First off, you should know what constitutes weighted and unweighted GPA in high school.
Traditional GPAs are unweighted, which means they’re measured on a scale from 0 to 4.0. A 4.0 is an A average, a 3.0 is a B average, a 2.0 is a C average, a 1.0 is a D average, and anything below that represents a failing grade.
Unweighted GPAs do not take the levels of your classes into account. An A in an AP or honors class will translate into a 4.0 GPA, and so will an A in a low-level class. Basically, an unweighted GPA won’t change based on the types of classes you’re taking; it represents your grades in isolation.
Weighted GPAs are a bit more complicated. Many high schools now record weighted GPAs instead of standard unweighted GPAs. Weighted GPAs are measured on a scale that goes up higher than 4.0 to account for more difficult classes. For many schools, this means a 0-5.0 scale, but some scales go up higher (like to 6.0).
In the lowest-level classes, grades will still stand for the same numbers as they would on an unweighted GPA scale (i.e., an A is a 4.0, a B is a 3.0, etc.). However, in honors or AP classes, an A will translate into a 5.0 GPA, a B will be a 4.0, and so on. If your school has mid-level classes, an A might translate into a 4.5 GPA.
Keep in mind that these are general estimates. If your school records weighted GPAs, check its specific policies. Weighted GPAs are used in an effort to present a more accurate picture of academic abilities based on the rigor of a student’s coursework.
Which GPA Do Colleges Care About?
Of course, every college is different, but in general, colleges care more about your record of coursework than your GPA out of context. For this reason, I can’t say that colleges necessarily care “more” about unweighted or weighted GPA. Between the two, weighted GPA provides more useful information, but they will still look closely at your transcript instead of just taking your GPA at face value.
Your GPA is an overview of how you did in high school. Still, every admissions department will dig deeper (unless your GPA is exceptionally low—think below 2.0) before making a blanket judgment based solely on that number, whether it’s weighted or unweighted.
This is because the GPA scales of different high schools can’t be compared directly. Some schools might count honors and AP classes as “high level” for weighted GPAs, and some might only count APs. Some AP classes are also easier than others. It wouldn’t be fair for colleges to give a student who earned an A in a notoriously difficult class like AP Physics the same credit as a student who earned an A in AP Psychology, even if they have the same weighted GPA.
Colleges want to see that you have pushed yourself to take on academic challenges and managed to grow over time. If your academic record demonstrates increasing difficulty of coursework, this will look impressive to colleges, even if your GPA isn’t stellar. If you have a 4.0 but remained in all the least challenging classes in high school, colleges will be less impressed since you didn’t push yourself further academically. even though you were clearly capable of doing so.
If you’re getting all As in low-level classes, don’t stay complacent just because you have a good GPA. It’s absolutely worth it to move up a level and challenge yourself, even if it leads to a slight drop in your GPA. Colleges look at the whole picture, and they will make note of the fact that you forced yourself to leave your comfort zone and grow intellectually.