You know how some things in life are overrated? Well, count a weighted GPA among them. Weighted GPAs are overrated and overhyped. If we hear that a student has a 4.6 GPA, the parent who tells us about this grade point average might think it’s impressing us but, in reality, we have no idea what a 4.6 means. Some schools grade on a 4.0 scale. Some schools grade on a scale out of 100%. We’ve seen a school that grades on a 15.0 scale. Hey, it’s just as weird to us as a 4.6. Yes, we’re looking at you with your 4.4, too.
For those folks not familiar with what a weighted GPA is, some schools assign extra power to grades from courses that are at the advanced rather than regular level. Maybe it’s an AP Biology course or an AP U.S. History course. Or maybe it’s an Advanced Algebra course. You get the idea. The problem with a weighted GPA is that college admissions officers at highly selective colleges don’t really understand it. They either have to ignore the GPA entirely and only examine the coursework and grades or they may recalculate the GPA on an unweighted scale. This way, they can then compare the unweighted GPA to the unweighted GPAs of other applicants from other high schools (since every high school is different). They can level the playing field so apples and bananas aren’t being compared. Yes, we know the expression is supposed to be apples and oranges, but we dare to mix things up. Deal with it.
We always encourage students with weighted GPAs to do the recalculation themselves just so they have an understanding of where they stand in the admissions process on this factor alone. Because a weighted GPA can mislead students to apply to schools that may be unlikely stretches (schools they’ll have a really difficult time getting into). So figure out your unweighted GPA. There’s so much hype about weighted GPAs but it’s just that…hype. Like with Greg Oden. Don’t know him? He was a basketball player who was drafted with the #1 NBA pick some years ago. He ended up being one of the biggest busts in NBA history. Perhaps the NBA should have recalculated his GPA. It was obviously weighted. Ok, we’ll own it. That was an absolutely terrible analogy. Maybe we can weight it to improve it? We’ll stop there.
While you’re here, read about the Ivy League Academic Index.
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 school.
When comparing students from different schools, a GPA can oftentimes be misleading. So what’s an admissions counselor 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.
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 Michigan would get accepted. By using 10 core courses (English, history, science, math, 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.
While admissions counselors at Michigan would claim that they didn’t use cut-offs, a GPA of 3.7 or higher was a magic number. By reversing their policy on recalculating GPAs, Michigan 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, Michigan 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.
While it may seem unfair that students from high schools that weight GPA currently have a competitive advantage over students from schools that don’t at the University of Michigan, it’s how it is. There remain ways of course to strategically improve one’s chances for admission, even if one wants to be a Michigan Wolverine.