Why You’re Wrong about Your GPA, and what to Do about it

Many High School juniors who are trying to figure out their chances at competitive schools are confused about what their GPA actually is. Between "unweighted" and "weighted" GPAs -- and also with many high schools now calculating the grades of AP courses, honors courses, and standard courses differently -- students are often presented with two or three different numbers to represent their GPA. Even more confusing, many colleges use their own formulae to calculate GPA, meaning that the numbers your high school reports may all be different from what the university actually considers.

So what is a confused student to do? First of all, you should understand the process:

Many colleges will see and consider both your weighted and unweighted GPAs -- the former of which uses a 5.0 scale for honors and AP classes as opposed to the standard 4.0 scale. Most high schools will report both on your transcript. However, while a university may use your weighted GPA in considering your relative course rigor, they are typically more interested in your unweighted GPA when comparing you to other candidates. In other words, despite the common belief that an honors B equals a non-honors A, many colleges understand that an honors B is still a B even though it was earned in a harder class.

Complicating matters even further, many universities will recalculate your GPA using their own methods. Some will strip away all but the core classes, meaning the "easy A" you earned in art and gym no longer boost you as much as you thought. Instead, it is "Fundamental Five" which determine your GPA for many colleges: math, science, social science, English, and your foreign language.

So if you're looking at the 25th and 75th percentile numbers that many colleges publish, you will want to calculate your GPA using the most accurate metric possible. The best method is to consult the college itself and see if they'll reveal their system for calculating GPA. If not, or if you do not want to go through the hassle, the most conservative way to estimate your own GPA is to calculate your unweighted (i.e. don't differentiate between honors and non-honors courses) GPA from only the 'Fundamental Five' classes you have taken. While other methods of GPA calculation will be used to compare you against other applicants, this number will likely be the most accurate and universal one that you could use to estimate your chances of admission.

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Reading this along with your "The Easy ‘A’ vs. the Honors ‘B’" post is very helpful. My son's school does not weight GPA perhaps for the very reason you have highlighted. Will see if the schools in which he is interested disclose their calculation methods.

- Dee CEOMUM, 04/07/08 at 6:14 pm

Hi Dee, thanks for your comment.

It is interesting to note that a lot of high schools now are no longer providing weighted GPAs to their students (or are using a variety of more college-like formulae such as considering only a set maximum number of courses per student as 'honors'). As more and more students take the college path, high schools are increasingly becoming more receptive to their needs.

Also, you can find the article Dee mentioned here: The Easy 'A' vs. the Honors 'B'. I agree that it does make a great companion. Thanks!

- Brian Cavner, 04/07/08 at 11:53 pm

My high school gave extra credit to AP A's (meaning an A would be a 5 instead of a 4). But it was also really tricky because my junior high and high school were 91 = B, 82 = C, etc....

So we were at a disadvantage over all other schools since 99% of them use 89 = B, 79 = C, etc...

I asked colleges when I applied if they recalculated and they said yes, but I am not sure if they really meant it or not.

- Veronique, 05/16/08 at 8:01 am

Hi Veronique,

Typically, universities build a profile of many different high schools that help them determine if the school is known for artificially inflating or deflating grade point averages (among other pieces of helpful information). The colleges to which you are applying likely know that your high school uses an uncommon method of computing grades and will compensate accordingly.

If you're concerned, I highly suggest you include an addendum with your application explaining the unique grade calculation methods of your school. It is also possible that your school has already created such an explanatory document. You should contact your school's counselor for more information, as it is very likely other students have had similar concerns.

Good luck!

- Brian Cavner, 05/17/08 at 3:53 pm

Of course weighted GPA is the one that matters. It won't be appropriate if those easy scoring subjects that don't matter able to bring your grades up. =) But good to know and for those who are not sure. Thanks for the share.

- zo hai, 05/22/08 at 6:28 am

Consulting the post-secondary institution about this is probably the best approach.

- Edward Greenberg, 07/12/08 at 2:45 pm

Im a senior in high school and on my college applications it asked me to calculate my 10-12 grade GPA. It then had a link that would help you calculate it. So I put in my 10 and 11 grades only (because I don't have any official grades for senior year yet) and it came up with a score of 3.5 but my high school says I have a 3.46.
The college site says that if any of the information an applicant personally reports does not match his or her transcript, the application will be canceled.
I don't know which score to put.
I want to put to 3.5 because that's what their suggested calculator gave me, but I'm afraid it might cause trouble when they see my transcript.

- Brenna, 10/18/09 at 10:56 pm

| College Tidbits, 05/23/08 at 11:20 am

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