Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the January 7, 2017 edition
To weight or not to weight a grade-point average – that is the question facing high school administrators throughout the U.S. and here in our own backyard.
Local high schools are currently debating which GPAs to put on their official transcripts and which to report as “the” GPA when asked on the high school secondary report (often also referred to as the counselor recommendation letter).
Much as there are no standards for GPA calculation at the high school level, there are also no standards for interpreting it at the college level. This becomes especially challenging, as GPA can factor into as much as 85 percent of the college admissions decision.
Many colleges create their own “fantasy” GPA based on what their schools value. And the following is where it gets tricky.
• Where most local high schools give the same extra points to honors classes, because honors classes are not held to the same national standard as Advanced Placement classes, many colleges will remove the extra points or provide only fractional points when recalculating.
• Some schools, like the UCs and CSUs, do not include freshman-year grades, but others may include grades from all years in their calculations.
• Some schools, again including the UCs and CSUs, limit the number of AP and honors classes that figure into the GPA calculation. For example, in their GPA calculations for admissions, only four-year-long AP/honors classes are considered. However, in their public admissions statistics, the UCs display students’ fully weighted GPA. It has no bearing on awarding credit during matriculation.
• To some schools, AP classes are not created equal. AP classes such as Environmental Science, Statistics and Psychology, while great at showing college readiness and demonstrating interest in a given topic, are not considered on the same difficulty level as AP Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and U.S. History, for example, and therefore may be considered as different values in the GPA calculation.
For many schools, GPA is not as compelling without the context of the difficulty of the curriculum, which is shared via ranking in the secondary school report or counselor recommendation filled out by the counselor.
The counselor is asked to rank the student’s curriculum as below average, average, demanding or most demanding. For example, a 4.0 unweighted GPA with an average curriculum would not be considered competitive for UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford University and other highly competitive schools, whereas a 3.8 or 3.9 unweighted with a most demanding curriculum would be, at least at the GPA level, a competitive candidate.
It is important to remember, however, that for highly competitive schools, the GPA is table stakes – differences come in extraordinary extracurricular activities, test scores and more.
Where weighted GPA becomes significant is for schools that don’t recalculate GPA, but merely accept whatever GPA is reported by the high school. Notable schools for this are the Oregon schools, which do not recalculate and use it for both admissions and scholarships. However, this means the high school must use the weighted GPA as the reported GPA; if they only list it on the transcript and don’t report it, the college won’t use it. It is estimated that approximately 45 percent of the 3,400 public and private universities in the U.S. will take the reported GPA without recalculating.
Weighted GPA provides the highest GPA for students when the university/college does not recalculate and has little to no impact on schools that do recalculate.