Many schools offer accelerated and Advanced Placement (AP) classes to students who show academic merit. To distinguish an “A” in the advanced geometry class from an “A” in the regular one, schools often assign a different point system to harder classes. They may, for example, bump up a student’s grade by .5 points if the class they took was accelerated. Therefore, a student with three “Bs” in a regular class may have a 3.0 GPA while one with three “Bs” in advanced classes may have a 3.5 GPA. If a student takes only accelerated classes and their school bumps up each accelerated grade by one point, they may potentially earn a 5.0 GPA. The weight a school assigns to each class varies, and straight “A” students can graduate with different weighted GPAs depending on the school they attended.
The unweighted GPA is the average of all class grades based on a 4.0 scale. If the student earned an “A” in an advanced English class, the unweighted grade would still be a 4.0 – the corresponding number on standard grade conversion charts–instead of, for example, a 4.5. Regardless of class level, each class is graded on the same point system. Things can get a bit confusing when schools have an unweighted scale but yet offer an “A+” that is worth 4.3 points. While still unweighted, this GPA is higher than a 4.0.
Generally, an unweighted GPA peaks at 4.0. Students who have taken accelerated classes may have lower GPAs on this scale, but those who have a regular schedule may fare better in class rank once everyone is on the same playing field. Because the weight a school attaches to each accelerated class varies, an unweighted GPA allows schools, including colleges, and award providers to see a student’s performance on the same scale, regardless of the school they attended. The downside is that additional efforts exerted in advanced classes may not be as visible.