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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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  1. Mark,
    Do college admissions officers calculate GPA as by taking all the grades from all the years and then calculating, or by calculating a freshman year GPA, a sophomore GPA, a junior GPA, and a senior GPA; and then dividing by 4?

  2. In general, colleges look at a cumulative GPA. That said, they also are looking for performance trends, so they will eyeball the year-by-year grades, too.

  3. Hi Mark,

    My 11th grader has the following stats:

    9th Grade
    Weighted: 4.14
    Unweighted: 3.86
    Using Your Formula: 3.81

    10th Grade
    Weighted: 4.0
    Unweighted: 3.43
    Using Your Formula: 3.32

    11th Grade (1st Semester)
    Weighted: 4.71
    Unweighted: 3.71
    Using Your Formula:3.63

    She took 3 honors courses in 9th grade (only 1 honors UC recognized), 3 APs and 2 honors in 10th grade (only 3 APs UC recognized), and currently taking 3 APs and 2 honors in 11th grade (all UC recognized for extra point)

    In addition, she has been taking college courses during last 3 summers (above mentioned GPA is all inclusive)

    As you know, most UCs practice “capped and weighted” formula to determine GPA and allow maximum of 8 semister credits to add extra point

    My question is:

    a) The more courses she takes the more her “capped and weighted” GPA continues to slide downwards (since those 8 extra points will be stretched among more courses). Is my understanding of this matter correct?

    b) In her senior year, her course load will appear much easy compared to her previous three years course load since a) there aren’t many APs left for her to take, and b) she must take PE (high school graduation requirement which she has not yet satisfied) and ROP (she was actively participating in DECA activities for past couple of years without registering for any ROP class, but recently she ran and got elected as Vice President for California, she must enroll in ROP course to continue to actively participate in DECA activities). From what I’ve heard, colleges like to see course rigor go upwards and not downwards in senior year. How will this sit with colleges?

    and c) she would like to attend UCLA, UCB or UCSD Medical Scholar Program. What are her chances of getting in those schools and in that program?

    Can you please help.

    Thank you.

  4. Hello, I am a highschool sophomore. My cumulative GPA is a 2.85, for me that is horrible. I was wondering why I have a lower GPA (with B’s and 2 C’s) in honors classes, than my friend who got C’s and D’s with honors classes as well? Also what would be the fastest way to bring my GPA up in order to get accepted to a “good” college. It would mean a lot if you answer me as soon as you can. Thank you.

  5. Hi Mark!
    It’s me again. I saw your comment, and unfortunately, I wasn’t recruited for the swim team. However, I tried out for the tennis team and I made it to the top five people, so I get to play in all our district matches. And, for FBLA, I placed 2nd in my district in Word Processing 1, so I’m competing in states.
    And I chose WUSTL because I’ve actually been there once, and I really liked the campus. It was really peaceful and pretty, and it seemed like a place I’d truly enjoy. I’m also considering Northwestern, UChicago, Vanderbilt, and Harvard.

  6. Hi Sebastian,

    It is difficult for us to answer your GPA question without seeing your transcript. The fastest way to bring up your GPA is do get better grades- simple answer, I know. Are you taking too many honors classes? Have you communicated with you teachers for extra help? Have you determined study and time management plan? You need to look at your current habits, find the road blocks and figure out solutions that will work for you.

    Good luck!
    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  7. Hello,

    Thank you for the information on your daughter. She sounds like a very accomplished young lady. You must be very proud of her! With regards to your questions, it is difficult for us to determine “chances” for students to be admitted to certain programs without viewing their entire record. We look not only at her GPA, but her class rank, challenge of her curriculum and how challenging her high school is. We currently work with students all over the country and would be happy to speak with you in detail about your daughter. Please feel free to call us at 720-279-7577.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  8. We moved to US when my son was in 10th grade. We moved 1 week after the school started. He didn’t get into any honors class in sci or Math.

    10th grade: Eng, Alg 2, Bio CP, Wor. History AP , Spanis, PE
    All A’s
    11th grade: AP Eng, AP Bio, AP US His., H Math Analysis A, H Spanish
    1st semester his Bio grade was C and Math grade was B.

    Bio had more chem, he didn’t take chem yet.
    Math Analysis had more Pre-calc, which he skipped.
    He is doing better this semester though.

    His SAT 2060(Took only once). Class Rank 64. He has lot of volunteering hours, President of Octagon Club & JV Tennis. What are his chances of getting into top UC’s. I would appreciate your response.

    Thank You,

  9. Hello,
    My son’s AP English and Spanish Honors grades are really bringing his GPA down. He has C’s in these subjects this year. He is a junior. He has a B in AP Calculus/BC, B in AP Physics B, A in Histroy and B’s in other sciences like Biology and Chemistry Honors. But is unweighted GPA is still just about 3.0 because of languages. He wants to major in Engineering. I am not sure if he can get into any decent colleges at all. Any advice?

  10. My freshman son has entered a “college prep” high school this year which has been very challenging (it boasts an average SAT score of 1901). His friends from our previous private school are attending the local public school. My son’s academic scores have always been similiar to his friends, but now they are getting straight A’s at the public school and my son is working hard to make B’s. Will colleges look at how challenging his high school is when considering his GPA & admissions?

    Thank you for your time,

    Concerned Mom

  11. A friend of mine has a 2.1 gpa unweighted which I believe is necessary for graduation. What happens if her last final grades are D and C

  12. Megan,
    The answer to your question depends entirely upon the grading policies of the teacher. Also, without a full transcript, we cannot calculate the GPA. Good luck to your friend.

  13. Hi Soma,
    I would suggest that your son take the SAT again so that he might get that higher. His coursework sounds good and I’m guessing that his weighted GPA is at least a 4.0 if he received A’s in his AP courses. No one way say for sure though if he would get accepted at UCLA or Berkeley or even UCSD. I would suggest that if he really wants to go to a UC, that he be open to all of the UC’s and not just the “top UC’s”. I would also suggest that he consider some private colleges as they might be even more interested in him. I hope this answers your question.

  14. Thanks for your comment! Most colleges do a very good job of looking at students within the context of their high school and the curriculum that is offered. In addition, many colleges representatives have specific territories that they cover during recruitment and are able to learn a great deal about the different schools in the area that they represent, get to know the counselors, and take what they learn about the rigor of the school into consideration when reviewing applications. In addition, most high schools submit school profiles to the colleges that the admissions counselors can review to better understand how academically challenging a high school is. So, the message is, yes-colleges will be aware of the differences in high schools. However, remember that they still want to see the student perform at the highest level that they can!

  15. Hi Susan, thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are doing great work so far in regards to your academics and extracurricular involvement. Unfortunately, there is no way to say whether or not this will be enough to get you into an ivy league school. Admissions is getting more competitive each year with these schools and many students, even those with top grades and test scores, are not accepted into ivy league schools. This is not to say that you will not be admitted but we cannot make any predictions right now without seeing more information. Remember a few things. First, there are MANY wonderful colleges out there that are not part of the ivy league and worth looking into. Second, try to focus on depth of your activities, involvement and leadership and what sets you apart from your peers rather than filling up your plate with many activities. If we can be of help with your college search please let us know and contact us at .

  16. Hello Dawn,

    There are plenty of schools out there that offer engineering programs that have less competitive admission processes. He can also consider transferring into a more selective program. If you would like to discuss options for you son further, please feel free to give me a call: +1.720.279.7577.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  17. Hello,

    Thank you for your question. It is difficult for us to answer your question without seeing your son’s full transcript. The UC system recalculate the student’s GPA using a specific formula. However, even if he meets the target GPA, there is no guarantee he would be admitted. Here is more info on the UC GPA calculator:

    Hope that helps!

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  18. Different high schools will calculate different courses into weighted and unweighted gpas. So, for example, some schools may consider non-core classes in the unweighted gpa, but only academic core classes in the weighted gpa. Other schools may have a different approach to their weighted/unweighted calculation. Since I don’t know what the situation is with your particular school, I can’t really say whether your high school has made an error with your daughter’s gpas. I encourage you to ask your guidance office how they go about doing their calculation. As for appealing admissions denials, I have never heard of this working, especially at more selective schools. Students are expected to put their best foot forward during the application process and provide any new information that needs evaluation prior to the time that decisions come out. Once a decision has been made, colleges don’t want to change their minds. They don’t want to set a precedent.

  19. Colin, thanks for your message. You will likely need to check with the schools you are interested. Some colleges will consider religious courses and some won’t in the GPA. Please let us know if we can help you with your college admissions process.

  20. Hi, incoming senior looking into colleges in the Boston area… I’m looking into some of Emmanuel’s scholarships, the best of which are based on having a 1250 SAT (I got a 1300) and a cumulative GPA of either 3.5 or 3.4. In their FAQ, they state: “Are high school honors classes weighed more heavily when a transcript is evaluated?
    Yes, the Admissions Office puts more weight on honors and AP level courses than standard college prep level courses.”

    I swung a “meh” 3.5 my junior year (in the past two I averaged a 3.8), but when I recalculated my GPA using the method above I got a dismal 3.1. Using my school’s honors and AP weighting for only my core classes I got a 3.64… Can I safely expect them to base scholarships on that 3.64 (bolstered by my honors level curriculum freshman and sophomore year, and the 3 AP classes to come), or some similarly inflated system?

    I’m going to ask my guidance counselor next year, but if I’m going to apply early action I’d like to know what’s going down sooner rather than later. Here are my core grades, if needed. B (AP), A-, C (honors), A- (AP), B. Also got an A, A-, A-, and another A in four half year classes.
    Thank you in advance!

  21. i was wondering if college admissions will recalulate my highschool gpa? i went to a college prep military boarding school and our gradeing scale was (A- 93-100 B-84-92 C-75-83 D70-73) so if i had a 90 in math and i got a B on my report card and a normal public highschool student would be credited with an A on a 10 point scale of he recieved the same grade i did. will college admissions reconise this? some friends told me they would not but this seems unfair.

  22. Hello,

    Colleges will make note of the grading scale at the school you attended. They will notice that a 90 is a B and not an A-. That is the reason some schools recalculate GPAs, to get even on an even scale.

    Hope that makes you feel better!

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  23. Hello,

    I think you best bet is to call Emmanuel and ask if they even recalculate GPA’s when looking at admissions or scholarships. Some schools will simply take the GPA off of the transcript. In that case, ask if they consider your weighted or unweighted GPA.

    Good luck!

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  24. my old high school that i went to for my junior year did not tell u grades but just told us the letter grade, A B C etc….how will these translate because there is no A- or A+, there is just A’s. A 92 95 or 100 all get an A.

  25. I am wondering, I attended college when I was younger, but had dropped out do to having small children and getting divorced. I am now back in school, and completed a semester with 3 A’s(very High A’s) and one B. Now I am told that my cumulative G.P.A, is less then 2.67, and I no longer qualify for financial aid. I am no longer Employed and my children are grown. how do I fix this and how do I report this if I apply for a scholarship?

  26. Hi, Maureen,
    The calculation of your GPA will depend on how your new school reports the grades on your current transcript. You should speak to someone in the counseling office at your current school for guidance, as different schools handle this question differently. Good luck!

  27. Lori,
    I apologize, but I’m not quite sure what your question is. I would need much more information about your current situation to give you insight into how to approach fixing a problem with your GPA and your financial status. Best of luck to you in your efforts.

  28. What do you do if you repeated a class d you replace that grade with the old grade? Or would you simply add both in to calculate your GPA?? Also I already graduated high school I decided to take a year break, so would I do all my classes or just classes till my 11th grade year when calculating my GPA?

  29. Marc,
    You should check to see how your high school handled the repeated course in terms of your GPA. Some schools will replace the old grade with the new one in a student’s GPA; others won’t. As for your second question, you should count all of your courses, because a college will see all of them when you apply.

    Hope that helps.

  30. i have a 3.9 gpa unweighted, but the thing is that i recently got a 2.63 (B) on a course for the 1st quarter; not semester. I am freaking out because i dont want my gpa to be affected. can you please tell me if my B in the quarter will affect my overall GPA?

  31. I am about to finish my first quarter of high school (9th grade) and my unweighted GPA is a 2.5, will I be able to bring it up to a 3.0 by the semesters end? I am extremely worried about the GPA effecting me in the long run.

  32. Dear Mark,
    Do colleges look at a high school health class that I need to take in order to graduate. By the way it was taken on the summer before 9th grade

  33. Hi! I took health this summer and opted out of a portion by my parenting requesting that I don’t take that section and do some alternative assignments. Due to the class being online it resulted in complications and marked the excused portion as missing. Due to this, my grade dropped a letter grade. I understand that it is merely fluff but I need some reassurance. Will this impact my GPA?
    What exactly do you mean by only academics? Can you give an example?
    Thank you in advance for your help.


  1. […] Admission officers are very concerned with your preparedness for a college curriculum. They want to see that you managed a minimum of four solid courses per semester. Solid courses are those classes offered in English, mathematics, science, social sciences and foreign languages. It is not an uncommon practice to see a college admission office maintain a policy of “stripping” a transcript, which simply means re-computing a student’s grade point average (GPA) using only the solid courses taken. […]

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