Now is the time that many high school juniors start to get serious about the college admissions process. To find the right college, a student needs to realistically evaluate the grades they have received to see which colleges might be academically appropriate. And then the problems begin.
What problems? The problem of evaluating your grades and the GPA you think you have. You would think that evaluating your GPA would be simple. But how high schools calculate grades differs dramatically from one school to another.
This difference in how many points a student receives is called grade weighting. Many high schools weight grades as an incentive to have the top students take difficult classes rather than sluff off and take the easy “A” classes. But high schools weight grades differently depending on the particular school.
Let’s say your high school gives a 1 point grade increase for honors courses and a 2 point increase for AP classes. If you are a strong student, and takes lots of honors and AP courses, it is very easy to end up with a GPA greater than 4.0. Some schools give 3 or 4 additional grade points, or even more, for an AP grade. At your high school a 4.3 GPA might be the highest in the class while at another school that calculates points differently, you would need a 5.7 GPA to be at the top of your class. Is the student with the 5.7 GPA smarter than the student with the 4.3. No, of course not. But you start to see the problem.
And if your high school doesn’t weight grades at all you might have a 3.9 and be at the top of your class.
To deal with these inequities, many colleges use unweighted grades rather than weighted grades in admissions so that they can compare the GPA of students from diffeerent high schools. Unweighted grades are the traditional grading of 4.0 for an “A”, 3.0 for a “B”, on so on. Using unweighted grades, a student can not have greater than 4.0.
As a student, you need to know if the college your are interested in reports average GPA’s of admitted students, are they referring to weighted or unweighted grades. Some colleges like to report weighted grade averages of admitted freshman to make themselves look more competitive than they really are.
The average GPA of admitted freshman at the University of California Berkeley is often reported as a 4.34. If your high school does not weight grades you might think Berkeley is impossible for you to get admitted to with your mere 4.0. On the other hand, if you have a 5.7 GPA you might think Berkeley is a safety if the average student only has a GPA of 4.34. Both of these imaginary students would be mistaken if they didn’t understand weighted grades. (For those of you who are interested in Berkeley, their unweighted average is 3.91.)
Even those colleges that use weighted grades in admissions will understand if your high school does not weight grades as heavily as other schools or if your school does not weight grades at all. You will not be at a disadvantage in those circumstances.
Finding the right college requires a student to understand all of the many factors that go into the college admissions process. Now you know how to figure your “real” or unweighted GPA.