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What do we mean by weighted or unweighted grades? If your child is taking Honors, Advanced, or AP courses, her high school may give her some kind of grade point bonus each semester or year to compensate for the increased difficulty of the course. For instance, a student who earns an A in a standard US History course would earn a 4.0 for the year, while a student who earns an A in an AP US History course at the same school would earn a 5.0. That 5.0 is a weighted GPA. However, the student's unweighted GPA for the AP US History course is a 4.0, just like the GPA of the student who made an A in standard US History. An unweighted A is always a 4.0, no matter how difficult the course is.
Why do you need to know your unweighted GPA? Because when colleges report data on the average GPA of their admitted students or when they analyze your child's transcript to determine if your child will be a good fit for their institution, they use the unweighted GPA. Using unweighted GPAs is the only way to be fair to all students, since some schools give more weight to the same courses and some schools offer more advanced course options than others do.
Does that mean my child should take less challenging courses? No! While his or her GPA is critical, the rigor (or difficulty) of your child's coursework is actually more important in college admissions than grades. Colleges want to see that your child is challenging himself, and a B+ in an AP course will ultimately be seen more favorably than an A- in the standard version of the course. Obviously, the ideal situation would be to earn high grades in the most challenging courses available, but if choices have to be made for practical reasons, your student should take the most difficult course load that he or she is capable of handling.
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