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Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA: What’s the Difference?

You’ve probably heard the terms “weighted” and “unweighted” when talking about GPAs as part of the college application process. What is the difference between these two types of GPAs, and how does it factor into the college admissions process?

The world of academia and college admissions is filled with various metrics to evaluate a student’s performance, and one of the most critical metrics is the Grade Point Average (GPA). GPA is a numerical representation of a student’s academic performance, typically on a scale of 0 to 4.0 in the United States.

As students prepare for college applications, the terms “weighted GPA” and “unweighted GPA” often enter the conversation. However, students are often confused about the difference between the two and how each helps college admissions officers evaluate their school transcript.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of these two types of GPA, explore the differences between them, and address the pressing question: do colleges care more at your weighted or unweighted GPA?

What is Unweighted GPA?

Unweighted GPA is the standard GPA scale, where each class is assigned a point value based on the letter grade received, with an A being equivalent to 4.0, B to 3.0, and so on. 

Unlike a weighted GPA, which considers the difficulty of courses (as we’ll discuss later), unweighted scales treat all classes equally. So, high school students should understand that this GPA reflects overall academic competence without factoring in the intensity of their coursework. However, even if they’re only taking regular courses, students must still prioritize consistent study habits and excel in a well-rounded set of courses to maintain a high unweighted GPA.

How to Calculate Unweighted GPA

Calculating an unweighted GPA in high school is a relatively straightforward process. The basic idea is to assign a numerical value to each letter grade, average those values, and then convert the average to the corresponding GPA scale.

Here are the general steps for calculating an unweighted GPA for a high school student:

1. Assign Grade Values:

Typically, letter grades are assigned numerical values on a 4.0 scale. The standard values are:

  • A = 4.0
  • B = 3.0
  • C = 2.0
  • D = 1.0
  • F = 0.0 

2. Determine Course Credits:

Each course usually has a specific credit value based on the number of hours or periods per week it meets. For example, a regular-level class might be worth 1 credit, whereas honors-level courses or AP, IB, and honors courses could be worth more. Check with your school’s administration to determine exactly how many credits your classes are worth.

3. Calculate Grade Points for Each Course:

Multiply the grade value by the course credit to determine the grade points for each course. For example, if you received a B (3.0) in a 1-credit course, you would have 3.0 grade points for that course.

4. Calculate the Unweighted GPA:

Sum up all the grade points for all courses, and sum up all the credits for all courses. Then, you’ll divide the total grade points by the total credits, using the following equation:

Unweighted GPA = Total Grade Points / Total Credits

For example, if you took three courses with the following grades and credits:

  • English (A, 4.0) – 1 credit
  • Math (B, 3.0) – 1 credit
  • History (C, 2.0) – 1 credit

The calculation would be:

Total Grade Points = (4.0×1) + (3.0×1) + (2.0×1) = 9

Total Credits = 1 + 1 + 1 = 3

Unweighted GPA = 9 / 3 = 3.0

Therefore, the unweighted GPA for these three courses would be 3.0. Repeat this process for all courses, and then find the average of these amounts to determine your overall unweighted GPA. 

What is Weighted GPA? 

Weighted GPA, on the other hand, takes into account the difficulty level of courses by assigning additional points to honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. The key differences between weighted and unweighted GPAs lie in how they account for the difficulty level of courses. Therefore, students who pursue rigorous course loads will typically have higher weighted GPA than those in lower-level classes.

How to Calculate Weighted GPA

Calculating a weighted GPA involves assigning additional points to grades earned in honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses to reflect their increased difficulty. Here are the general steps:

1. Assign Grade Values:

Use a standard 4.0 scale for regular classes:

  • A = 4.0
  • B = 3.0
  • C = 2.0
  • D = 1.0
  • F = 0.0

2. Assign Weighted Grade Values:

For honors, AP, or IB classes, add extra points to the standard values. Commonly, honors classes are given an additional 0.5, while AP/IB classes might receive an extra 1.0 or more. This can vary by school, so check with your institution for specific values.

3. Determine Course Credits:

Each course typically has a specific credit value based on the number of hours or periods per week it meets.

4. Calculate Weighted Grade Points for Each Course:

Multiply the weighted grade value by the course credit to determine the weighted grade points for each course. For example, an A in an AP class might be worth 5.0 weighted grade points.

5. Calculate the Weighted GPA

Sum up all the weighted grade points for all courses, and sum up all the credits for all courses. Then, divide the total weighted grade points by the total credits using the following equation:

Weighted GPA = Total Weighted Grade Points / Total Credits

For example, if you took three courses with the following grades and credits:

  • English (A, 4.5 weighted) – 1 credit
  • Math (B, 4.0 weighted) – 1 credit
  • History (A, 5.0 weighted) – 1 credit

The calculation would be:

Total Weighted Grade Points = (4.5×1) + (4.0×1) + (5.0×1) = 13.5

Total Credits = 1 + 1 + 1 = 3

Weighted GPA = 13.5 / 3 = 4.50

Therefore, the weighted GPA for these three courses would be 4.5. Repeat this process for all courses, and then find the average to determine your overall weighted GPA.

What is the Difference Between Weighted and Unweighted GPA

The primary distinction between unweighted and weighted GPAs lies in the grading scale. As we mentioned above, an unweighted GPA considers all classes equally whereas a weighted GPA acknowledges the increased difficulty of certain courses. For instance, an A in an honors class might be equivalent to a 4.5 or 5.0 on the weighted scale, reflecting the extra challenge.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted or Unweighted GPA?

This is a common concern among students, and the answer varies depending on the school in question (many will have answers to this on their admissions website). Most colleges consider both weighted and unweighted GPAs during the admissions process. However, the emphasis placed on each may differ based on the intended major, the academic strengths (i.e. humanities-focused vs. STEM-focused) of the school, and more.

Regardless, colleges often recalculate GPAs based on their own criteria in order to put applicants on a level playing field, taking into account the rigor of the courses available at the high school. This is because high schools can weigh GPAs differently — for instance, at one school an A in an honors course could be a 4.25 whereas it might only be a 4.15 at another school depending on their weighted GPA scale. And it’s important to note that colleges do have access to information about the courses available at your school via your college counselor, so you won’t be compared to a student at a school with more or less academic resources.

Students need to showcase a strong GPA in the context of all of the courses they’ve taken. A high unweighted GPA may demonstrate consistent academic performance in regular classes, while a high weighted GPA might highlight a student’s ability to excel in challenging courses in addition to their consistency. Both are important components of a college application.

Neither weighted nor unweighted GPA is inherently better; it depends on the individual’s unique academic journey. On the one hand, admissions officers at selective colleges typically like to see a high level of academic rigor in a student’s class history. That being said, it’s not worth striving to be in difficult classes with rigorous coursework that doesn’t fit your current academic capabilities. For example, if you’re a student who loves the humanities, don’t feel pressured to take every STEM AP class just to boost your GPA. Every high school student is different, so evaluate your strengths and weaknesses with as much candor as possible. 

When it comes to the college admissions process, colleges are primarily seeking to know that you took appropriate advantage of the academic resources given to you to grow as a student. But it’s important to note that extracurricular activities, college essays, standardized test scores, and more are also crucial parts of a student’s profile that a college admission officer will consider.

Ultimately, colleges seek well-rounded individuals who have excelled in their coursework, whether it’s through a high unweighted GPA or a strong performance in challenging classes. Remember that GPA is not the whole story — it is just one part of the holistic college admissions approach

Strategies for Improving Both Weighted and Unweighted GPA

Striving for academic excellence involves implementing effective strategies to improve both weighted and unweighted GPAs. Balancing these two aspects requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on study habits, time management, and overall well-being.

To enhance both weighted and unweighted GPAs, students should start by setting realistic goals. Breaking down academic objectives into manageable tasks ensures a structured and achievable path. Establishing a study schedule that allocates dedicated time for each subject helps students prioritize assignments and exams, promoting consistent learning.

Active learning techniques play a crucial role in improving both types of GPAs. Engaging in methods such as summarizing information, creating flashcards, or participating in study groups enhances understanding and retention of course material. Actively participating in class discussions and seeking clarification during lectures contributes to a deeper comprehension of subjects, positively impacting unweighted GPA. You could use a strategy like the SMART method to help you set your academic goals — you can read our blog post about that method here.

Effective time management is a universal strategy for GPA improvement. Students should develop skills to balance academic commitments, extracurricular activities, and personal life. Avoiding procrastination, setting deadlines, and maintaining a well-organized study environment contribute to overall academic success.

Strategies specific to improve your weighted GPA include enrolling in honors courses or advanced classes your school offers, which includes Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB). These challenging classes not only boost the weighted GPA by earning additional points but also showcase a student’s willingness to challenge themselves in an academic setting.

For improving both types of GPAs, seeking assistance can be crucial. Utilizing resources such as textbooks, online materials, tutoring services, and study guides enhances understanding. Regularly reviewing class notes and seeking feedback from teachers on assignments and exams contributes to continuous improvement. You can even talk with your college counselor early on in your high school career to determine what kind of GPA(s) you should be aiming for depending on your specific aspirations.

Improving your weighted and/or unweighted GPA requires an approach that integrates effective study habits, time management, and active learning. By combining these strategies, students can navigate the academic landscape successfully and achieve their academic goals, both in the short and long term.


As students navigate the complexities of high school academics and prepare for college applications, understanding the distinctions between weighted and unweighted GPAs is crucial. The decision to enroll in advanced courses and pursue a weighted GPA should align with both your personal academic goals and the requirements of prospective colleges — even if you’re not sure where you want to go, it’s important to see the bigger picture. In the end, a balanced and thoughtful approach to coursework, combined with a solid understanding of GPA calculations, will contribute to a comprehensive and impressive college application.

Are you looking for help with improving your GPA and your college admissions chances? Set up a free consultation today with one of our skilled tutors and/or Ivy League admissions counselors!

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