4.0, 4.8, 3/200, weighted and unweighted, decile and quartile – school records sometimes read like a numbers game designed to quantify your performance. Underclassmen need to understand how these measures are determined, what they mean and how they impact college admissions.

High schools have many ways of computing grade point average (GPA). Most common is the 4.0 scale in which an A is worth 4 points, a B is 3, a C rates 2 points and a D carries 1. For schools that use numerical grades, the grade range for each letter grade will appear in the student handbook. Your unweighted GPA is the cumulative average of your high school grades converted to a 4.0 scale. Many high schools award additional points for honors and/or Advanced Placement courses, resulting in weighted GPA’s in excess of 4.0. The school’s policy about weighting will also appear in the school profile as will information about which courses are included in calculation of the GPA.

Since high school policies about GPA calculation vary from school to school, colleges often recalculate a GPA for their applicants, utilizing a standard system for all applicants. Many colleges only include core courses (math, science, English, social studies, foreign language) in their recalculated GPA. Colleges will also standardize the way in which weighted grades are assigned. This recalculation helps to level the playing field and permits the admissions officers to evaluate all students on the same basis. While colleges consider other factors in addition to GPA when making admissions decisions, it’s important to remember that some schools (especially public colleges) have a minimum acceptable GPA.

Rank in class is generally first computed at the end of junior year; it may be based on either weighted or unweighted GPA. Rank may be described as a position compared to all members of the class (as 3/200), or by group (such as top 10% or 2nd quartile). Most small high schools do not provide class rank; these numbers within a small population can be misleading. When rank is provided, college admission officers use the information in their admissions decisions. Some states have mandated automatic admission to the state university system for students who rank in the top 4%, or top 10%, or top 20% of their high school class. Students who do not meet this requirement may be admitted through consideration of other factors. By understanding your GPA and rank in class, and through an appreciation of the way these numbers are used in the admissions process, you can more effectively gauge your chances of admission at a particular college and make better choices about the colleges that are appropriate for you.