The college application and admissions process can frequently be challenging, lengthy, and stressful for high school and other students across the United States and around the world.

Fortunately for most students, colleges and universities consider a wide range of factors in a student’s application when deciding which students they plan on admitting, waitlisting, deferring, or rejecting. Among those factors that colleges consider are, but not limited to, Unweighted GPA, Weighted GPA, SAT or ACT scores, extracurricular activities, essays, and other aspects. 

While all of those factors can play major roles in admissions decisions, some are naturally more important than others. Perhaps most important among them are SAT or ACT (or other similar standardized test) scores and GPAs, both unweighted and weighted. 

In this article, we will discuss Unweighted GPA and Weighted GPA in detail (including the difference of Weighted vs Unweighted GPA), including what they are, how they matter (in the college admissions process and other related processes), the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA, and how to improve them, among other factors related to the topic of Weighted vs Unweighted GPA.

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA: Key Terms Overview

Before we enter the discussion of Weighted vs Unweighted GPA in detail, it is important to define and distinguish some key terms relating to the topic of Weighted vs Unweighted GPA.

This is important, of course, because you cannot discuss Weighted vs Unweighted GPA, the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA, or the question of “Do college look at weighted or unweighted GPA?” without knowing what Weighted GPA and Unweighted GPA mean in more detail.

What Is GPA?

There is no better place to start in a discussion of Weighted vs Unweighted GPA than the definition of what exactly GPA is. Naturally, you can’t learn the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA without knowing what GPA is.

GPA stands for Grade Point Average. As its name suggests, Grade Point Average is a measure of your average academic performance across all of your courses. Typically, but not always, it is on a scale from 1.0 to 4.0 with a higher Grade Point Average indicating better performance on a typical A-F grading scale found in the United States. 

It is worth noting, however, that the scale on which Grade Point Average is measured (particularly when it comes to weighted vs unweighted GPA, which we will discuss soon), as well as the grading scale (which often varies from A-F outside of the United States), can vary quite a bit from school to school or place to place.

Grade Point Average is frequently used as the primary measure of your academic success in coursework by your school, colleges, admissions committees, scholarship committees, and many other such organizations and institutions. As a result, it plays a major role in college admissions, and you want to do whatever possible (within reason and acceptable boundaries, of course) to ensure it is a high as possible to maximize your college admissions and scholarship chances.

What Does Weighted GPA Mean?

Now that we’ve established what Grade Point Average is, what it means, and how it can impact the academic future of many students (particularly in the context of college and university applications and admissions), we will begin discussing the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA.

Weighted GPA is generally defined as your Grade Point Average, adjusted for the amount of particularly challenging courses in your schedule. More specifically, that means weighted GPA is typically scored on a higher scale than unweighted GPA, and more challenging or specially designated courses like honors courses and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, among others, earn you extra points.

For example, a weighted GPA might be scored on, say, a 6.0 scale, and a student that received all As in all Advanced Placement courses in a given semester or year might have a 6.0 weighted GPA and a 4.0 unweighted GPA. Weighted GPA still captures your core academic performance, like unweighted GPA, but it also adjusts for and accounts for the relative difficulty of your schedule, adding extra “weight” (hence the name “weighted GPA”) to more challenging (or ostensibly more challenging, based on their category or classification) courses that you take, thus rewarding students for challenging themselves academically (challenging oneself academically is something that colleges often value quite a bit in admissions decisions). 

What Is An Unweighted GPA?

Now that we’ve established what Grade Point Average is and what a Weighted GPA is, we can continue our discussion of weighted vs unweighted GPA by introducing and discussing what Unweighted GPA is.

Generally speaking, Unweighted GPA is defined as your traditional GPA, just factoring in your grades in courses (not adjusting or scaling for difficulty), typically on a 4.0 scale.

In that sense, Unweighted GPA can generally be thought of as a student’s “pure” or “base” GPA, only factoring in their grades and not differentiating between regular courses, honors courses, Advanced Placement courses, and other courses. Both unweighted and weighted GPA are important in the college and university admissions process, but when people speak of GPA in general terms on a 4.0 scale, it is usual unweighted GPA that they are referring to.

Weighted and Unweighted GPA: Key Differences

Now that we have established what Grade Point Average is, what Weighted GPA is, and what Unweighted GPA is, we can delve further into our discussion of weighted vs unweighted GPA.

There are some key differences between weighted and unweighted GPA to understand when discussing the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA. While we have touched on some of those differences between weighted and unweighted GPA already, will delve into some of them in more specific detail in this next section of our article. 

Scale Measures

One of the most important things to consider when considering the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA is the scale on which they are measured. 

Comparing weighted vs unweighted GPA is not as simple as looking at the two figures side-by-side. This is because weighted GPA and unweighted GPA are generally measured on different scales.

Generally speaking, most unweighted GPAs are considered on a scale of 0.0 to 4.0, with 0.0 indicating all Fs and 4.0 indicating all As.

On the other hand, most weighted GPAs are weighted on a scale of 0.0 to 5.0, with 0.0 indicating all Fs and 5.0 indicating all As in Advanced Placement (or in some cases, honors or International Baccalaureate or other such highly rigorous classes) classes.  

It is important to consider the distinction between these two scales when comparing unweighted vs weighted GPAs, since, for example, a 4.0 unweighted GPA and a 4.0 weighted GPA are not the same thing, as we have seen.

Differences In Calculation

The scale on which they are based is not the only difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs. Weighted and unweighted GPAs are also calculated differently.

Namely, as mentioned, weighted GPAs take into account the ostensible rigor of your coursework, based on designations such as honors and Advanced Placement, whereas unweighted GPAs do not.

That is to say, for unweighted GPAs, grades directly correlate with grade points. For unweighted GPAs, all As is always a 4.0, all Bs is always a 3.0, and so forth. That is not the case for weighted GPAs. You also need to consider course rigor when calculating weighted GPAs. For example, for a weighted GPA, all As in regular courses might be a 4.0, while all As in Advanced Placement courses might be a 5.0.

Do Colleges Look At Weighted Or Unweighted GPA

Now that we’ve explored the various factors that make up the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA, you may be wondering as to how the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA impacts you as a student and prospective college applicant. After all, one of the most common reasons students calculate their own GPAs and consider the weighted vs unweighted GPA and their difference is because they want to estimate their chances of admission at their top choice colleges and universities.

One of the most common questions that may arise in the discussion of weighted vs unweighted GPA and their role in the college and university admissions process is: “Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA?” The answer to this question is actually quite a simple one: colleges look at both your weighted and your unweighted GPA.

The reason that colleges consider both your weighted and unweighted GPA in roughly equal measures in both cases is because colleges care about both the rigor of your academic schedule and your success in it. Your school will typically send an explanation of your grading scale with your transcript, so no need to worry about ambiguity relating to the scale and colleges understanding what it means if your school’s scale isn’t typical.

Provided you can manage the rigor of the schedule you have chosen for yourself, there is often a strong correlation between weighted and unweighted GPA. A high unweighted GPA indicates that you are successful in your coursework, while a high weighted GPA indicates that you are successful in rigorous coursework. Colleges highly value both of those traits when making admissions decisions.

How College’s Use Of Different GPAs Could Impact You

As we mentioned, colleges highly value both a high unweighted GPA and a high weighted GPA. As a result, you should be sure to challenge yourself as much as possible (within reason, of course) in order to ensure you have a high weighted and high unweighted GPA (for the colleges and universities you hope to attend), which demonstrates you are successful in a rigorous schedule.

However, you know yourself best, and you should not overexert yourself to the point where it negatively impacts your academic performance. Take as many challenging classes as you feel you can while still maintaining a high level of success. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, but don’t take on a task you feel you can’t meet even with hard work. That is generally a good blueprint to follow for a successful academic performance and a high unweighted and high weighted GPA, but of course, every student and every situation is different, and what works for one student may not work for another student.

Six Tips To Improve Your GPA In A Way Colleges Care About

As we mentioned, colleges very much care about both your unweighted GPA and your weighted GPA. As a result, improving both of those GPAs will likely help your chances of admissions at many colleges and universities. In this next section of our article, we will discuss some ways to improve both GPAs and boost your college admissions chances as a result.

Never Skip Classes

One of the most important things to keep in mind when trying to improve your GPA is to never (barring emergencies or other such situations, of course) skip classes

For many high school classes, your teachers will provide a good portion of the important information for exams and assignments to you in-class. Attending class allows you to obtain all of this information and save time on studying, reviewing, and tracking down class notes for sessions you missed later on.

Participate In Class

Attending class alone can help, but participating in class while attending consistently will help you even more. Not only does participating help you build a good rapport with your teacher and classmates and potentially come with participation or extra credit points (depending on your teacher and class, of course), but it also engages you with the material more. By directly interacting and engaging with the content, you will often learn better and retain more information.

Put Extra Effort Into Assignments

Every assignment counts. Going the extra mile, writing the extra page (where appropriate), and doing the extra research can go a long way into not only improving your grade on the assignment at hand, but also helping you prepare for later assignments and exams.

Join Study Groups

While some students study better on their own (everyone is different and you know what is best for you), many others benefit from study groups. When permitted, the exchange of information and ideas can help you learn different perspectives on the material, catch content you may have missed, and form valuable in-class connections. 

Make Use of Past Tests

Some teachers will provide students with past exams to help prepare for exams in the course. These are often quite similar to the exams you will actually see in the course, in terms of content and structure, so it is certainly worth using these to the fullest if they are made available to you.

Meet With A Tutor

Sometimes, the best way to learn material you’re struggling with (or the best way to master material you know somewhat well–everyone can always improve) is by working with a professional. Seeking out an experienced tutor in your subject areas can make a huge difference in terms of improving unweighted and weighted GPAs.

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GPA is critical in college admissions, as are SAT and ACT scores. SoFlo SAT Tutors are high scoring graduates and attendees of top universities who have mastered the SAT and ACT. Check out our virtual tutoring services to find an SAT or ACT tutor who will help you towards your score goals, whether it’s your first take, second take, or beyond. 

About the Author

William Grossman

William Grossman is a student at the University of Florida studying Economics. He scored a 1500 on his SAT and a 32 on his ACT. While it may seem unorthodox, William always reads the last chapter of a new book before going back to read it from the beginning — that way, he can see if the book will be any good before deciding to read the whole thing!

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