What GPA Do Colleges Look at? [2024 Guide]

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As you’re gathering materials for your college applications, you might ask, “What GPA do colleges look at?”

What GPA Do Colleges Look at

The GPA on your high school transcript could be a weighted GPA or an unweighted one. Finding out the difference between these two GPA types can help you understand more about the college admissions process.

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Plus, you can learn more about what universities are looking for when they select students to admit.

What GPA Do Colleges Look at?

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There are two main methods used for calculating high school GPAs: unweighted and weighted. In an unweighted system, every class is given the same value.

Whether you’ve taken a cooking class or an Advanced Placement (AP) government class, an A grade will be worth 4.0 in your GPA calculations. In a weighted system, advanced classes carry more value than standard classes. An A in cooking might still be worth 4.0, but an A in AP government could be worth 5.0.

Schools that use weighted GPAs often assign higher values to the following course types:

  • Advanced Placement (AP)
  • Dual credit
  • Dual enrollment
  • Honors
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

Weighting systems vary. Schools may assign greater value to some of the above categories than others. So, what GPA do colleges look at weighted or unweighted? In short, it depends.

One of the first things to know when asking that question is that colleges are well aware that GPA scales vary considerably from one high school to the next. As a general rule, admissions committees prefer to compare students on an even scale. In some instances, that means that a college may identify applicants whose schools use similar GPA styles and compare them to one another.

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More often, colleges recalculate students’ GPAs according to their own systems. That way, they receive a more accurate picture of how students’ scores stack up. Even when schools prefer unweighted GPAs, they typically pay attention to the difficulty level of your classes.

Colleges may appreciate seeing an assortment of difficult courses, such as AP and dual credit classes, on your transcript. Such a curriculum shows drive, determination, and skill. In fact, a somewhat lower GPA that includes grades from many challenging classes may hold more value in college admissions than a high GPA based on standard classes.

Overall, whether your high school uses unweighted or weighted GPAs shouldn’t be a topic of concern for you. The colleges to which you apply will know how to evaluate your transcripts and see what kind of student you are.

Instead of worrying about weighted versus unweighted GPAs, you can focus your attention on completing your classes to the best of your ability.

Other Factors in College Admissions

student getting recommendation letter from professor

Your grades are just one of the factors that colleges will consider as they decide whether you’re a good candidate for admission. You can increase your chances by being a well-rounded individual with a strong showing in the following areas:

  • Community involvement and extracurriculars. Schools want to see that you’re engaged with the world around you and that you have passions you’re pursuing.
  • Recommendations of others. You can ask teachers, work supervisors, or community leaders to write letters on your behalf.
  • Test scores. Many colleges today are test-optional, but a good ACT or SAT score has the potential to boost your likelihood of being admitted.
  • Writing abilities. Schools that require an essay may use it in two ways: to learn about you as a person and to see how well you express yourself through the written word.

Keep in mind that, when it comes to grades, the GPA score on the page may not be the only thing that colleges consider. Many also pay attention to the difficulty level of your classes, especially if your school uses an unweighted GPA system. The admissions committee may also look at your high school class rank.

What’s the Difference Between Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA?

It’s common for students to ask, “What is the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA?” This chart outlines some of the key differences.

Weighted GPA Unweighted GPA
  • Gives greater value to advanced classes when calculating GPA
  • Uses a scale of 0 to 4.5, 5.0, or 6.0
  • May give an A grade a value of 4.0 in a standard class and a value of 5.0 in a weighted class
  • Gives each class the same consideration when calculating GPA
  • Uses a scale of 0 to 4.0
  • Gives an A grade a value of 4.0 in all classes

Your school counselor can provide more information about the system your school uses and how GPA works in college.

What Is a Good Unweighted GPA?

College students doing research task

Most college admissions committees prefer to see an unweighted GPA of 3.5 or above. That indicates that you’ve earned mostly As and high Bs in school.

If your GPA is closer to 3.85, the college will know that you’ve primarily earned grades of A and A- during your high school career. For students with their sights set on an Ivy League school, a GPA of 3.9 or higher may be necessary.

The average unweighted GPA is 3.0. While a 3.5 can be an asset to college admissions, anything above 3.0 will put you in the top 50% of students.

What Is a Good Weighted GPA?

College students taking notes during class

It’s difficult to determine the average weighted GPA because different high schools calculate weighted GPAs in different ways. Some use a 4.5 scale, and others use a 5.0 or 6.0 scale.

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The thing to keep in mind is that it’s strategic to strive to keep your GPA as high as possible. If your school uses a 5.0 scale, then you may want to aim for an ambitious GPA of 4.9 or above. Ideally, when recalculated according to an unweighted scale, it’s beneficial for your GPA to be around 3.5 or higher.

Do Colleges Look at Senior Year Grades?

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Even if you apply to college long before your 12th-grade scores are posted, schools may still want to see your final marks.

If you apply in the spring semester of your senior year, a college may ask for your grades from the first semester. Even if you apply in the fall before the early admission deadline, you may still be required to submit grades from your senior year.

Your acceptance might be conditional. If your scores drop significantly during your senior year, a school may revoke its admissions decision. It’s beneficial to maintain good grades throughout your senior year.

Is Cumulative GPA Weighted or Unweighted?

College student attending class in university

Essentially, “cumulative GPA” is just another term for a student’s GPA. For that reason, it could be weighted or unweighted. It depends on the system the school uses.

Cumulative GPA is the grade point average that you’ve earned throughout your time in school. That sets it apart from your GPA for a particular semester or year of school. Rather, as you’re finishing up your senior year, your cumulative GPA takes into account your freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior grades.

GPA and Your College Application

Friends applying in the same college

So, do colleges look at weighted GPA? Sometimes, but not always! Admissions practices vary from one college to the next.

Which GPA a college looks at isn’t something you need to worry about, though. Admissions committees will identify the system your school uses and interpret your GPA accordingly. The best approach is to fill your high school years with an assortment of classes that will stretch and challenge you. Strive for high grades, and you’ll likely end up with a decent GPA.

As your time to send out college applications grows near, you can research accredited schools to ensure you apply to the ones that best align with your interests and goals. If you have a less-than-stellar GPA and are wondering how to get into college with a low GPA, you’ll discover accredited colleges with low GPA requirements, as well as colleges that accept 2.0 GPA scores for admission.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.