Understanding Your Academic Average and Class Rank

Your academic average or GPA is one of the most important criteria that colleges consider when reviewing your admissions application and making the determination whether to offer you a spot in their freshman class. Usually, your high school sends a transcript of your work in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades to colleges you've applied to. Colleges review your application and make decisions based on three year's worth of classes.

Some high schools use weighted averages and some use unweighted averages to determine your GPA. For schools using weighted averageschallenging courses such as Honors, Advanced Placement, College level, or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses receive extra "credit." In this system, it is possible for students to attain more than a 100 average or a 4.0 GPA.

There are students who graduate with averages of 120 or more on a 100-point scale or a 5.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. In schools where unweighted averages are used, each class counts equally, and students can graduate with no more than a 100 average on a 100-point scale or no more than a 4.0 on a 4.0 scale. Some high schools even submit both weighted and unweighted averages.

Due to the varying methods used in calculating GPAs, some colleges "unweight" a weighted average, and some schools recalculate your GPA in order to equalize all applicants and to compare one high school to another.

How do colleges know what grading policy your high school uses? Typically, each high school sends a "High School Profile" with your GPA record, which explains the grading policy of your school and other information about your graduating class, including standardized test scores, how many students are in your class, how many attend four-year colleges, whether or not your school ranks students, and what types of courses your school offers.

More and more high schools are moving away from ranking students, so check with your school's policy regarding your "class rank." This is because a class rank sounds good in theory, but it can actually hurt students. For example, in a very small graduating class of 50 students, the top 10 percent (the highest performing students in the school) of the class only includes five students. If you are ranked as the tenth student in the class, you can still have a very high average. If you are in a large graduating class of 500 students and you are ranked number 200, you could still be a 90+ student. It would appear that you are not doing well when in fact you have a very admirable average.

Instead of class rank, many high schools indicate percentiles (top 10%, 20%, and so forth) to give colleges an idea of where you are in the graduating class. Other high schools do not use any type of ranking system or class percentiles. Colleges usually ask for the highest average in the class, so they can get a sense of where you are in comparison to your peers.