Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA: Is There An Advantage?

Michigan GPA, GPA at UMichigan, Michigan GPA Calculation

The University of Michigan no longer recalculates GPAs of applicants.

With high schools across the country having different grading scales, one may wonder how colleges understand and interpret an applicant’s transcript. Some high schools have grading scales based on 100%, while others are based on 4.0, 5.0, and we’ve even seen 15.0. At some high schools, honors classes are given extra weight and AP or IB courses are given even more weight. So obviously a student who has a 4.0 GPA at one high school may not be comparable to a student who has a 5.0 GPA at another high school. When comparing students from different schools, a GPA can oftentimes be misleading. So what’s an admissions officer to do? The GPA could be ignored and only the courses and grades considered or the GPA could be recalculated. In recalculating GPAs, some colleges only use core courses, some use other academic courses but eliminate music, art, health, technology, and physical education. And still other colleges eliminate all added weight.

University of Michigan and Weighted GPAs

In October of 2009, the University of Michigan reversed their policy of recalculating GPAs. Up until then, it was easy to figure out if a student applying to UMichigan would get accepted. By using 10 core courses (English, history, math, science, and foreign language) in only sophomore and junior years and attributing 4 points for an A+, A, or A-, 3 points for a B+, B, or B-, etc., an applicant could do the simple math and know his/her fate. And while admissions officers at UMichigan would claim that they didn’t use cut-offs, a GPA of 3.7 or higher was indeed a magic number.

By reversing their policy on recalculating GPAs, UMichigan is now taking the high school GPA (extra weight included) and using it as its measure. So if two students from different high schools have basically the same grades but one student has a higher GPA because of extra weight, UMichigan is going to give more value to the applicant with the higher, ergo, inflated GPA. Other colleges have different formulas for recalculating GPAs, and without the college going public on its policy, there’s no way to figure out just how they do it. In the case of the University of Michigan, applicants with unweighted GPAs are at a distinct disadvantage. While it may seem unfair that students from high schools with weighted GPAs currently have a competitive advantage over students from schools that don’t weight at the University of Michigan, it is how it is. There, of course, remain ways to strategically improve one’s chances for admission if one wishes to be a Michigan Wolverine — weighted GPA or not.


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  • Graham says:

    I would be very interested in understanding why a college decided to percieve High schools with weighted GPA’s as more valuable then high schools without weighted GPA. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA from my private school and felt that I was at a disadvantage to my some of my friends that graduated with a GPA above a 4.0. The problem is I came from a private school that had no weighted GPA, No A+ that counted as a 4.3, simply the max as a 4.0. They never valued any class more then another even when I was taking the same material as my friends who’s classes were considered AP in public schools. I learned Many of my friends who averaged more like B+ and A- got over 4.0 because they took mostly AP classes their last two years. This really frustated me because when I graduated with almost all A’s and A-, I took all the same classes as my friends including 2 extra college classes I took in a university school that were prerequisites for my major which I got two A’s as well.

    This is a real problem and from what I was told by my friends most of the time in their AP classes all they did was goof around. Its obvious to me that while they contain more difficult problems, they still are not college level quality, indeed most AP classes I see still give the same course work an average high school class gives. I see more friends who are use to AP classes work load and then are stunned by the college workload and environment then any other student.

    I disagree with AP classes being weighted I mean really how many students do you know who take AP classes graduate with less then a 3.0 GPA. Not many because almost everyone who is capable of taking AP classes is capable of getting a higher GPA then the ones who are not capable of understanding the AP material. I believe a more just answer to this problem is to not include AP classes to your high school GPA, but count them towards high school graduating credits. Instead have a second GPA that calculates purely what you got in AP classes and how many credits you took as AP classes. This will get rid of the need of recalculating GPA’s and will be simpler because its more similar to what schools have to do with students who take college classes before they graduate high school. They look at their high school GPA and college GPA and credit amount. AP classes should be separated the same as college courses and let colleges decide on their own how valuable the AP classes are.

  • Ivy Coach says:

    Hi Graham,

    Thanks for your post and for checking out our blog! Colleges do not in fact perceive high schools with weighted GPAs “to be more valuable” than high schools with unweighted GPAs. There are numerous methods various college admissions offices use to be able to level the playing field between schools that weight GPA and schools that don’t.

    Some colleges won’t make calculations. They’ll simply examine the student’s transcript, see how well they did in their courses, and check out if the student took the most rigorous courses possible. They can see what courses are offered by the school on the school profile. Other schools will recalibrate the GPAs by removing elective courses like art or music. And still others will just remove the extra weight given to grades in advanced courses.

    College admissions counselors don’t care whether or not a school weights or doesn’t weight GPA. They can easily level the playing field. What they do care about is the competitiveness of the high school (i.e., schools that have impressive numbers of students who score well on AP or IB exams…not just who take the exams), the rigor of the course selection, and the grades in those courses. In the end, grades and the rigor of the course selection trumps everything.

    We hope that helps you.

  • AC says:

    My daughter is taking a Biology Honor in summer and will finish the class in six weeks (5 hrs a day, 4 days a week). This is her 1st high school class. i asked the teacher if an A will earn her a 5 as her grade point. The teacher said no because it is none-weighted. How could it not be?!

    • Bev says:

      Why would an honors class automatically be weighted? Not all schools weight honors courses.

      • sandy says:

        Our high school does not have the honors courses on the 5.0 scale and many others do. Seems very unfair and I wish that the schools would just stay on one uniform system of grading to keep it fair.

        • Oppieman says:

          I have never seen an honors course weighted on a 5.0 scale. Honors courses, if weighted, are generally a 4.5 scale whereas AP courses are on a 5.0 scale.

  • Ayme Cameorn says:

    I have a question about unweighted GPA..I am a high school student and last year as a freshman I ended up with a final unweighted gpa of 4.0 and weighted was 4.6 (this was taking honors courses), now as a sophmore I have PreAp honor courses and AP as well. I know that colleges look at unweighted GPA. So this year my grades have drop from having all A’s the year before to about 4 A’S 1 C and 2 B’s and i am really concerned about this. If I get straight A’s all through next quarter and second semester will my unweighted GPA end up being like a 3.7?(for the final unweighted GPA for sophmore year) even if by the end of the year I end up having straight A’s as my final grades?? or will my unweighted be a 4.0 ?? and another question I have is if i try my best and get a 4.0 unweighted GPA for junior & senior year (including the 4.0 i have already recieved for completing freshman year) will having maybe a unweighted GPA of a 3.7 in sophmore year affect me on getting a 4.0 unweighted GPA for the average unweighted GPA throughout the 4 years of high school ?

    -Thank You

  • Nancy Stern says:

    Curious how you view IB Diploma students. My daughter is in an IB program and will be testing for her diploma(which comes after college application window)some schools give credit for the diploma, others only for high level courses and other schools give no credit but might be more likely to accept a student that has an IB Diploma over a student with similar GPA and Test Scores that did not do IB. She has a 3.739 Unweighted GPA and 4.522 Weighted GPA.

  • Jill says:

    I know that this article was published quite some time ago. Do you think UMich still uses Weighted averages? Or do you think they strip out the weight and recalculate core GPA?

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