Understanding GPA


It seems to be the general rule here that you should have your unweighted gpa in mind when searching for schools, since highschools can weight differently from one another, as can colleges in their consideration of applicants. I also understand that this does not mean that colleges do not care about honors/AP/IB courses. They care very much. Where I get confused is in trying to figure out how to decide which schools you are candidate for when one of the top things schools look at and a good way to sort through them is by gpa. When I go into Naviance, if I put a 3.75 as the GPA I get very different matches than if I put in 3.5. Would it be reasonable to just plug in his unweighted gpa and, when a school comes up as a “reach” figure that out is more likely a match, given the advanced courses? I also know there is more than just GPA, weighted or not, that goes into what schools look for, but I’d really like to know how to interpret GPA in light of how to search for schools.

Naviance had my daughters weighted GPA but we also played around with Colegevine and Parchment and used their unweighted 4.0’s to compare results.

One place to start is the school’s published Common Data Set. If I remember correctly, University of Delaware was one of the schools you were considering for your son? The thing to keep in mind though is they don’t tell the whole story. Here are UDs CDSs for SAT, class rank and uwgpa. Keep in mind that this is NOT broken down by school (like engineering) or by major, and it also doesn’t tell you how many in each bracket were athletes, who because of their hook may come in with lower stats.

You cannot trust that the CDS is providing the unweighted GPA.

For example, UNC states that, in 2019/2020, 92% of their accepted students had GPAs of 4.0, using a 4.0 scale. They also claimed that the average GPA was 4.39. Neither the claim that 92% of the students accepted to UNC has 4.0 GPAs, nor that the average weighted GPA would be as low as 4.39 makes sense.

Based on their GPA distribution, the UW GPA should be around 3.97. That is higher than the average GPA of any other college in the USA. Moreover, at a weighting of 1 per AP/IB, and 0.5 per Honors, 4.39 doesn’t demonstrate a very rigorous schedule.

Similar VTech claims that almost 60% of their incoming class had a 4.0 GPA, using a 4.0 scale, and a quick calculation has their income class as having a UW GPA of close to 3.9. Now VTech is a great school, don’t get me wrong, but, again, I find it difficult to believe that 60% of their incoming class had 4.0 UW GPAs, and that the average GPA was 3.89. Since they also had the student’s average GPA as 4.06, that would mean that their incoming did not take very rigorous classes either.


Similarly Virginia and North Carolina seem to have out of control grade inflation, seeing that 21% of the VTech students and 14% of the UNC students who had GPAs of 4.0 weren’t even in the top 10% of their graduating classes, meaning that more than 10% of the students graduating from good high schools in these states are getting 4.0 averages…

So, no, those GPAs often indicate weighted GPAs, no matter what the title of the table on the CDS seems to be claiming.

Basically, it seems that many college consider a a weighted GPA of 4.5 to still be on a 4.0 scale, but on a “weighted 4.0” scale, or something like that


I am, for the most part, following what you are saying, but not enough to understand what I am supposed to do with this information. Is your takeaway message to plug in your weighted GPA? How do you know how a school weights it if they don’t tell you on their website? Can you assume, overall, that colleges use a 4 point scale? How does a 95, for instance, in an AP course, translate to a 4 point scale? I was an A student in Calculus in high school in 1986 (top 15% of my class) and can’t understand this GPA b.s. Too many drugs in college probably :roll_eyes:

Gosh, this still isn’t telling me whether they use a weighted or unweighted GPA. But, it looks like some good objective information otherwise. As for breaking it down by department/major, does that just entail a call to the school? How did Naviance compare with Collegevine and Parchment (and thanks for the tip on these sites!)?

I looked at the scattergrams in Naviance from our school to gain insight. The actual schools it suggested even with 4.0W, 4.29 and 4.35 weighted GPA’s were ridiculous.

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I have a lot of questions about this myself but they are more about what schools might be suitable for my son based on his UW/W gpa (which his school does calculate fortunately). At the end of junior year he’ll have around a 3.68 UW and 4.15 W GPA taking all AP/Honors with the exception of math (he is in pre-calc this year but just regular college prep). I thought College Vine was a bit too optimistic considering his run of the mill ECs (a lot of “matches” that I think would be tough given the competition for those schools within his HS).

My point is that the CDSs of colleges are not a reliable sources for the unweighted GPAs of incoming students.

The weighted GPAs also likely differ. So the UCs tell you exactly how they calculate UW and weighted GPAs, so an applicant can recalculate their own to know where they stand. However, most colleges do not.

So the GPAs that UNC is presenting are most likely weighted according the the NC standard for public schools: 0.5 extra points for Honors classes and 1 extra point for AP or IB classes. But since they do not say, it is just a guess.

What it also means is that, if a students has an UW GPA of 3.92 with 10 APs, and most of the rest being Honors classes, they are almost certainly not below average for UNC, and a student with an UW GPA of 3.82 but with a rigorous class set is almost certainly not below average for VTech.

Furthermore, many of the colleges with the lowest acceptance rates do not publish the GPAs of their students at all. It is neither on their CDS nor on the incoming class profile.

So basically, the higher the UW GPA is, the better, the more rigorous the class set is, the better, although that plateaus at around 8-10 APs and a majority of honors classes for the rest, since many classes lack honors versions, and rigor does not always mean “the classes which are considered difficult”, like Math, Physics, or AP Bio. For example the only weighted art class at my kid’s school was AP Studio Art, and many really good students took a fine arts “minor”. Art classes are not easy or simple, if your school’s art department is serious.

So mostly weighting is a school’s way to recognize how rigorous a class set is, but many schools also cap it, because not all rigorous classes have honors or APs, and they also want to encourage students to leave their comfort zones.

This is all bringing me to a couple more questions which are:

-are we talking GPA for all of high school or just junior year?

-you say NC and VA, for example, are notorious for grade inflation in high school. Do colleges know this and take it into consideration? If so, how do they do it?

-Can inflation differ within high schools in the same state?

-Even if not, do schools account for the quality of a high school? Do they use something like US News & WR and give more weight to a good grade from a better high school?

-Lastly (and a somewhat unrelated question), how do colleges view changing high schools between Sophomore and Junior year? My son went from a rigorous, very small, private day school to a rigorous public school nearby (i.e the change wasn’t due to moving).

Please don’t use Collegevine and Parchment, they are not accurate. Use your Naviance scattergrams, look at it both ways, with unweighted and weighted.

Also the GPAs on CDSs can be highly unreliable, if the school even fills that out. You don’t want to know the making of the sausage. Institutional reporting departments complete the CDSs, and at some schools the IR dept calculates average GPA differently than admissions, obviously not helpful. Lots of other crazy things happening with GPA averages on the CDSs too.

Another way to categorize schools is to go by acceptance rate (By major and school where possible). People may differ in the ranges, but something like this…

  • Under 20% is a reach for all
  • 20%-60% match
  • 60%-something short of guaranteed admission based on stats = highly likely
  • Safety = guaranteed admission for stats plus affordable.

Working with your HS GC and Naviance, it’s likely that there will be some idiosyncracies for some colleges that kids from your HS go to. For example, at my kids’ HS, Naviance makes it obvious that some schools would be safeties, even though they aren’t guaranteed admission based on stats (and again, must be affordable to be a safety).

For all years from freshman, though some colleges, like the UCs, do not use freshman grades to calculate GPA. Many colleges also take the time to look at the GPA details, so an increasing trajectory would reflect better on the same GPA than would a flat or downward trajectory.

Those were just two I was looking at for other reasons, and I noticed that. Other colleges likely do it as well.

Oh definitely. The more affluent the school district, the more extreme the grade inflation.

I guess so, but often they give more weight to GPAs from high schools with which the AOs have relationships. It is regional (for example, my kid’s Chicagoland high school always had a higher acceptance rate at UChicago than at any other similarly selective college), or the AO knows GCs personally, the AOs are graduates of that high school (this is common along the “elite” prep school - “elite” college pipeline), or a high school can become a feeder school (most good high schools and their state’s flagship, or weird ones like my kid’s high school and Tulane). So I guess that “it depends”.

This happens, and I would guess that, unless it happened because of discipline issues, it would not raise questions, especially if it was between a private school and a public school (or vice-versa). The majority of reasons that this happens have nothing to do with the kid’s academic achievements of progress.

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I’m just glad this is over for me. The public school my kids went to had no step up for GPA regarding AP’s or Honors until after they left. So the kids taking regular classes could outrank kids like mine with Gifted, Honors, AP. Now they give 10 extra points for all AP classes and 1.0 GPA bump but only if you get an A. The private school they go to now gives .5 for Honors and 1.0 for AP but it was 3.66 90-93 4.0 94-97, and 4.33 got 98+. Has to be a nightmare for colleges to figure all this out.

We applied to UGA as one of our safeties and they were nice enough to show you how to calculate their UGA GPA.

@OliveLewis according to their CDS, it’s based on a 4.0, but as others noted some schools may not fill in the info correctly. The CDS is just one possible resource since Naviance is skewed as well, often showing reaches as matches, etc. I wanted you to look at it to see the class rank and SAT info as well, since you have a unique situation.

The not-even-in-10%-kids come out of Wake, Meck, Guilford and Union counties, which are packed full of tech parents and their high performing students. D20s small class alone had 13 kids (4% of the class) score 34+ on the ACT, and she was in one of the lower ranked publics in the county (top 600ish USNWR). High performing NC kids and their parents know from the moment they step into 6th grade if they want to go UNC, they will need to be in the top 10%, maybe top 15 for competitive schools in the above counties. NC uses a 10 point scale, no + or -, so there is your “grade inflation.”
@OliveLewis I can only speak to regional schools; they are familiar with schools in VA and NC. If you throw questions like this out there you may get a lot of information unrelated to your specific, unique situation. It may muddy your process more than clarify it. Speaking as an advocate for similar students, it may help to share your son’s full, unique profile in one post.

Crude back-of the-envelope way to understand colleges and GPA -

There is no A+/4.3/whatever that means
A = 93+ = 4.0
A- = 90-92 = 3.67
B+ = 87-89 = 3.33
B = 83-86 = 3.0
B- = 80-82 = 2.67
C+ = 77-79 = 2.33
C = 73-76 = 2.0
C- = 70-72 = 1.67

From my experience, nearly all admissions officers recalculate GPA in this manner (maybe by doing the actual math or maybe by eying the transcript) to understand the unweighted GPA.

Assuming no hook, top 10 national universities and liberal arts colleges accept the large majority at a 3.9 or better.
The next 10 of each - 3.8.
The next 10 of each - 3.7
The next 10 of each - 3.6
and the 40-50 - 3.5

Of course the difficulty of the courses also matter, but not the way high schools are handling the calculation. The closer you are to the top 10, the more likely the expectation will be that every course taken was honors or AP. If you are in the 40-50 range, schools will expect at least 1 honors/AP each year.

Test this out. It works. This is how it was done pre-naviance, but feel free to check naviance to verify.

top 10% for any UNC school? Aren’t some better than others?

Also, I get your point about the AO/GC relationships, but to your saying “I guess so,” that would seem counterintuitive, as the wealthier high schools tend to be the better high schools but then there is more grade inflation there, so the grades mean less. No? It almost seems like an A from a less affluent (and therefore lower quality) high school would mean MORE than that from an affluent/better school?

That is one way some colleges re-calculate GPA, but many use a 4 point scale with no plus or minus.

Also, because I don’t think anyone has mentioned it, the GPA recalculation (if it is done) is for core courses only (E, M, SS, Sci, FL), it does not include gym and electives.

@mwolf Curious if you have source data that there is more grade inflation at affluent schools? Not challenging you, just would be interested in seeing the data. My kids’ go to a top public that is affluent, and there is not grade inflation.

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Are you speaking of my “unique situation” from my other thread (i.e. the comp sci kid who hates math) or from something I wrote here?

The source I get that from is the one MWolf has in his/her reply above.

What is a 4 point scale with no plus or minus? Like anything 90-100 is a 4.0? That hardly seems fair. Then someone with an 89 has the same “grade” as someone with an 80 and someone with a 90 has the same as someone with 100. That is a 20 point spread for 2 grades that are 1 point apart! I hope I am wrong in my interpretation of this!