As a student in high school or college, the courses you take and the grades you receive in those courses, will all be added together to find your GPA. Your GPA, or your grade point average, is one of the biggest things that distinguishes you as a student, especially as a high schooler who wants to apply for college.

Those who have a high GPA will likely have more opportunities in their future, while those with a lower GPA may have a more difficult time pursuing the things they want to do. But before you worry that your GPA isn't where you thought it was, understand that there are two versions of a GPA that are commonly used.

When calculating someone's GPA, the institution will either calculate a weighted GPA or an unweighted GPA. If you want to understand your academic standing in terms of your grade point average, then it's important to know the difference between "weighted" and "unweighted" in these circumstances.

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Why Is a GPA Important?

For high school students, maintaining what's considered an "excellent" GPA is imperative for those who want to get into the college they desire. In addition to other criteria, like SAT and ACT scores, extracurricular activities and other standardized test scores, your GPA is used by admissions counselors at colleges and universities to determine whether or not you're the type of student they want to admit to their school.

Because of this, usually, high school students are striving to do the best they can to improve their GPA or to keep their GPA where it is, by constantly scoring well on their assignments and tests. Those who manage to get one of the highest GPAs in their class may be inducted into the honor society or even selected as the class valedictorian or salutatorian.

Though having a good GPA is important to some college students as well, it's not as critical as it is for high school students. This is likely because once you're already in college, your main focus is to pass your classes and do well enough so that you can obtain your college degree.

Of course, some students will want to have an excellent GPA in college as well. For those who attend a community college after high school, having a good GPA can help you get into the four-year college of your choice. And if you make President's List or Dean's List due to your high GPA, then that looks very good when it comes time to apply for jobs or a master's program.

At the same time, those who are too careless with their college GPA may be put on academic probation, which could result in your removal from the school. So, while it's certainly important to maintain a good GPA in college, high school students likely feel the pressure a lot more.

How Is a GPA Calculated?

Before you can interpret how your GPA is calculated, you'll need to understand which system your school uses. While some schools (particularly high schools) use unweighted GPAs as their system, others use weighted GPAs.

There really is no right or wrong way, it just depends on what the high school feels is the best way to evaluate their students, or it may be based on a standard they've been using for years. If your school uses one system, and you want to know the other version of what your GPA is, you can calculate it yourself or consult a GPA conversion chart. You can also talk to your guidance counselor about which system your high school uses and how this will make a difference when it comes time to apply for colleges.

Understanding an Unweighted GPA

A standard GPA scale goes up to 4.0 on an unweighted scale. Assuming that each one of your tests or assignments is scored out of 100 percent, it's easy to determine what a student's score is in each class, and ultimately how this will lead to their total GPA. Of course, there are other factors that come into play when calculating a student's GPA in an individual class, for instance, some assignments or tests are worth a bigger percentage of your grade than others.

Your teacher will take all of these factors into account to determine your final grade for the course, which will be added up with the grades from your other courses to determine your weighted GPA. Since a weighted GPA scale goes from 0.0 to 4.0, simple conversion charts can be used to determine your grade, as well as simple calculations.

For example, if a student has an A in his or her English class, which is more or less a score of 93 and up, that means that on a weighted scale, this student has a 4.0. If they've done that well in their other classes, then their total unweighted GPA will also be a 4.0. Similarly, a student that has an overall score that falls under 60 will have 0.0 unweighted GPA, though, usually, the only way to get that is if you've failed every single assignment in all of your classes. Therefore, an unweighted GPA can essentially be seen as a "raw score."

Understanding a Weighted GPA

A weighted GPA is quite different from an unweighted GPA, and can be thought more of as an "honest score." This is because unlike your unweighted GPA, a weighted GPA takes into consideration the course load of a student. After all, it wouldn't be fair if a student who gets a 4.0 in all AP courses has the same GPA as a student who's not in AP classes, without that fact being acknowledged.

It needs to be recognized how hard a particular student has worked for his or GPA. Therefore, a weighted GPA uses a different scale and different calculations to make sure a student's honors classes and AP courses are being taken into account. At the same time, classes like art and band may not be considered in your weighted GPA, especially because these days, colleges want to know how you perform in your core classes.

In order to calculate a weighted GPA, usually what happens is regular level courses are measured using the standard 4.0 scale, while 0.5 is added to the scale for each mid-level/honors class taken, and 1.0 is added to the scale for each AP class taken. This would bring an entire weighted GPA scale up to 5.0, though some high schools go up to a 6.0 scale, especially if they distinguish between pre-AP classes (1.0 added to the scale) and AP classes (2.0 added to the scale).

Using this information as a basis, it's easy to calculate what your weighted GPA would be. Just take the unweighted GPA and add whatever you need to add based on the type of class it is. So, if you have a 4.0 in an AP class, then you can add 1.0, which brings you to a 5.0 for that class.

Make the appropriate adjustments for each class you've taken, then divide by how many classes you have. That will give you your weighted GPA. Be sure to ask your guidance counselor how each class should be calculated at your school before figuring out the answer for yourself.

How to Change a Weighted GPA to Unweighted

Most people can figure out how to change an unweighted GPA to a weighted GPA. But doing the calculation in the reverse can be a little complicated. That being said, all you have to do is subtract whatever was added to the final grade for each class and adjust accordingly. For example, if you had a 4.7 weighted GPA for an AP class, then subtract the 1.0 that was added to weight it, and it'll bring it down to a 3.7 on an unweighted scale.

This isn't always entirely accurate, though, so the best way to learn what your score is unweighted is to simply ask your teacher what it was before it was changed. You can also look for an online unweighted GPA calculator to find the weighted to unweighted GPA.

Do Colleges Look at Your Unweighted or Weighted GPA?

It doesn't matter to a college whether or not your high school operates on a weighted or unweighted scale. But they will need to know which scale was used in order to figure out how to evaluate your application. Admissions offices will always take into account which system your high school uses, so they're sure you're being evaluated fairly.

What GPA Do Colleges Want?

Depending on which college you want to go to, you'll have to check what their recommended GPA requirements are for those interesting in applying. Some colleges will, no doubt, have very high standards and be very strict when it comes to their GPA requirements. Typically, a weighted GPA between 3.5 and 4.0 is considered very good, and the standard among students accepted into prestigious universities. Again, it all comes down to how many higher-level classes you've taken and how you've performed in those classes.

For instance, a student who is taking all AP classes with a 3.7 GPA will always be considered over an applicant with a 4.0 GPA who is only taking the easiest classes available at his or her school. That being said, even though a school like Harvard looks for the absolute highest GPA, that doesn't mean you can't get into a good school with something a bit lower. Colleges look at the entire individual, and even though the GPA plays a massive role in an application, it's not the only thing that's considered.

Understand What Your GPA Means for You

For high school students that are eager to get into the college of their dreams, their GPA is extremely important, and that's completely understandable. Some colleges won't even consider an application if it's not within the GPA range that they advise their prospective students to have. That being said, if attaining or maintaining a high GPA is too stressful for you, there are a few things you can do.

For one, you can consider switching to an easier class, dropping a course or swapping a course for one that you think you'll do better in. Many times, students want to have the strongest college application they can have, so they will take the hardest classes available at their school, despite how difficult their coursework can be. Even if this might look better for colleges, this can put a lot of stress on the student, and take away from other things they can be doing to improve their application.

Make sure you enjoy your time in high school by doing the things that you like and working hard in what you're good at because, in a few years, your GPA won't have mattered so much anymore. Your GPA doesn't define who you are as a person, and many people go on to do great things even if their GPA isn't the necessarily the best.

Things Needed

  • High school transcript

About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.