How Colleges Calculate Your High School GPA

How Colleges Calculate Your High School GPA

The movement for colleges toward being test-optional has gained momentum over the last ten years. With COVID-19 changing this year’s high school experience, the trend is increasing.

Senior year activities being on hold means that college admissions are placing even more emphasis on other college readiness indicators such as the personal essay, recommendations, resumes, and unquantifiable qualities such as character.   

One key factor that isn’t changing for college admissions is a student’s high school grade point average (GPA), and so it is very important to understand how colleges calculate your child’s GPA.

 

Why Is Your High School GPA Important?

A GPA is a standardized way of measuring academic achievement in US schools. From the college admissions perspective, it indicates a student’s readiness for and potential success in college.

It shows how much your child applied themself in high school. 

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Types of GPAs: Weighted vs. Unweighted

It’s important to note the difference between a weighted and unweighted GPA. An unweighted GPA has a scale of 0 to 4.0 and does not take into account the level of difficulty or types of classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP). 

A weighted GPA takes into consideration the rigor of a student’s coursework and not just the isolated grades.

It typically has a scale that goes beyond 4.0 and up to 5.0, because it gives a higher weight depending on the course difficulty. An honors course usually uses a 4.5 scale while AP classes usually use a 5.0 scale. 

How Do I Calculate a GPA?

Calculating a GPA involves averaging course grades and considering the credits obtained for each course. 

To calculate a semester GPA, every letter grade on the semester report card is first converted into grade points according to an unweighted or weighted scale determined by the school.

Once this is done, all the grade points are added together and divided by the number of credits taken in the semester.

A core or cumulative high school GPA calculates all the grade points earned across every enrolled semester. The grade points are averaged by adding together all of the points and then dividing by the total number of credits a student enrolled in. 

Total Grade Points (on a 4.0 or 5.0 scale) ÷ Total Number of Credits = GPA

You can easily obtain these figures using a GPA calculator. A GPA calculator takes into account different grade formats, including percentages, points, or letters, and groups courses into semesters.

Courses that are worth more credits will affect the GPA more. For example, a 1-credit course (typical for math and English) will bear more weight on a GPA than a 0.25-credit physical education course.  

Additionally, more challenging AP and honors courses effect a weighted GPA more. Under a weighted GPA system, a B in an AP class might be worth 4 grade points, which is the same amount as an A in a general non-AP or honors class. 

 

How Do College Admissions Calculate GPA?

Grades mean different things at different high schools. For example, an A at one high school might equate to a percentage range of 93-100, while at another school, the A range is from 90-100. Some high schools use + or – in addition to letter grades while others do not. Additionally, it may be harder to obtain an A at one school over another. 

So how do colleges consider grades equally and fairly across the country? Each college or university recalculates the GPA according to their own rules and standards.

When applying to colleges, it is important for your child to check out how each college on their list calculates GPA. 

Whether your child’s high school uses letter grades or numerical grades, a college will usually convert their grades to an unweighted 4.0 scale, regardless of how many honors or AP courses they took. 

 

But What About Academic Rigor?

Your child’s transcript is a key part of the application. When your child applies to colleges, admission officers look at two things first: grades and the rigor of coursework.

So along with their GPA, one of the main focal points of your child’s college admissions packet is the level of curriculum rigor. 

Some colleges do not take electives (such as art and music) into consideration and only look at core courses such as math, science, and English.

Associate Dean Jeannine Lalonde of the University of Virginia said, “I hope that students are more concerned with selecting classes that stretch and challenge them and performing well, than just with hitting a certain number for a GPA.”

She adds, “it’s not about achieving a number – it’s about preparing oneself academically for the next step.”

So instead of only worrying about boosting their GPA, your child should opt for more challenging courses such as AP or honors-level courses when they can, even if it means getting a slightly lower GPA.  

The bottom line is that along with other factors that are considered in college admissions, a student’s high school GPA compared to the rigor of their entire transcript is a focal point.

However, it is important to know that the GPA you see on your high school transcript may not be calculated the same way once it gets into the hands of a college admissions officer. 

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Maria Tzavidis

Maria Tzavidis comes from an extensive history of higher education administration both in admissions and advising. She believes the college admissions can seem daunting but doesn't have to be, and so she really enjoys being on the Road2College platform where she can share clear insight into many important college-related topics. Her other passions include writing, hiking, yoga, and cooking plant-based foods. You can connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn.
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