BC. Both of them are advanced level, but the latter requires a lot more work and covers more complex material, thus will come off as more impressive. The difficulty level of each AP class can be extremely important if you are applying for a hard major like chemical engineering or biochemical engineering. 

Top 5 easiest and top 5 hardest AP classes in high school

It’s Not All About Your GPA…

Now you can see, in the great debate of “Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA?”, the answer is to always push yourself out of your comfort zone and take challenging classes. 

Finally, keep in mind that while your GPA is important, the rest of your college application is also crucial to success. The admission committee will also look at college essays, extracurricular activities, standardized test results, and AP test results. Since college admissions is a largely holistic process, any factor can offset another, so don’t count yourself out based on your GPA alone!  

Iris Vida

Well, Iris Vida is very into reading books from different eras, cultures, and anything that has been going viral lately, etc. Her passions can't be put in a few words only. Whether it's the "Jazz Age," a Neil Gaiman notable novel, the pitter-patter melodies of Taylor Swift's music, or anything else, she always sends the best materials to her top-notch writings, engaging all readers everywhere. Moreover, like Nick Carraway, who captured global attention with his rich and glamorous look, she leaves readers with a satisfying sense of wonder and an urge to learn more with her compelling writing style.