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

Matt Larriva
Jul 28, 2023
Home » GPA Source

Many students have questions about weighted GPAs vs unweighted GPAs. Once they learn colleges primarily 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?

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.

GradePoints if unweightedPoints if weighted

Standard courses assign A+ grades a 4-point value, calculating a full point less than college-level courses.

The idea was that high school students who could handle college coursework before graduating were more likely to succeed at a university.

AP and IB courses are usually weighted this way such that if a student took all AP courses and got all A’s, 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.

How Do Homeschoolers Calculate Unweighted GPA?

Homeschoolers should use the same unweighted calculation scale as the one above. Although there are no laws regulating homeschool GPA guidelines, colleges won’t take applications seriously if they have a 10.0 GPA compared to public or private school applicants.

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.

Colleges also look at unweighted GPAs for merit-based scholarships. That type of financial aid includes GPAs and SAT scores to determine an applicant’s academic success. The more successful students are more likely to receive tuition funding.

Will colleges take a weighted GPA under certain circumstances?

teacher marking grades on test

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.

Why don’t colleges look at weighted GPA?

In 2020, 2.6 million students took AP classes in 70% of America’s high schools. That’s only a fraction of the over 30 million pupils enrolled in high school that year.

hravard yale and princenton ivy league school logos

Considering weighted GPAs above unweighted GPAs would only expand the institutional gap between students with advantages like select schools in well-funded regions and those in the rest of the country.

Weighted GPAs would also work against applicants overseas since AP classes are only available in the U.S.

You may wonder why students receive weighted GPAs if colleges don’t use them to pick applicants. Although the scores themselves aren’t the final data point in the selection process, they do reflect the course intensity of each student.

For example, Ivy League schools may check weighted GPAs more frequently than other colleges because they only accept students who excel at the most challenging academic levels.

That’s why universities such as the Ivy League schools average a 4%-10% acceptance rate compared to other colleges that approve more applicants. Their admissions boards will only consider your unweighted GPA, but they’ll also note if you only took standard classes in high school.

How A Small Difference in an Unweighted GPA Looks To Colleges

Now, that we know colleges do not prioritize any student’s 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.

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.

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.

This may cause a wave of relief if you’ve been worried about making perfect grades during the toughest, final year of high school. That mindset is part of the reason why 70% of students have anxious peers in their classes.

It’s always best to put all your efforts into your academic journey, but one bad grade won’t ruin your chances of getting into college.

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).

student studying for sat instead of focusing on GPA
RECOMMENED READING: How To Get A Good SAT Score with a Free SAT Study Plan Example

Is SAT test prep more important than your GPA?

Many students worry about investing their study time into exams like the SAT only to receive a lower grade than they need. If that happens, your GPA will be safe while you retake the exam.

The majority of students live through this experience and still get into college.

Research shows that 63% of students retake the SAT at least once, and the average student increases their score by 90 points after sitting down for their second attempt.

Whatever time you invest in your SAT or ACT prep won’t be a waste. Your unweighted GPA will be fine no matter how your classroom exams go while you’re directing your study efforts elsewhere.

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.

The following resources offer advice on which test is better for you, when to take the SAT/ACT, what a good score is, 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 GPAs and how we can help you use your time more efficiently with our various test-prep services.

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Schedule a FREE Consultation

Learn how our expertise can help your student get into their dream school using a customized test prep program.

Schedule a consultation using the calendar below. Need answers now? Call us at 805-876-4687 now to discuss.