Unweighted vs Weighted GPA: Understanding The Difference

21/03/202213 minute read
Unweighted vs Weighted GPA: Understanding The Difference

One of the core elements of the college application process is academic achievements. The sum of these achievements is measured through a GPA. All high school students will have a GPA, and many high schools produce both a weighted and unweighted GPA for their students. A student's GPA allows colleges to compare the academic status of multiple students against each other in an objective manner. This is why it is essential to maintain a good high school GPA

But do colleges prefer weighted or unweighted GPAs? Should students be concerned about the difference in their weighted vs. unweighted GPAs? While GPA's are an essential part of the college application, it is important to keep in mind that it is just one portion of the college admissions process.

What Is A GPA?

GPA is short for grade point average, and it measures academic performance across all high school courses. Generally, GPAs are calculated on a 1.0-4.0 scale. It is the primary measure of a student's academic success. It's used by admissions offices and can also be considered for scholarships.

What is an Unweighted GPA? How is it Calculated?

Generally, unweighted GPAs are the more widely used calculation. Typically on a 4.0 scale, an unweighted GPA is the raw score and only factors course grades. The biggest flaw with an unweighted GPA is that AP and honors courses take more effort and skill than many standard courses, and this extra effort isn't accounted for in an unweighted GPA. The most common way to convert your GPA can be found in the table below:

Unweighted GPA Scale
Letter GradePercentageUnweighted GPA Scale

What is a Good Unweighted GPA?

Ivy League schools are looking for a GPA over 3.5. If a student's high school transcript is a mix of mainly A's and A-'s, they will achieve around a 3.85, which is precisely what Ivy's are looking for. If their transcripts have more B's and the occasional C, the GPA may fall below 3.5.

However, remember an unweighted GPA does not account for course difficulty. If a student takes AP courses and receives a 3.3 unweighted GPA, they might be more competitive than those in regular classes with a 3.5. If the school a student applies to only uses an unweighted GPA, students should consider the number of AP and honors classes they complete.

Balance is critical, and getting average grades in challenging courses could significantly lower an unweighted GPA.

What is a Weighted GPA? How is it calculated?

Understanding weighted GPA is pretty simple. This version of a student's grade point average accounts for the difficulty of the courses on their transcript. Specifically, challenging courses are scored on a larger scale than with unweighted GPA.

High schools usually assign weighted GPAs on a 5.0 scale, but it can go higher. For example, if a student earns an A in an AP course, they will receive a 5.0, and if they earn a B, they receive a 4.0, and so forth. With course difficulty factored in, students may have a higher GPA than someone with similar grades. Refer to the table below for understanding weighted vs. unweighted GPAs. 

*Each school calculates on its own scale, so this is only an example.

Unweighted vs Weighted GPA Scale
Letter GradeWeighted GPAUnweighted GPA

What is a Good Weighted GPA?

The academic expectations of Ivy League schools and other top universities is well above average; in fact, most Ivy League students graduate high school with a GPA above 4.0! This is because all the Ivy League universities take into account a weighted GPA over an unweighted one.

Average Weighted GPA of Students at Top Universities
UniversityAverage GPA (weighted) of Accepted Student
Princeton University4.14
Harvard University4.15
Columbia University4.14
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)4.15
Yale University4.10
Stanford University4.13
Cornell University4.05
University of Pennsylvania4.10
Brown University4.05
Dartmouth College4.07

How to Calculate your GPA

Calculating a GPA can be challenging, especially if a student is trying to compare unweighted and weighted calculations. Our free calculator can help you do just that.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted or Unweighted GPAs?

In short, colleges will look at both your weighted and unweighted GPAs. Each number plays a part in the academic story you tell, and colleges want a holistic view of the students they are considering for admission. A weighted and unweighted GPA shows how well students perform individually and comparatively.

Students who score high across the board will have high weighted and unweighted GPAs. A high unweighted GPA indicates an academically successful student, and a high weighted GPA demonstrates they can maintain that level of success when faced with rigorous coursework. Institutions value both of those indicators when they consider students for admission.

How Crimson Can Help You Improve Your GPA

A high GPA is an essential piece of a college application. Understanding the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs will help you better understand how colleges look at your academic achievements. However, a GPA is just one of many factors admissions officers evaluate when considering students for acceptance. Students should be aware of their GPA throughout high school to determine which colleges are within their reach and where they can improve.

To ensure you achieve your highest possible GPA, book a session with one of our academic advisors. Our first consultation session is free. We'll help you identify what steps you need to achieve success and create your roadmap to a top college.

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