Every student knows how important their GPA is in high school. It is one of the biggest determinants of getting into the college of your dreams. Not to mention, a high GPA can also help you win major scholarship money. 

But, did you know that schools may vary in the way that they calculate a student’s GPA? High schools decide if they want to make GPAs weighted or unweighted. At one school, students may receive a weighted GPA. At another school, they may receive their GPA unweighted. 

Understanding how admissions committees look at your GPA is important. It can help you make smarter decisions about your class schedule which will ultimately help get you admitted to college. 

Here is everything you should know about weighted GPA vs. unweighted and why it matters.

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What’s the Difference? 

Traditional GPAs are unweighted. They are measured on a scale of 0 to 4.0. An A is a 4.0 regardless of what the class is. A student who scores an A in a low-level class and a student who scores an A in an AP class will both have a 4.0 GPA. 

On the other hand, weighted GPAs reflect a student’s rigorous course load. They are usually measured on a scale of 0 to 5.0. This can vary from school to school. Some schools even use a 0 to 6.0 scale.

Because weighted GPAs take into account your classes, the difficulty of your classes can change your GPA. Standard level classes are still calculated like the unweighted GPA system (an A=4.0, A-=3.7, etc.). But, where things differ is how honors classes and AP classes are calculated. 

For every honors class that a student takes, it addns .5 to the GPA conversion decimal. It also adds 1.0 to every AP class conversion decimal. So, if you took an honors class and received an A, it would be worth 4.5 in a weighted system (and 4.0 in an unweighted system). If you took an AP class and received an A, your weighted GPA would recognize that your AP class is harder than a standard class. Your A would be worth a 5.0 instead of a 4.0. 

Likewise, if you received a B in an honors class, your GPA would be worth 3.5 in a weighted system (and 3.0 in an unweighted system). If you took an AP class and received a B, your weighted GPA would be a 4.0. 

Grades in low-level classes don’t impact a student’s GPA, whether it’s weighted or not. 

Remember, that in both the weighted and unweighted system, grades are averaged. In a weighted system a student’s cumulative GPA falls somewhere between 0-5. In the classic unweighted system, a student’s cumulative GPA falls between 0-4.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted or Unweighted? 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t make much of a difference to have a weighted or unweighted GPA. Admissions committees will always search for the information they need to make a decision about a candidate. 

Weighted GPAs more quickly reveal information about a candidate. Because weighted GPAs can go above a 4.0, they reflect how much a student has pushed him or herself. Weighted GPAs tend to give admissions committees a better understanding of who a student is.

But, you don’t need to worry if your unweighted GPA doesn’t share this same information. The admissions committee looks past the number that your GPA portrays. They do a thorough check of your course record to see what type of classes you have taken.

What is Better? Weighted or Unweighted? 

The short answer is that it doesn’t really matter. Students with weighted and unweighted GPAs shouldn’t feel at a disadvantage based on the kind of GPA their high school used.

It is true that weighted GPAs deliver more useful immediate information about a student. They tell a story about a student that unweighted GPAs don’t tell. For example, the admissions committee can conclude that a student with a 5.0 GPA worked very hard and took challenging classes.

But, the admissions committee will never simply assume. They always measure your GPA in the context of your high school transcript. This means that they analyze the classes you took.

By looking at your transcript, they will be able to decipher the difficulty of the classes you took. If they judged you solely based on your GPA, students who didn’t have the option to take any honors classes at their school wouldn’t stand a chance against applicants who took many honors classes and ended up with a 5.0 GPA.

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 Fortunately this isn’t the case. Regardless of whether your school used a weighted or unweighted GPA, the selection committee generally does a good job making sure both are on an even footing. 

Final Thoughts 

The most important thing to do in high school is to work hard and push yourself. These are your four years to prove yourself. You want to impress the admissions committee as much as possible.

If you have to sacrifice a higher grade in a regular-level class for a lower-grade in an honors class, your hard work and effort will not go unnoticed by the admissions committee. 

Admissions committees know that there are limits to unweighted GPAs. For this reason, they take many factors into consideration when reviewing your application.