Weighted GPA vs Unweighted GPA: Which Do Colleges Look At ?

Matt Larriva
Mar 29, 2022
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Many students have questions about weighted GPAs vs unweighted GPAs. Once they learn colleges only look at unweighted GPA’s, a common follow-up question is how big the difference between, say, a 3.85 GPA and a 3.9 GPA actually is.

While there’s certainly a difference between an unweighted GPA of 3.85 compared to a 3.9 GPA the better question is, how significant is a 0.05 grade point to Ivy League admissions?

But let’s start with the easier part of that question first: what is a weighted GPA?

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Weighted GPA vs Unweighted GPA – What’s The Difference?

What is GPA Weighting?

An “unweighted” GPA means an A is worth 4 points (a B is worth 3, a C is worth 2, a D is worth 1, and an F is worth 0). In a weighted GPA, certain classes considered college level are given an extra point, per grade—an A becomes worth 5 points, a B is worth 4, and so on.

AP and IB courses are usually weighted this way such that if a student took all AP courses and got all As, his weighted GPA would be 5.0. Conversely, that same student would have an unweighted GPA of a 4.0. So, when it comes to weighted vs unweighted GPA, a weighted GPA has the potential to be much higher.

How To Calculate Your Unweighted GPA

You can use the following formula to manually calculate your unweighted GPA:

  • A = 4 points
  • B = 3 points
  • C = 2 points
  • D= 1 point
  • F = 0 point

Simply add together the point value for each of your class grades, then divide the sum by the number of classes you took. The answer is your GPA.

For example, let’s say Jayden took 6 classes and earned five “A’s” and one “B”, giving him a total of 23 points. He can then divide his point total by 6 (his total number of classes) to determine his GPA is 3.83. Alternatively, you can use a simple online tool to calculate your GPA.

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Do Colleges Look at Weighted GPAs vs Unweighted GPAs?

Now, to answer the real questions: do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA?

For the sake of equality in comparison, colleges look at unweighted GPAs.

They separately consider how rigorous the coursework was. If you took all AP/IB curricula and achieved a 4.0, you would be seen as far stronger than a candidate who took less challenging or fewer courses and achieved the same 4.0, even though the GPAs were the same.

Will colleges take a weighted GPA under certain circumstances?

No, universities do not take weighted GPAs because not all schools offer the same amount of AP courses, not all schools allow students to take them at the same years, and not all schools even offer AP/IB curriculum. That would make comparing an unweighted vs weighted GPA, unfair to some students.

Schools don’t want to unfairly penalize someone who graduated from a high school that only offered one AP course. And they don’t want to unfairly promote someone who went to a school that offered 20 AP courses.

How A Small Difference in an Unweighted GPA Looks To Colleges

Now, that we know colleges do not look at weighted GPA, let’s look back to the example unweighted GPA at the beginning of this article…

More specifically, how significant that 0.05 point gap between 3.85 and 3.90 actually is.

On one hand you might say, “3.85 rounds to 3.9—why would anyone care?”

And that’s valid.

But when you consider what goes into a 3.85 GPA versus a 3.90 GPA, then the difference becomes more pronounced:

  • A 3.9 GPA can be composed of three years of two semesters, each semester containing 5 classes, and all grades equal to As except 3, which are Bs.
  • A 3.85 GPA is the same but 1 or 2 more Bs.

And while an unweighted GPA of 3.85 does indeed round to 3.9, one B does not round to one A, so there is a difference in mastery of concept of whatever subject.

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Your Unweighted vs Weighted GPA Isn’t All There Is To Consider

Do colleges look at weighted GPA? No, they do not. So why stress about that when there are other things to take into consideration?

Look at it this way:

There is a noticeable difference between an unweighted 3.85 GPA vs an unweighted 3.9 GPA, and the difference is likely to work against you to some extent.

But, at the same time, this difference in GPA scores is small and can be overcome in many ways:

  • strong test scores (We’ll discuss this in the next section, but here are some additional resources as well: ACT Test FAQ and SAT Test FAQ)
  • great recommendation letters from teachers
  • interesting and well-developed extracurricular activities (READ: How To Get Into The Ivy League)

So, if you find yourself lamenting your 3.85 GPA, don’t.

After all…

Your High School GPA (Weighted or Unweighted) Matters Less & Less

That’s right, your average high school GPA matters less throughout high school.

The longer you spend in high school, the less your average high school GPA can move.

So, as you progress through the years, shift your focus to the part of the admissions index that can shift:

…your test scores.

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Your Unweighted GPA is Almost Unmovable as a Senior

High School unweighted GPA Changes

Let’s use the graph to show what would happen to a senior with an unweighted 4.0 GPA who got a B instead of an A in one class in his 8th semester: his unweighted GPA would move from 4.0 to about 3.98. 

Similarly, a 6th-semester student who had a 4.0 who got a B instead of an A in one class would experience a decline in his GPA of 0.024 points–an inconsequential shift. 

In fact, if we run the numbers, a senior with a 4.0 who got a full semester of Bs would only see his high school GPA move by 0.14 points.

If you’d like to do a more thorough analysis, start by calculating your starting high school unweighted GPA, and build out a theoretical GPA as you progress through high school.

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What Does This Mean For Your Unweighted GPA in High School?

You should prioritize ACT or SAT test prep once you are past your 5th semester.

Your standardized test scores are, unlike your unweighted GPA, always able to be increased, and actually improve in the later years of high school.

Consider this:

You only have a fixed amount of time every night, so:

  • Should you spend most of your time on homework to keep your unweighted 4.0 GPA at 4.0 (0% return on time spent)?
  • Or, should you spend most of your time on test prep to move your 30 ACT score to a 32 (7% return on time spent)?

Even if you spend most of your time on test prep, and you get a B instead of an A in a class, we can see that your unweighted GPA will only decline by about 0.02 points (a .005% decrease) in exchange for a 2 point gain on the ACT (a 7% increase).

Is Worrying About Your Unweighted vs Weighted GPA The Best Use of Your Time? (It’s not.)

Rethink your junior and senior years.

This is especially important for current seniors: don’t let school work dictate your schedule.

Your weighted and unweighted GPA are all but immobile at this point, but your test scores are flexible and easily shifted with focused prep.

You can drastically improve your chances of admission to your dream school with an extra two or three points on the ACT, but you cannot drastically shift your average high school GPA at this stage with two or three extra As.

If you aren’t sure about taking the SAT or ACT, here are some resources that will help you understand the essentials like which test is better for you, when to take the SAT/ACT, what a good score it, and how to improve your SAT/ACT test scores:

As always, feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have regarding whether or not colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA’s and how we can help you use your time more efficiently with our various test prep services.

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