What GPA Do Colleges Look At?

By Maxine Seya

GPA (grade point average) matters to colleges because it’s the best predictor of your child’s success in college. People used to think that SAT and ACT scores gave more accurate clues into students’ college academic performance because they were standardized. However, studies have shown that this is not true.

GPA is still the most heavily weighted aspect of college applicants. In some cases, it’s the only factor.

When your child is applying to college, you might see different GPAs on his transcript.

Most students have various GPAs, calculated in different ways.

The GPA that matters will depend on the college.

The different types of GPA

  • Weighted: This GPA is typically higher because it adds an extra grade point for each approved Honors/AP/IB class passed. Generally, GPAs are calculated out of 4.0. A weighted GPA might look like 4.4 out of 4.0.
  • Unweighted: This GPA is lower than the weighted GPA because it does not add an extra grade point for Honors/AP/IB classes. If a student has a 4.2 weighted GPA, it’s possible that her unweighted GPA is a 3.8.
  • Cumulative: This GPA includes the official grades from every class taken up until application time. For most students, this includes classes from freshman year through the summer before senior year.

Students are often worried that taking a harder class (say, AP U.S. History instead of regular U.S. History) will tank their GPA. While it’s harder to earn an A in an AP class than a regular class, admissions officers would rather see your student take the AP and get a slightly lower GPA than taking the easy way out but maintaining a higher GPA.

Many students learn that AP courses aren’t as overwhelming as they initially think — and eventually learn study skills to maximize their learning and performance in advanced classes. Ultimately, the effect of course selection on GPA can be minimal, but the impact of choosing a rigorous course of study can make a big difference to admissions officers.

College GPA Policies

  • The University of California schools only look at GPA earned in A-G courses (college prep courses) between summer after freshman year through summer after junior year. This means that only 10th and 11th grade GPAs are counted for admissions. UC’s use a special method for factoring in AP/IB courses that doesn’t strictly follow the weighted method.
  • University of Southern California (USC)

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.