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Weighted vs Unweighted GPA: What’s the Difference?

Just about every high school student is familiar with the  abbreviation “GPA.” It is a standard measure of your academic achievement, usually on a scale of 0.0-4.0. However, there are some people (and hopefully you) that have a higher GPA than that. That’s because there’s a difference between weighted and unweighted GPA that affects how this number is presented. Read on for everything you want to know about weighted vs unweighted GPA, and why having two different GPAs even matter.

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA: Definitions, Benefits, and Drawbacks of Each

Unweighted GPA

An unweighted GPA is always on a 4.0 scale. All classes are treated the same, regardless of supposed difficulty. 

This means that a “B” in an Honors class is given the same weight or value as a “B” in a General Education class. Your unweighted GPA does not reflect whether or not you are taking harder classes.

So even if you take all Honors courses, and someone else takes all regular courses, you will have the same unweighted GPA if you get the same grades, even though your coursework was more challenging than the other student’s coursework.

Since there is no added benefit to taking higher level courses if schools only calculate unweighted GPA, then students may not see the value of taking Honors or AP courses instead of taking General Education courses.

Here’s the difference between general, honors, and AP classes.

Pros of institutions using unweighted GPA:

  • Easier for schools to judge academic performance
  • Most recognized and widely used

Cons of institutions using unweighted GPA:

  • Rigorous course load is not recognized
  • Encourages students to enroll in easier courses

Weighted GPA

A weighted GPA is similar to an unweighted GPA.

However, on the weighted scale, the difficulty of the class is considered. An “A” in an Honors class is not the same as an “A” in a General Education class. A weighted GPA scale often goes up to a 5.0. So the scale would look something like this:

Honors Class

Gen Ed Class

A = 5.0

A = 4.0

B = 4.0

B = 3.0

C = 3.0

C = 2.0

D = 2.0

D = 1.0

F = 0.0

F = 0.0

In the example above, an “A” in a General Education Math class is equivalent to 4.0, but an “A” in an Honors Math class would be 5.0.

Higher level courses are given more value on the scale and the difficulty of each course is recognized.

There are even schools that use a 6.0 scale. On that scale, schools differentiate between Advanced Placement classes and Honors classes.

Related: Want to increase your GPA? Tutoring could be the answer. These are the benefits of online tutoring, and how to get started.

Pros of institutions using weighted GPA:

  • Encourages students to take higher level courses
  • Improves class ranking
  • Raises academic standards
  • Encourages competition

Cons of institutions using weighted GPA:

  • Doesn’t promote a balance course load
  • Students are less likely to take electives
  • Encourages competition

Weighted vs Unweighted GPA: Which academic measurements do colleges care about?

Since all schools do not use a weighted scale, colleges and universities translate all grades into an unweighted GPA scale as a baseline.

However, schools do consider the rigor of your coursework when considering you for admissions.

Related: Can you get into a good college with a low GPA?

What about fairness?

Students have complained that the unweighted GPA is not fair because students who are in General Education classes are given the same merit even though the course load is lighter. This can ultimately have an affect on class rank.

Each high school selects a Valedictorian and at least one Salutatorian. There may be more than one Salutatorian, depending on your school’s policies.

The Valedictorian has a 4.0 GPA and the Salutatorian has a 3.9 GPA. The Salutatorian took all Advanced level classes whereas the Valedictorian took all General Education courses.

In theory, although the Valedictorian received straight A’s throughout high school, the Salutatorian worked harder because they took more challenging classes.

This would not even be an issue with the weighted GPA scale. The Valedictorian from the previous scenario would still earn a 4.0 GPA; however, the Salutatorian would be scored on a 5.0 scale and would have received a GPA well beyond 4.0.

Even though scenarios like this can be disheartening, do not despair. Colleges and universities are aware of this and consider all factors of a student’s academic performance. Post-secondary schools have preferences for students that do well in higher level classes.

Trust us – your hard work does not go unnoticed.

If you need some extra help raising your GPA, enroll in our online group or private courses.

If you need some extra help raising your GPA, enroll in our online group or private courses.

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