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How Do I Calculate My "Real" GPA?

Everyone knows the importance of a high school student’s grade point average, or GPA. It’s the little number that labels us. It signifies whether we are a geek or slacker, or somewhere in between. The GPA is usually either a point of great pride or great shame. Those students who are proud of their GPA practically have it tattooed on their foreheads, while others skulk about in fear that someone might discover what ignoramuses they truly are.

GPA good studentsIn college admission, it serves as a critical litmus tests: how good a student is this person, and will he or she succeed at this college.

No matter how you cut it, the GPA is a source of anxiety and tension for just about everyone.

But let’s be philosophical for a minute. One’s GPA is not a measure of one’s worth as a human being. It is not even a measure of one’s intelligence. Rather, it is the gauge of a young person’s ability to play the game of school. Some tremendously intelligent students completely blow off school (I have several clients of this variety), while some less intelligent students are able, through sheer doggedness and determination, to achieve relatively high GPAs (there are fewer of these, I find).

Calculating one’s GPA is a fairly straightforward process. Except for the fact that many high schools report “weighted” and “unweighted” grade point averages. In a previous post, I detail the differences between a weighted and unweighted GPA. Basically, a weighted GPA takes into account the difficulty of the courses a student is taking, and those taking harder courses are rewarded with extra “brownie points” in their GPA. Usually colleges strip these brownie points from an applicant’s GPA in order to fairly compare one student against another.

But merely stripping away the brownie points is not enough to uncover your real GPA, because in today’s comprehensive high schools, we give grades for just about every class a student takes, including:

  • physical education
  • performing groups (including theater and all sorts of music)
  • high school sports training
  • vocational education classes, like shop, auto mechanics, and the like
  • health classes, including sexual education
  • student aide or school helper

These courses help pad a high school student’s schedule. But they do not constitute the academic core of high school. Grades in these courses do provide a measure of success (I actually have a client who received an “F” as a student aide–I’m hoping that was a clerical error!). But these grades cannot really be counted as a measure of a student’s academic abilities.

Therefore, to calculate a student’s core GPA, we have to remove the fluff. We have to calculate the GPA based solely on the five academic solids that constitute a high school student’s performance:

  • Math
  • English or Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Science
  • Foreign Language

The core GPA is your “real” GPA: this is the measure of your academic performance in high school. (Again, it’s not a measure of self-worth.) Unless students come to me with a transcript with nothing but grades of A, most students are disappointed to see their 3.0 cumulative, weighed GPA fall to a more embarrassing 2.3 or lower. Those gym classes and band classes are not only fun, but they artificially prop up one’s GPA.

And colleges know it. So those with relatively selective admissions processes will strip the fluff right out of the GPA in order to get down to brass tacks: how well does this particular student perform in academic work?

So, while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I encourage students from middle school onward to be aware of their “real” GPA as they go through school, and to not be blinded by the number printed on the grade report. They need to be aware that some courses, whether required (health, gym) or not (jazz band, sports conditioning) may artificially inflate their cumulative GPA, and may lead to academic complacency.

The lesson: don’t let yourself be deluded by the numbers on the page. College admissions officers, who must compare one student against another in deciding whom to admit, will strip your GPA of all non-academic fluff. Don’t wait until the fall of your senior year to come to the realization that your GPA may be artificially inflated.

So throw off the rose-colored classes, strip your GPA of all artificial weighting, and strike out all those A grades you received in those electives you love. Ultimately, your “real” GPA is what colleges will consider most carefully.

Now with that out of the way, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the GPA calculation for students who are awarded letter grades.  For each grade in an academic course, assign the following number values to each grade.  Then simply divide the sum of these numbers by the number of courses (a simply average). This will be our “Real” GPA.


A  = 4.0

A- = 3.7

B+ = 3.3

B    = 3.0

B-  = 2.7

C+ = 2.3

C   = 2.0

C- = 1.7

D+ = 1.3

D  = 1.0

F = 0


So, to give an example, let’s say that Stan the Student has a B- in Math, a B+ in English, a C+ in social studies, an A in Spanish, and a B in science, we add the following values:  2.7 + 3.3 + 2.3 + 4.0 + 3.0, for a total of 15.3.  Divide by 5 course, and the GPA is 3.06.


Also, you may want to get an idea of how to translate percentages into the numerical grade point average.


Mark Montgomery
College Counselor and
Bearer of Bad News

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Comments

  1. Hello,

    It is difficult to balance out AP courses. The important thing is that your student does not take on more than she can manage. If 2 AP classes per year is the right load for her, then that is what she should take.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate
    Montgomery Educational Consulting

  2. Hi Jeff,

    It is perfectly fine to write a separate essay on your college applications that describes the difficult time you had your first two years. You should focus on what you have done to improve. Colleges do like to see an upward trend in grades, so it is good that you are on the right track!

    Good luck!

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate
    Montgomery Educational Consulting

  3. My school bases its grades on an eight point scale. A 93 to a 100 is an A. I am currently taking two AP courses this semester. I’m getting a high B in one of them but I’m affraid it’s going to hurt my GPA. If I get a high B in the course, does that mean that it counts only as a 4.0? Or can it be something like a 4.3? I’m a bit confused.

  4. Thanks for answering my question. My next one is does information technology classes like programming count towards real gpa.

  5. Hello. The answer depends, in part, on how your school classifies the course. Is it considered “math” credit, or is it primarily an “elective” credit. If elective, it may not factor into your “real” GPA.
    Hope that’s helpful!

  6. Hi Kat,

    You GPA is going to depend on your school’s grading scale. So if your school does not have a traditional grading scale (A is 90 to 100, etc) then you would need to adjust your GPA according. When colleges review your transcript, they will make note that you school does not have a traditional grading scale.

    Hope that helps!

    Katherine Price
    Educational Consultant

  7. hello i m completed my B.E. Computer science from india with 60.55% so can u tell me how much GPA is there now days i m in usa and i have green card and i m doing job in good company.and i want to do masters in usa but there is some confusion can any body guide me

  8. Hello,

    Thank you for your inquiry. Your GPA would depend on the grading scales used in India. If you tell me the name of the program you completed your degree under, I could probably assist you with determining your GPA.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

    Montgomery Educational Consulting

  9. My son is a senior who has taken all tough classes (AP & Honors) and hard electives like engineering. He saved his required to graduate easy electives (Art & Gym) for his senior year to offset his two AP classes. His high school does not weight his honors classes, so his GPA is only 2.88 on his transcripts. If the honors classes were weighted he would have a 3.06. He has tons of EC’s (Captain of two teams, Student Senator, founded a charity, plays on four teams, etc.) and got a 29 Math and 29 English ACT or a total 1800 (with writing) on his SAT. Sadly, colleges and scholarships with a 3.0 GPA cut-off are accepting students from schools that weight honors classes on transcripts but won’t accept my son because his transcript reads 2.88. Friends that took easier electives to boost their GPA are making the cut. He wrote an explanation on the common app but admissions offices don’t seem to read it. Any suggestions?

  10. Hi

    I have a National Diploma in Hospitality management from a University in South Africa, and I want to study Public relations at Ballstate University. Would they calculate my GPA based on my Varsity transcript or the Highschool one?

    Thanks

  11. i am senior High School student. why my GPA never goes up? i know i didn’t do well when i was freshman and sophomore year because my English is the second language but i didn’t get U in any subject i just got C D And B sometimes. when i became junior i got all A and B. i am senior now also i got good grade but i don’t know why my GPA never goes up. i am so worry about it. i feel like colleges are not going to accept me. if they are not accept me my future will be in same disaster forever..

  12. Hey Mark,
    So my daughter has a mediocre high school GPA, but received an A+ in a class that she took at UCLA over the summer. Does that A+ become part of her GPA? I am sending the transcript from that course to the colleges that she is applying to.
    Thanks,

    Wendy

  13. The A+ in the UCLA course only becomes part of her HS GPA if the high school puts it on the HS transcript. Otherwise, you do as you suggest: submit the transcript from UCLA to colleges.

  14. Your GPA from university is all that Ball State will be interested in seeing. Good luck!

  15. Hi. If your son has a 2.88 GPA, that means he has received some grades of C. You don’t mention where your son is applying. The fact is that he didn’t perform as well in those honors and AP courses. Again, it’s hard for me to provide you with much information to alleviate your concern at this point. His ECs will not wipe away his academic performance. I wish I could be more specific in my advice, but at this point, there is not a lot that can be done, other than make the explanation you have made. However, if his explanation was “I worked hard in my courses to get a grade of C,” the fact is he still earned a C in that course. You also do not indicate his scores on the AP exams, which would be helpful. Again, sorry I cannot be more specific in my recommendations.

  16. Hello, Sheela. Your GPA will go up if your grades improve substantially. If your grades stay about the same, then your GPA will stay about the same. GPAs are mathematical averages, so you’re unlikely to see any great leaps in the numbers one way or another. But as you continue to improve your grades, your average will increase accordingly. I hope this is helpful. Good luck.

  17. Hi Mark,My question is similar to the Mom who son has the 2.8.GPA in a school with unweighted honors courses. My daughter has taken all honors freshman and 1/2 of sophomore yr, now and has a 3.8.(with no weighting for honors). My question is shoudl we bump up and take a few AP courses next year , but I do think that would mean she might need to drop a few honors. Honors and AP are to much to have any other life.
    I guess I do not understand why a school does not weight honors courses.
    I am confused but also know since she is looking at big universities she probably needs a few AP course along the way.
    I also saw one of your comments said her daughter took AP her freshman year, our school did not offer any freshman year. What is more commom?

  18. I have a C in AP world history, a B in honors bio, an A in PE, an A in regular english, a C in algebra 2, an A in spanish 2, and an A in intro to art, could you please calculate
    My weighted
    And unweighted gpa

    please estimate for weighted because i knoe it is different for every school but if you can estimate that would be great and I go to palisades charter high school if that helps.

    Thank you

  19. Hi Mark. I’m currently a Freshman, and I just calculated my GPA to be a 3.38. I’m currently shooting for an Ivyleague school, and planning to load my schedule with APs and Honors classes. Would I be better off dropping most of these clases to get a better GPA or try to get a GPA that looks a bit worse, but still having all my AP courses on my transcript? Thanks

  20. Hi, Corey.
    Long story short: to get into the Ivy League, you must take the most difficult classes offered (especially in those things you are good at and enjoy) AND get good grades. You cannot get in simply by taking hard classes. And you cannot get in by taking easy classes and getting a great GPA. The fact is that you need both.
    And please, Corey, as a 9th grader, you need to understand that “Ivy League” is a football league. It is not a basis on which to make a decision to go to college. Maybe you want to go to a “good” school, but there are hundreds of “good” schools. Please do not fixate on the Ivy League as some sort of nirvana. To fixate thus is a recipe for unhappiness.
    Take hard classes, work hard, and accomplish as much as you can. But aim for happiness, too. Do not sacrifice happiness for some fuzzy goal like belonging to a particular sports league.
    Hope that helps.
    Mark

  21. Hi Mark,
    My school still uses the 7 point grading scale(100-93 is an A 92 to 85 B etc) but is going to change to a 10 point when I become senior, but will my freshman, sophomore, and junior grades alter with the new grading scale? Also I read in a different post that said only certain colleges do not look at the fluff GPA. So is that true and if it is then how high in the ranks are the colleges that look at the overall GPA(weighted/ unweighted I do not care)?

    Sincerely,
    Chris

  22. My bad on the mistakes. It should say that …how high in the ranks are the colleges that look only at the core GPA…

    My Apologies

  23. Hello! Thanks for your comment. Each school is different so sometimes their offerings of AP/honors courses are different. It sounds like your student might be a good candidate for some AP courses next year. Also, a lot of colleges will give college credit to students who are successful (get a high score) on the AP exams so that may be a benefit to think about.

  24. I have a class that is a pass or fail (teacher’s aide), if i pass, what would the letter grade be, a C?

  25. Hi, Martha. You don’t get any grade that is factored into your GPA if it is a Pass/Fail course. It just doesn’t count one way or another.

  26. Hi, Chris. The bottom line is this: your school has the responsibility to help explain the changes in GPA calculation to colleges. You should ask them how they will be reporting your GPA to colleges as they make the transition to the new system. Some colleges do look more at 10th grade and later, while others want it all. Without going through a list, think of it this way: the more selective the college, the more selective they will be. So they will look at–and evaluate and compare–more information about students–rather than less.
    Hope this helps.

  27. Hello Mark,

    I am trying to figure out my son’s grade translated from weighted GPA to 4.0 scale GPA. He is a Jr. going to a school in San Jose, CA. He Academic Cum. GPA is 4.22(Fresh and Sophomore). He has taken 4 Hnr classes in Freshman and Soph years and 2 AP in Soph. This year he is taking 5 AP classes and two regular classes. His Academic GPA for his Jr. Fall semester be around 4.5~4.6(we will know the exact grade when the finals are over and grades are posted early in January). He is doing extra cur activities, leader of his school Robotics club, does weekly Tutoring working with kids from disadvantaged kids, did fundraising to raise more than $1500 for a family homeless center. He will do his internship with a software company in summer 2012. Also he will do 2-week trip to India from school in late summer, to visit various orphanages to spend days with them, visit high-tech centers all over India. He wants to study CS in college. He likes programming and already taking Java prog class. He really likes programming. What is his chances to get in UCB, UCLA, UCSD, Cal Poly, Purdue, Urbana Champagne,or some of the private colleges, Rice, Harvey-Mudd, Rose-Hullman, RPI, WPI, Cooper-Union, MIT?

    Anyway, we tried to register to few websites to help find various scholarship available, they ask for his GPA in 4.0 scale. I don’t know how to translate his AP/Honor Class grades. Any help will be highly appreciated.

    Dad of Jr. student

  28. Hello,
    I want to take AP art history as a self study and then take the exam,will the exam grade be used to calculate class rank ?

  29. Only if it appears on your official secondary school transcript. Hope that helps!

  30. Hello.
    My advice is to enter his cumulative GPA as it is listed on his official transcript. If 4.0 is the highest you are allowed to enter, then put in 4.0. Hope that helps. If you’d like more personalized advice on acceptances to particular universities, feel free to contacting me via email. I’d be happy to help.
    Best regards.

  31. Hi Mark
    I just want to know how would my GPA be calculated If I am retaking a class in order to improve the grade, would the new point average include the total number of the semester hours including the repeated class hours. as it is counted again in the number of attempted hours?

  32. Hi,
    I’m an American junior student studying in Canada, and i was wondering how will american universities convert my GPA ?
    Canada has a completely different grading system where percentages are used instead of Letter grades. In USA 94% equals to a 4.0 , where as in Canada 85% + is a 4.0. According to the Canadian system i have a 4.0 GPA , but i have no idea what my GPA will be in the states. How will the conversion affect my GPA ?
    Thanks.

  33. My daughter is about to select courses for her junior year. She’s an A/A+ regardless of the course and will have near-perfect or perfect SAT scores (yeah, I know). She likes to play sports and write fiction so keeps a study hall. She’s clearly on the dartboard, tho unlikely, for an elite school. 2 questions: is it “slacking” to have a study hall in an 8 period schedule so you can do other things? Can she add a 3rd language, Russian, which is known to be the hardest course in the school, because she’s interested in it, or is she better off finding an AP elective?

  34. I forgot to say that they do not have class rank but do give weight to AP courses in determining GPA. Colleges are provided with average GPA for school. She is interested in aeronautical engineering and will have Latin I-III and Chinese I-IV. Almost seems like Russian may be seen as “pertinent” to her major. It will lower her weighted GPA as she would take 2 years of Russian and colleges won’t know that it’s harder than the AP electives.

  35. Do you get to add on points for AP classes when calculating GPA? For example would an 89 in AP English (4 on AP test) be counted as 89 or 99 for the GPA calculation?

  36. I got a B in a music class, would that effect my GPA in the colleges eyes? or would they just take the fluff class off my real GPA, and use my core study class grades (math, science, forgein language, english)?

  37. Dear mark I am a freshman who is talking a computer class regular geometry honors English ap world history and spanish 2 I I got all A’s except for in math and Spanish I got a b now my gpa is 3.6 and I am rely disappointed and I want to know if that is bad or good plus if I can some how bring it up or will it badly affect my gpa in later years?

    Sam

  38. Hi Mark,

    My daughter is a high school freshman. Once per year the school allows each student to take a second study (a free period) vs. another elective. She would like to take the second study to use the time to better study and do homework so she can improve her grades in her core classes instead of taking a class in fashion design, electronic music, etc. It’s not that she does not take any electives, as she does, but I am not sure how colleges look at transcripts. If the student has enough high school credits, does it matter if she takes 1 less elective per year in lieu of another study period to improve her grades?

    Sincerely,

    Lisa

  39. Hi Mark!
    I have a question I want to ask. Currently, I’m a freshman in an IB school. I currently have a 3.86 unweighted gpa and a core gpa of 3.8. I was on the swim team and made it to regionals on a team for two events. I placed 4th at a district Mu Alpha Theta competition, and a member of FBLA(Future Business Leaders of America). I’m trying out for the tennis team currently. I was wondering, do you think I have a chance so far in getting accepted to Washing University in St. Louis?
    Thanks!

  40. Hi, Kathy.
    My crystal ball is deficient, I am sorry to say. In order for me to evaluate your chances, I would need a lot more information. WUSTL is a very, very competitive university. One of my main questions would be whether you were being recruited for the swim team. If so, your chances go up. If not, your chances go down. Each factor tells part of the story, and I’d need the whole story in order to get my crystal ball back in gear again.
    Why WUSTL? What are the other colleges on your list?
    Best regards!

  41. Hi, Lisa,
    Every choice has possible positive and negative consequences. As for electives, my only thought is, what is she then doing with her time–if she is freed up at school to complete her homework, then what is she doing with her time at home? No choice is simply binary: this or that? The entire context is important. How does she spend her time? What universities does she aspire to attend? You mention “improving” grades: what are they now? I see no particular reason why she needs to take extra electives in which she is disinterested. Getting good grades is admirable. But how does this decision fit into the rest of her plans: this is the sort of question we help our kids figure out. It’s not easy!
    Thanks for writing in.

  42. Core is more important than non-core. But every class affects your cumulative GPA. So the answer is, “both” will affect the way colleges look at you. Also a tip (as you prepare for the SAT): “affect” ≠ “effect.” You might want to look those up again!
    Best regards!

  43. Susan,
    The calculation of your GPA is handled by your high school. Each school is different. However, colleges will be looking at the raw grades, too.
    Hope that helps!

  44. Hi Sheri. Tough choice. My gut tells me to tell you it won’t matter. She already has plenty of languages. Taking another would be nice. But ultimately her admission to the most elite colleges will depend more on what she does outside of school than inside it at this point. If she’s number one and headed to engineering, I see no big benefit to taking Russian. That said, if she wants to take it because she’s interested in it, that’s cool, too. But it’s also not “slacking” to have a study hall if that allows her to do those other things that help her stand out.
    I realize I haven’t answered the question categorically, but this is a tough one without understanding the entire context–and without talking to your daughter.
    Best of luck!

  45. Lara,
    It’s your high school that calculates your GPA on your transcript (and that decides whether to expunge the old grade and replace it with the new one). Talk to your school counselors. If the grade appear on your transcript, then colleges will see it and take it into account.
    Hope that helps.

  46. Sam, your GPA stays with you in calculating your cumulative GPA. But the future hinges on current actions more than past ones. What are you doing now to improve your grades? Will your second semester be better than your first? If so, things will continue to look up. Put one foot in front of the other, learn from your mistakes, improve your study habits, choose appropriate courses, do your best. You can’t expunge the past. But you can redeem it.
    Best of luck!

  47. My daughter has a weighted gpa of 4.4 but her unweighted gpa is 3.6. Almost all her core courses were ap classes and most of them were A’s except maybe a 2-3 b’s. This is her final year. Is it possible her unweighted gpa was calculated wrong. She is stressing out since she is considering schools like USC. Should I contact the school to recalculate her gpa? Another question I have is if you get turned down by your first choice – can you appeal and what are the chances of students who appeal to get into college.

  48. Hi Mark,

    Will a couse like theology count towards my GPA? I go to a catholic school and it is a required course and counts towards my weighted average.

    Thanks,
    Colin

  49. Hello Mark. I am currently a sophomore in High School. I am in all AP, Honors and/or advanced classes. I am doing exceptionally well in two of my main subjects and the other three are fare. They have been improving, however, and the final grade will be swayed by a few points. Is this enough, along with extracurricular activities, to get into an Ivy League School? Also take into consideration that next years grades will be much better; because I know the classes I am taking and have already familiarized myself with the material. Thank You.

  50. Hello Marc, my major GPA is 2.38 and i must increase it. I want to re-take only 1 course of 4 credits.If i took B, will i make it to 2.5 or no?
    Thank you

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