WEIGHING THE RESPONSIBILITIES: As college admissions tighten, students fight to keep up competitive GPAs, often by taking multiple honors, AP or IB courses. Graphic by Sophia Shen.
Our school runs by a GPA weight system—1.1 for honors, 1.2 for AP and IB—yet most colleges will never see our weighted grades. Here, administrators, counselors and students weigh in on why UA students can—and whether they should be able to—have a GPA over 4.0
By Clare Driscoll and Sophie Yang, ’19
From seniors with all APs to freshmen in on-level classes, the GPA weighting system impacts every student at UA. In a voluntary Arlingtonian survey of 215 students, 36 percent said the GPA weight was one of their main two motivators for them to take an honors, AP or IB class. Yet most universities balance students’ transcripts next to unweighted GPAs, meaning GPA is often recalculated or entirely unweighted in college admissions.
“[Many] universities tell us the weighted grade is removed when a student applies, although it still shows a student was taking these rigorous courses,” said Cynthia Ballheim, the AP/IB coordinator at UAHS.
Though courses like AP Studio Art and IB Calculus present a needed challenge for some, some students wonder why UA chooses to weight grades.
According to Ballheim, not many colleges track weighted GPA. Thus, weighted GPA is internal, and a main reason it remains is to avoid discouraging students from taking hard classes.
“Think about when you’re in elementary [school]: you bring home a star, and it gets on your refrigerator. I think it makes people feel good to say that they have a high GPA, and feeling good makes people happy,” Ballheim said. “When students think it’s an incentive, that’s good too.”
As the number of college applications and college selectivity increase in the wake of the Common and Coalition Apps, college counselor Kathy Moore said universities are looking to rigorous coursework, making the weighted GPA incentive a potential benefit in the long run.
“It can certainly impact admissions,” Moore said.
Furthermore, counselor Allen Banks said universities still have access to UA students’ weighted GPAs.
“We send them a profile of our school, and it says how AP, IB and honors classes are weighted. They see [the weights] if they take time to look,” Banks said.
Banks said in addition to being an incentive, GPA weight acts as a reward for students who challenge themselves. Senior Kush Hari, who is taking his twelfth AP class this year, agreed.
“For classes with a weighted GPA, I study more and longer because they’re harder,” Hari said. “It’s nice that weighted GPAs account for the rigor of APs.”
Hari said he supported weighted GPAs because the numbers can act as a rough measure of how colleges judge A’s versus B’s in higher level classes.
“My understanding is that while they don’t look at the weight, they do take into account my class rigor,” Hari said.
Upper Arlington is a GPA-weight school. Moore said this means honors is done on a weighted scale. Weighted GPAs are also used for calculating unofficial class rankings like top 5 percent, top decile and quartiles for the current senior class. Taking more AP and IB classes tend to pull students up, but Moore said since UA is a non-ranking school, these values are not placed on college applications.
“The [percentages] are completely internal, just to give kids an idea of where they fall,” Moore said.
Weighted GPAs are also used to qualify for the three graduation honors cords—cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude—and the cum laude society extended to juniors and seniors in the top 10 and 20 respective percents of their classes.
To raise their GPAs, students often take many APs coupled with study halls. Moore said some students take it a step further and drop regular-level classes to keep a high GPA.
“It hurts . . . when a student wants to drop a wonderful class like Band because they feel it’s bringing down their GPA,” Moore said. “On one hand, [weighted grades] let students take classes with a little less risk. But it’s also a race to the higher GPA, a race to the weighted. It’s a lot of increased stress.”
Moore and Banks said this multi-AP, multi-study hall trick has been a common choice for many years. Ballheim said it may have benefits for the students regardless of weighted GPA increase.
“[Study hall] is good time to get work done, especially in senior year with capstone, applying to colleges and oral commentary,” Ballheim said.
WINNING THE WEIGHT
As college admissions tighten, students consider honors, AP and IB credit when selecting their classes, meaning courses have something to gain from securing an honors weight.
According to Theado, a student or teacher seeking an honors title for a class must first convince the relevant department that the course’s rigor sets it apart from on-level classes. The department would then present to counselors and the administrative team, who would further discuss with UA Chief Academic Officer Keith Pomeroy.
“He’s [often] the ultimate decision maker. We work very closely with him,” Theado said.
Theado said it is difficult to get honors weights on a course due to all the factors that must be considered. For instance, if Symphony Orchestra ever became honors, there would need to be similar discussions for Symphony Band and Symphonic Choir.
SHOULD IT STAY?
Theado said the dilemma of weighted GPA is one going on across the country, and he would consider students’ mental health essential in the issue.
“If evidence suggested having weighted grades caused more mental health [problems] and anxiety, then I would be inclined to move away from that. I don’t have enough evidence to make a recommendation on that, but we talk about it a lot,” Theado said.
In addition to benefits for students and weighted GPA, UAHS receives marks of prestige when students succeed in AP and IB exams.
“There are several ways that high schools are ranked,” Ballheim said. “For example, there’s the US News and World Report study, there’s The Washington Report, there’s our own State of Ohio Report Card, there’s our Upper Arlington Quality Profile.”
But Ballheim said ranking is not everything.
“There are people who want to come to UA because we are known for our strong academics,” Ballheim said. “But this is just one aspect of a high school. UA is a fantastic school because of its arts, music program and sports too.”
Ballheim said the weighted GPA system and UA’s culture of AP classes is completely unrelated to the school making good ranks.
“When you look at our ranking, we’re not number one. There are places where [school ranking] is pushed or even required. For example, Bexley requires everybody to take AP classes. We just make it available to students, help them with reasons and help design with their counselors a program that’s suited to them,” Ballheim said.
Banks said the counselors do not take rankings into account when talking with students about schedules.
“I couldn’t care less. All the counselors [and I] are truly here for the kids and making sure they’re getting what they need. We couldn’t care less about national rankings,” Banks said.