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What’s in a GPA? Weighted and Unweighted GPAs from ‘a’ to ‘g’

April 8, 2011

Many factors play a role in college acceptance: college prep course selection, SAT / ACT results, class rank, community service, extracurricular activities, college admission essays / interviews and, of course, a student’s GPA (grade point average). For Dublin High School students, as per information provided by DHS Counseling, there are five GPAs made available on student transcripts. Why more than one GPA? Colleges and universities in California, and across the US, vary in how they assess student academic performance.

The most basic form of GPA is a 9-12 unweighted GPA where achieving an A = 4 points, a B = 3 points, a C = 2 points and a D = 1 point. The sum of grade points for courses taken is divided by the total number of courses to calculate a 9-12 grade point average or GPA. The maximum possible unweighted GPA is 4.0. Some colleges take into account the difference between an “A+” and an “A-” (where an “A+” = 4.0 and each step down removes 1/3 of a point); others don’t. A weighted GPA can exceed 4.0 as outlined below.

Rarely, however, is this simple form of GPA used. Some colleges do look a student’s freshman year, others only at grades 10-11 (while setting post-acceptance criteria on grade 12 results). Some colleges use an unweighted GPA while others factor in a “grade bump” for students that choose to take AP / Honors courses. The exact formula used by each college is not always made public.

University of California GPA Calculation

For the University of California system, the minimum admission requirements include completing 15 college-preparatory courses (also known as “a-g” courses), with 11 completed prior to a student’s senior year, while earning a GPA of 3.0 or better with no course lower than a C. Completing the SAT or ACT with writing (SAT Subject Tests are not required but are recommended) is also required.

The UC System uses a cumulative ‘a’ – ‘g’ weighted GPA as part of the criteria for admissions eligibility. Let’s break this down:

  • Only grade 10 and 11 results are used in calculating the weighted GPA
  • ‘a’ – ‘g’ – only courses satifying the UC system’s ‘a’ – ‘g’ requirements are included:
    a. History/social science 2 years
    b. English 4 years
    c. Mathematics 3 years
    d. Laboratory science 2 years
    e. Language other than English 2 years
    f. Visual and performing arts 1 year
    g. College-preparatory elective 1 year
  • Weighted: the UC calculation of GPA allows up to 8 semesters of approved college prep courses to increase a student’s grade point per course by 1 point (for grades C or better), making it possible to have a GPA greater than 4.0

As noted above, Dublin High School provides five GPA variants to colleges (including individual course results) for admissions eligibility determination:

  • Cumulative GPA (weighted): all grade points are averaged together and weighted; this GPA is used for class rank and determining the valedictorian and salutatorian
  • Cumulative GPA (unweighted): all grade points are averaged together without extra grade points for AP and UC-approved Honors courses
  • Cal Grant GPA: the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) uses an unweighted GPA from grades 10-11 (excluding PE)
  • Weighted 10-12 A-G GPA: this is the GPA used by the UC system as described earlier
  • Unweighted 10-12 A-G GPA: provided for private and out-of-state colleges that do not weight GPAs

In addition to GPAs calculated by Dublin High School, some colleges calculate a custom GPA using course results provided in the student’s transcript.

California College Freshman GPA Profiles

Below are freshman class profiles from a sample of colleges and universities in California (from the College Board 2011 College Handbook):

California College / University GPA 3.75+ GPA 3.50-3.74 GPA 3.00-3.49 GPA 2.00-2.99
St. Mary’s College of California 26% 13% 36% 25%
University of California – Berkeley 91% 4% 4% 1%
Stanford University 90% 7% 3% 0%
San Francisco State University 6% 12% 44% 38%
San Jose State University 10% 15% 46% 29%
Santa Clara University 29% 31% 36% 4%
California State University (CSU) – East Bay 7% 10% 40% 43%
California College of the Arts 11% 15% 39% 35%
Chapman University 47% 20% 27% 6%
Pepperdine University 51% 21% 25% 3%
California State Polytechnical University: San Luis Obispo 60% 23% 16% 1%
San Diego State University 25% 27% 37% 11%
Thomas Aquinas College 59% 20% 14% 6%
University of California (UC) – Davis 58% 24% 17% 1%
University of California (UC) – Irvine 68% 26% 5% 1%
University of California (UC) – Los Angeles 92% 4% 3% 1%
University of Southern California 50% 31% 18% 1%

Dublin High School College Preparatory Courses

Dublin High School offers over 65 different college preparatory courses that can be used to fulfill the University of California ‘a’ – ‘g’ requirements, of which 23 are AP (Advanced Placement), Advanced or Honors courses. The complete Dublin High School course catalog is available here.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Arzu Brown permalink
    April 8, 2011 8:31 am

    Thank you for providing this information – I believe it will be very useful to many students and families – The college application process is a very overwhelming experience even to the most knowledgeable parents. I love this website – it’s like having your own Education Library at your finger tips -a well-organized one, with a wealth of insightful articles:)

  2. Alex Suppinger permalink
    February 10, 2012 11:52 am

    Thank you so much, this will hopefully help my school incorporate weighted grades to display a true class rank. I agree that a regular GPA could be kept on the transcript as long as class rank is determined on a weighted scale, which it is not as of right now.

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