The Ivy Coach Daily
July 6, 2023
Do Colleges Look at Weighted GPA?
Depending upon where a student goes to high school, that high school will calculate grade point averages differently. Some high schools will provide colleges to which a student applies with an unweighted GPA or a GPA that does not factor in the rigor of a student’s coursework. Others will offer colleges a weighted GPA, which does factor in the rigor of a student’s coursework.
So let’s examine the differences between weighted GPAs and unweighted GPAs and address how America’s elite colleges view both types of GPAs within the context of the holistic admissions process.
Do Colleges Prefer Weighted or Unweighted GPA?
America’s elite colleges have no preference for whether students submit weighted or unweighted GPAs (or both!), as admissions officers at these institutions understand that the student’s high school predetermines the scale.
Students who submit weighted GPAs enjoy no advantage over those who submit unweighted GPAs, and those who submit unweighted GPAs enjoy no advantage over those who submit weighted GPAs. In short, an applicant with a 4.23 weighted GPA has no advantage over an applicant with a 4.0 unweighted GPA and vice versa.
Weighted GPA in High School
Some high schools offer what we’ll call bonus points on their GPA scale if a student took the most rigorous coursework, such as honors or Advanced Placement courses. For example, in such an instance, if a student took a standard English course and received an A, that student may receive a 4.0 calculation toward their overall GPA. Meanwhile, a student who took AP English Language and Composition and received an A may receive a 4.2 calculation toward their overall GPA.
As such, students taking multiple advanced or AP courses could have GPAs well over 4.0 when they apply to top colleges. But just as unweighted GPAs are not evaluated in a vacuum, neither are weighted GPAs. One high school might offer extra weight to an art class, another to a health class. Yet these courses are largely considered fluff classes to admissions officers at elite universities. It’s why admissions officers need to contextualize a student’s grades and coursework. A weighted GPA presented on its own is relatively meaningless.
Typical Weighted GPA Scale
Below is a weighted GPA scale. We hesitate to use the term standard weighted GPA scale because there is no standard weighted GPA scale. While weighted GPA scales can vary significantly — even more so than unweighted GPA scales — from high school to high school, it will offer you an understanding of how weighted GPAs are calculated.
|Letter Grade||Numerical Grade Range in Advanced Course||GPA|
What is a Good Weighted GPA in High School?
Just as America’s elite colleges receive thousands of applications from students with perfect unweighted GPAs, these schools receive thousands of applications from students with perfect weighted GPAs. Submitting a 4.1 weighted GPA or higher isn’t alone wowing any admissions officer. In the holistic college admissions process, many other factors are needed to wow these very decision-makers.
Yet schools like Harvard deny admission to students who would fill more than five incoming classes with weighted GPAs well above 4.0. As such, not boasting a weighted GPA at the top of the scale can be detrimental to one’s case for admission to elite universities — from Harvard on down.
Unweighted GPA in High School
Some high schools choose not to offer extra points on their GPA scale if a student took the most rigorous coursework, such as honors or Advanced Placement courses. For example, in such a scenario, students who take a regular Biology course and receive an A receive the same 4.0 calculation toward their overall GPA as students who take the more rigorous AP Biology course and receive an A.
Yet GPAs are not evaluated in a vacuum — they’re reviewed in context. Admissions officers at our nation’s elite colleges care about more than just the overall GPA figure. It’s why when prospective clients reach out to Ivy Coach with their child’s GPA, it’s an almost meaningless flourish since we’d need to see the rigor of the student’s coursework and their school profile to understand that GPA in context. A student with a 4.0 unweighted GPA in standard-level coursework will not wow Harvard University admissions officers — nor Boston College admissions officers.
Typical Unweighted GPA Scale
The following is a standard unweighted GPA scale. While unweighted GPA scales can vary from high school to high school, it will give you a good sense of how unweighted GPAs are often calculated.
|Numerical Grade Range||GPA|
What is a Good Unweighted GPA in High School?
America’s elite colleges receive thousands of applications from students with perfect unweighted GPAs. As such, boasting a perfect unweighted GPA is not alone a differentiator. The rigor of the student’s coursework, the quality of the student’s high school, extracurriculars, AP scores, letters of recommendation, interview evaluation, and essays are some of the critical other factors in the holistic admissions process used at every highly selective university.
That said, schools like Harvard deny admission to students who would fill more than five incoming classes with perfect grades so not having a GPA near the tippy top of the unweighted GPA scale can, of course, hurt in the elite college admissions process. In short, having a top unweighted GPA — of at or near 4.0 — is expected when applying to these institutions.
Some High Schools Don’t Even Report GPA
There are even some high schools — often top boarding schools — whose college counseling offices ask students not to fill in their GPA on their Common Applications. These schools often do not report a student’s GPA on their transcripts.
Students at these schools are at no disadvantage because admissions officers at America’s top colleges understand they’re following the instruction of the college counseling office, not including a GPA calculation. It’s a case in point that grades are always evaluated within the context of the rigor of a student’s coursework and the quality of their high school.
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