GPA Calculation for College Admissions

Posted by Ben Flores on Thursday, January 12, 2017
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Flores

Ben is a member of the Learning Team at Testive, where he works to improve our learning outcomes through supporting coaches and developing curricula. After attending college at Yale University, Ben earned his M.Ed in Boston and taught elementary school before joining Testive as a Coach.

What is a GPA, and how do you do a GPA calculation?

If you are a high school student, you have a GPA, but nobody would blame you for not knowing exactly what it is or how it is determined. As you get closer to applying to college, you should understand what your GPA is and how to do a GPA calculation (it’s pretty simple).

GPA stands for “grade point average,” and it is a calculated average that represents the grades you have earned in all of your classes. When you take a class in high school, you probably receive some combination of letter grades (A, A-, B+, B, etc.) and percentile grades (97%, 89%, 75%, etc.) on your work in that class. At the end of the class, you probably receive only a letter grade.

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GPA Calculation is a proccess that yields your GPA, which is a number that represents all of these letter grades as a single number.

When it comes to what admissions committees care about, GPA is up there. Colleges care about GPA because it shows your success in all of your classes throughout high school, which gives them information about your work ethic, ability to learn, and academic preparation for college.

Of course, colleges have access to your entire transcript, but the GPA provides an overall picture of your academic performance in one single number, which they can use to compare your academic achievement with other students at-a-glance without going through every single class and grade.

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What’s the difference between a “weighted” and an “unweighted” GPA?

There are two varieties of GPA calculations. An “unweighted” GPA is the standard GPA that is calculated on a scale from 0.0 to 4.0. The unweighted GPA treats every class you take the same way, regardless of its difficulty -- Algebra 1 “counts” for the same value as A.P. Calculus on your transcript.

Most schools use an unweighted GPA. However, some schools use a “weighted” GPA model, which gives different value to different classes based on how difficult or advanced those classes are. In particular, in a weighted GPA model, grades in IB and AP classes are generally counted with higher numerical values than grades in “standard” classes.


Unweighted GPA:
Standard GPA calculated on a scale of 0.0 to 4.0 that doesn't consider class difficulty.

Weighted GPA:
Assigned different value to classes based on difficuly.

For example, if you were to earn an A in Algebra 1 and an A in A.P. Calculus at a school with unweighted GPAs, each A would be worth 4.0 when doing your GPA calculation. However, if you were to earn an A in Algebra 1 and A.P. Calculus at a school with weighted GPAs, the A in Algebra 1 would be worth 4.0 on your GPA, whereas the A in A.P. Calculus would likely be worth 5.0.

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What is a good GPA?

There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what is considered a “good” GPA. That said, the average unweighted high school GPA, nationally, is about 3.0. The highest possible unweighted GPA is 4.0, so of course a 4.0 unweighted GPA is “good,” and an unweighted GPA below 3.0 is getting towards “below-average,” but that leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

The reason you might want an answer to this question is that you’re thinking about which colleges to apply to, or considering your chances at getting into particular colleges to which you’re already applying. A 3.5 - 4.0 GPA represents an A- or A average, and is likely necessary for admission to the most selective schools in the country. Most college-bound high school students have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, but this is just a general trend - a GPA lower than 3.0 may simply mean a student needs to broaden their range of applications and work hard to bolster the strength of their application in other areas.

The details are more important than the number itself. When thinking about the strength of your individual GPA, you need to consider how competitive your high school is, how difficult / advanced the classes on your transcript are, and the level of selectivity at the colleges to which you are applying. You can start by researching the average GPA at schools on your application list and comparing them to your own.

How do I do my GPA calculation?

There are a few steps to doing your GPA calculation, but it’s not hard! First, you need to collect your final grades for all of your classes (that is, get your transcript). Then you need to convert each individual grade to its value on your GPA scale. After you convert each letter (or percentile) grade to its numerical value on the GPA scale, you simply need to find the average (GPA is a grade-point “average,” after all).

We’ll lay out all these steps below. Here is the standard scale used for unweighted GPAs:

Letter Grade Percentile GPA
A+ 97-100 4.0
A 93-96 4.0
A- 90-92 3.7
B+ 87-89 3.3
B 83-86 3.0
B- 80-82 2.7
C+ 77-79 2.3
C 73-76 2.0
C- 70-72 1.7
D+ 67-69 1.3
D 65-66 1.0
F Below 65 0.0

Again, here are the steps:

  1. First, collect your grades for all of your classes
  2. Each class will likely have a “course credit” value, usually 1.0 or 0.5 - this represents how many credits the class is worth based on how much time the class takes up out of the year, *not* a “weight” based on difficulty
  3. Convert each letter grade to a numerical value on the chart
  4. Multiply this value by the “course credit” number - for example, an English class worth 1.0 credits with a grade of A is worth 4.0 * 1.0 = 4.0. A Drama class worth 0.5 credits with a grade of A is worth 4.0 * 0.5 = 2.0.
  5. Let’s call the number you just figured out for each class the “Quality Points” that it is worth. Add together all of the Quality Points you found and get a sum.
  6. Find the total number of course credits (not just the number of classes) you have taken.
    Divide the Quality Point sum by the total number of course credits - the number you get is your unweighted GPA.

Example of calculating an unweighted GPA

As you have just seen, figuring out your unweighted GPA doesn’t have any steps that are difficult, but the whole thing can be a bit tedious. Let’s take a look at an example.

We’re going to do a GPA calculation for the cumulative GPA of a student who just finished their sophomore year of high school. “Cumulative GPA” is just a term that means the GPA for all of the classes the student has taken so far, rather than for one individual year.

Collect your letter grades

Here is a sample transcript for a student at the end of their sophomore year:

9th Grade - 2013-2014 10th Grade - 2014-2015
Class Credits Grade Class Credits Grade
English 1.0 A- English 1.0 A
Geometry 1.0 A Algebra II 1.0 A
Earth Science 1.0 B Biology 1.0 B+
American History 1.0 A World History 1.0 A-
Spanish II 1.0 B+ Spanish III 1.0 A
Drama 0.5 A Drama 0.5 A
Drawing 0.5 A- Painting 0.5 A
Speech 0.5 B Economics 0.5 A-
Physical Education 0.5 B Government 0.5 B+

Convert the letter grades into numerical values

Now that’s we’ve collected all of the grades, let’s convert them into numerical values. We’ll make a table below that shows the steps - remember, we are going to find the corresponding value for each letter grade on the chart, then multiply it by the number of credits the class is worth. In order to simplify the process, we’ll do this one year at a time.

9th Grade
Class Credits Grade Numerical Value Quality Points
English 1.0 A- 3.7 3.7 * 1.0 = 3.7
Geometry 1.0 A 4.0 4.0 * 1.0 = 4.0
Earth Science 1.0 B 3.0 3.0 * 1.0 = 3.0
American History 1.0 A- 3.7 3.7 * 1.0 = 3.7
Spanish II 1.0 B+ 3.3 3.3 * 1.0 = 3.3
Drama 0.5 A 4.0 4.0 * 0.5 = 2.0
Drawing 0.5 A- 3.7 3.7 * 0.5 = 1.85
Speech 0.5 B 4.0 3.0 * 0.5 = 1.5
Physical Education 0.5 B 3.0 3.0 * 0.5 = 1.5
Totals: 7.0 N/A N/A 24.55

Now let’s do the same thing for the 10th grade year:

10th Grade
Class Credits Grade Numerical Value Quality Points
English 1.0 A 4.0 4.0 * 1.0 = 4.0
Algebra II 1.0 A 4.0 4.0 * 1.0 = 4.0
Biology 1.0 B+ 3.3 3.3 * 1.0 = 3.3
World History 1.0 A- 3.7 3.7 * 1.0 = 3.7
Spanish III 1.0 A 4.0 4.0 * 1.0 = 4.0
Drama 0.5 A 4.0 4.0 * 0.5 = 2.0
Painting 0.5 A 4.0 4.0 * 0.5 = 2.0
Economics 0.5 A- 3.7 3.7 * 0.5 = 1.85
Government 0.5 B+ 3.3 3.3 * 0.5 = 1.65
Totals: 7.0 N/A N/A 26.5

GPA calculations for individual years

Now that we’ve done all of this work, we might as well do the GPA calculation for each year individually - why not?

We’re going to divide the total Quality Points for each year by the total number of credits taken that year (and then round to the nearest hundredth):

9th Grade 10th Grade
Quality Points Credits GPA Quality Points Credits GPA
24.55 7.0 24.55 / 7.0 = 3.50 26.5 7.0 26.5 / 7.0 = 3.79

Cumulative GPA Calculation

The final step here is to calculate the cumulative GPA, combining all of the classes taken. In order to do this, we simply add together all of the Quality Points and divide by the total number of credits:

9th-10th Grade
Quality Points Credits Cumulative GPA
24.55 + 26.5 = 51.05 7.0 + 7.0 = 14.0 51.05 / 14.0 = 3.65

The student in our example earned a GPA of about 3.5 in their freshman year, and a GPA of about 3.8 in their sophomore year. This averaged out to a cumulative GPA of 3.65 over both years. Note that we didn’t simply average these two values - we added the total Quality Points and total credits, because you can’t be sure you’ll take the exact same number of credits every year.

Notice also that our sample student improved their GPA from freshman to sophomore year, which will be a big plus when they apply to college. Colleges like to see students exhibit improvement over time, because it shows an ability to learn and adapt!

Which GPA will be submitted to colleges?

College applications are due during the first semester of your senior year, which means colleges receive the cumulative GPA earned in the classes you take from your freshman year through the end of your junior year. Classes taken during the first semester of senior year generally will not count, and classes taken during spring of senior year will never count towards the GPA submitted to colleges.

Therefore, when you calculate the GPA that colleges will receive, you should include classes from 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. You can do this by taking the exact steps we went through in the example above, making sure to include all of your classes from junior year as well as freshman and sophomore years.

What if I my high school uses a weighted GPA?

The example we went through here was for unweighted GPAs. If your high school uses a weighted GPA, you’ll need to know how each course is categorized in terms of difficulty, then adjust the numerical values accordingly. Generally, this simply looks like adding 0.5 to the value for “mid-level” classes and 1.0 to the value for “high-level” classes, bringing an A, for example, from a 4.0 to a 4.5 or 5.0 depending on the difficulty of the class.

Most high schools use unweighted GPAs, and regardless of what your school does, you can always calculate your unweighted GPA if you want to see how things stack up without the fancy complexity of weighting. Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter to colleges whether your GPA is unweighted or weighted - they know how to account for the difference, and they will dive into the transcript when looking at GPAs to understand what your courseload actually looked like.

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