Your grade point average (GPA) proves your reliability as a student. Colleges look at your work to determine the likelihood of your success in higher education endeavors. While many factors play into the decision, your GPA is often the starting point. Below a certain level, certain colleges will not even look at the other factors. Weighted GPA was introduced to help provide a more level playing field as some students take much more difficult classes and it seemed inaccurate to measure advanced placement classes alongside a standard class, therefore one (the advanced placement class) should carry more weight.
Meaning of Weighted Vs. Unweighted
Unweighted GPA assigns four points to every A grade received, three to every B, two to every C and one to every D. A weighted GPA adds a point to every letter grade making an A worth five points instead of four. Your entire graded course load is added together and divided by the number of classes to equal your GPA. A straight-A student who takes all advanced classes would walk away with a “5.0” while a student who took non-weighted classes and received all As would have a “4.0.” Usually, high schools do require a few unweighted classes, such as physical education or art, be included in the mix. This remains a simple numeric way to represent how challenging a student’s schedule is so the admissions board immediately sees the complexity of your studies. Prior to weighting GPAs, someone could take all easy classes and end up with a higher GPA than that of someone taking advanced classes in any of a number of classes.
Colleges have become savvier when it comes to looking at grade point averages. Despite setting a minimum requirement for GPA, even when looking at unweighted GPA, the admissions department pays more attention to the student who challenges herself academically. In addition, the admissions folks are likely to look at your scale of improvement over your academic career. If you do poorly, your freshman year but turn it around by the end, it is likely the admissions department will note your change and relevant attitude. Scholarship departments typically want your weighted GPA, while colleges will breakdown your GPA during the process.
Higher ranked colleges tend to care more about unweighted GPA. At the end of the process the admissions department will look at your classes and compare the course of study to other students with similar GPAs. At this point, the weighted numbers might be added back in if the choice is too close to call and the number of slots left is too few. The thought process remains that those looking for admittance into academically elite schools will all have extremely competitive GPAs, so the number is merely a low end bar for the rest of the criteria.
State Schools and Community Colleges
State schools and community colleges look at weighted GPAs, as the admissions process is not as complex. These institutions often may not go so deep as to study community service and letters of recommendation; your scores determine your entrance. Your GPA coupled with your SAT score lets the admissions department know what type of student you have been. With these standards, a weighted GPA gives you preference over other high GPA students based on the difficulty of your classes. This adds to your candidacy as you made the choice to challenge yourself, one of the many keys to a successful college career.