College Admissions: Why GPA’s Lie
Monday, October 01, 2012
Do College Use Weighted or Unweighted GPAs?
Many top colleges look at a raw, unweighted GPA along with “course rigor” (how many Honors, AP or IB courses you took, number of lab sciences, years of language, etc.). Other colleges look at both weighted and unweighted GPAs. Very few competitive colleges will take your high school GPA without recalculating it. The reason is that there is too much disparity in how high schools calculate GPA, and colleges need to make it a level playing field. It simply isn’t fair to compare the GPA for a student from a high school where electives go into the GPA, to a student from a high school where only core courses are factored in
How to Accurately Calculate Your GPA
In order to have a realistic view of your GPA, you need to first isolate your five core courses for each year of high school (English, Math, History, Science, and Language). Then assign a numeric equivalent to each grade you received each year (A or A plus=4.0, A minus=3.67, B plus=3.33, B=3.0, B minus=2.67, C plus=2.33, C=2.0, C minus=1.67, D plus=1.33, D=1.0). While not every college will use this exact scale, something very close is used by most colleges. Add the numbers and divide by 5. This is your GPA for the year. If you are in 12th grade, add your GPA from 9th-11th together and divide by 3. This is your cumulative GPA. Focus on these numbers during your search, along with course rigor. If your high school uses a 100 point grading scale, then translate that to grades (80-83=B minus, 84-86=B, 87-89=B plus, and so forth).
You can assess your course rigor by looking at how many Honors, AP and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses are offered each year at your school. If your schools offers 4 and you take 3, give yourself a 3. Work on a scale of 4. If your school only offers 2 honor or AP courses per year, and you took 1, then give yourself a 2. If more were offered some years than others, average your findings. Understand that students are not penalized if their school offers few or no AP, IB or Honors courses. You are only measured against what is available as stated in the school profile. The Ivy League and top colleges like Amherst, Bowdoin, Duke and Georgetown will usually be looking for students with a 3.7 or above and a strong course rigor score. Again, each college will have a slightly different way of assessing course rigor, but this will give you a good guide.
Weighted GPAs-DANGER ZONE!
Many of you are now asking “But what about my weighted GPA? Won’t anyone look at that??” The answer is “maybe”. However, chances are that you are looking at it FAR differently than an admissions officer will. You are looking at a 3.8 weighted GPA with stars in your eyes because in the back of your mind, you are seeing it on a 4.0 scale. It is NOT a 4.0 scale for a weighted GPA. Anytime a grade is given a weight on a 4.0 scale, the top of that scale rises. And more often than not, it becomes a 5.0 scale. A 3.8 on a 5.0 scale is NOT that high---time for a reality check. If you do want to calculate a weighted GPA, use the scale above and multiply ONLY classes marked as “Honors”, “AP” or “IB” by 1.25. Then, put it off to the side and return to your unweighted GPA and course rigor level. It’s nice to look at, but it will get you into trouble in most situations when calculating your chances at a college.
Remember, GPA is only one part of the picture when it comes to college admissions, but it is usually the most important part. Why? Because studies have proven that the best predictor of success in college are your grades from high school. So, calculate your true GPA and it will make your view of the college world much more accurate!
Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.
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