As you know, grades are by far the most important factor in college admissions. Yet we have many parents and students confused when we ask them for GPAs. Most students will give their most recent weighted GPA and the process gets even more confusing for our international students. However, let’s be clear, for college admissions purposes, a student’s unweighted, academic, 9th-11th grade GPA is most important.
The problem is there is no standardized way for high schools to report GPAs. In some cases, some high schools report multiple GPAs on transcripts or just the weighted overall average.
Unfortunately, many high schools include EVERY class a student has taken in high school in their GPA, such as athletics and non-academic electives. While doing well in volleyball or cooking is great, it has no relevance to colleges for GPA purposes. Colleges are interested in your performance in academic courses only! Your grades in math, English, foreign language, science and history/social studies are the only ones that factor into your GPA for college admissions purposes. Some electives that have an academic element, like journalism, engineering, creative writing, marine biology, etc. can be included as well.
So your GPA may be lower than you think. We at Stoodnt often have to recalculate GPAs and parents and studetns are often surprised to see that their GPAs are often lower than they think. Of course this raises the question about AP or honor courses. Remember rigor is the second-most important thing colleges care about. Are you challenging yourself and doing well in those challenging classes? This is what colleges want to see. So no, it’s not better to take the “regular” version of a class if you could take the honors or AP version and do well (that means A or B!). And your high school counselor will send your “school profile,” a document that tells colleges how many and which advanced classes your school offers, along with your transcript.
PLEASE NOTE: the UC and Cal State systems use a completely different process for calculating GPA. They count ONLY 10th and 11th grade courses, and they count not only the academic core courses, but also any visual and performing arts classes taken in 10th and 11th grades. They also use a semi-weighted GPA, which is to say that they give “extra credit” for up to 8 semesters (SEMESTERS, not YEARS) of honors and AP classes taken in 10th and 11th grades. And of course there are exceptions within the exception: UCLA and Berkeley do not limit the number of semesters of honors and AP courses. We call these the “capped weighted” (all of UC system except for UCLA and Berkeley, plus all of Cal State system) and “uncapped weighted” (UCLA and Berkeley) GPAs, and when we work with students interested in UC and Cal State schools, we also recalculate these two GPAs based on those formulas. (Yet another exception: for out-of-state students, the UC and Cal State systems only allow extra weight for AP courses, NOT honors courses.)
Conclusion: Colleges are interested in students’ unweighted, academic, 9th grade through 11th grade GPA for college admissions purposes.