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Weighted Versus Unweighted GPA: What’s the Difference?

Weighted Versus Unweighted GPA: What’s the Difference?


You have excelled in your advanced placement courses, earned a 4.1 GPA, and applied to several top-tier colleges. You wait, excited for the day that those acceptance letters start rolling in … But then they never arrive. Instead, you find disappointing decline notices in your mailbox. Upon further investigation, you discover that your GPA wasn’t impressive enough. But how could that even be possible?!

It often boils down to one simple, but often unknown, factor: Some schools use what is called a “weighted” GPA when making their admissions decisions, while others use an “unweighted” GPA.

An unweighted GPA is measured on the 4.0 scale, and does not take course difficulty into account. Therefore, two students with the same GPA are viewed equally, even if one student has excelled in far more difficult courses.

A weighted GPA is calculated on a scale up to a 4.0, and gives students extra credit for taking higher-level courses. For example, an A in a typical high school chemistry class is worth a maximum of 4.0 points, while an Advanced Placement chemistry class can add an additional point per semester.

It can become complicated when you take a variety of courses at different levels. Upper-level math and science courses can help you earn a GPA above a 4.0, which looks impressive on a transcript, but if you are earning Cs in English or history, those grades can drag down the unweighted GPA. If a particular college only evaluates you based on an unweighted GPA, the grade average suddenly looks, well, average.

In most cases, universities consider the difficulty of high school course work when making admissions decisions. But because GPA has become such a confusing topic, it’s better to research your desired school’s admissions process than try to guess at it.

Making decisions for a high school student’s course of study is serious work. At ACS we partner with a family and discuss the options regarding weighted and nonweighted GPAs. Schedule an appointment to come in and see us.