High School Class Registration: Guide To Graduation

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It can be overwhelming to plan out high school classes – your friends might be doing one track, your parents and counselors may give different advice, and it can be hard to predict what the workload will be like for the classes you choose. On top of all of this, you also need to try and maximize your GPA and/or class rank for college applications. The following sections will clear up some of the confusion between balancing QPA/GPA, class rank, and explain alternative plans to help you be as successful as possible

What are QPA and GPA?

QPA and GPA are both measures to convert letter grades earned in high school (and college) into a quantitative “score” that helps schools understand a student’s academic performance.  

  • QPA, or Quality Point Average, is a point value product of a class’s credit hours and the GPA points relating to the grade earned in the class.
  • An average GPA, or Grade Point Average, is an overall point value that provides a measure of the average grades across all the classes a student has taken.
    • For example, the GPA for a grade of an A earned in a 3-credit hour class would be 4 X 3 = 12 (since a letter grade of A earns 4 points), and the GPA for that class would be 3.0. 
  • GPA in high school is usually on an unweighted scale which ranges from 0.0 to 4.0, but many high schools also offer a weighted scale that ranges until 5.0. The weighted scale is used to account for the difficulty of a class a student is taking, which usually provides a more accurate class ranking. For example, a student who earns an A in a regular class under the weighted scale would earn 4.0 grade points for that class, while the same 4.0 points would correlate to a B earned in an Honors or AP class.  
  • Below are tables of the grade points usually earned for each letter grade (some schools may vary):  

Percentage Grade 

Letter Grade  GPA (Unweighted) 
98-100  A+  4.0 
93-97  A  4.0 
90-92  A-  3.67 
88-89  B+  3.33 
83-87  B  3.0 
80-82  B-   2.67 
78-79  C+  2.33 
73-77  C  2.0 
70-72  C-  1.67 
68-69  D+  1.33 
63-87  D  1.0 
60-62  D-  0.67 
Below 60  F 


Maximizing GPA for Class Rank

There are four different scenarios that most high schools fall under when it comes to the relationship between unweighted/weighted GPA vs. Class rank:  

Note: Class rank is especially important when it comes to public universities that offer automatic admission for students in a certain top percentile. 

  • Unweighted GPA & No ranking system – in this situation, you should aim to take a general mix of courses that show you can handle challenging classes, but you should be careful because there is no extra incentive to take the tougher classes regarding GPA: a bad grade, even if it’s in a harder class, will still have an equal weight as the same grade in a regular class. Thus, it’s recommended to take a few challenging classes in subjects that cater to your strengths and/or relate to your proposed college major. For example, if you’re really good at math, it makes sense to try AP Calculus, because you’re likelier to still earn a good grade.
  • Unweighted GPA & Ranking system – this situation is rare, since a ranking system with unweighted GPA wouldn’t be very fair, but it can still happen, and the advice is the same as the above situation. You want to maximize your GPA so your class rank percentile can also be maximized, while still demonstrating your academic abilities and drive. Thus, take a couple challenging Honors and AP courses where it matters, and go the regular route for subjects you find tough, or where the effort may not be worth it. For example, if AP US History at your high school will be a lot of note taking and reading that you feel you can’t handle as well, then it would be better to take the regular version of the class. 
  • Weighted GPA & No Ranking System – In this case, you can (and should) take challenging courses when the opportunity arises, especially since class rank isn’t factored in. Because class rank isn’t factored in, you don’t have to worry about planning out your schedule extremely carefully, where a fraction of a GPA could make a difference in a top percentile. You can take regular classes in the subjects you aren’t as comfortable in, and level up in classes and/or electives of special interest and importance. Focus on taking as many challenging classes as reasonable, so you can show colleges you can handle a high workload (this also depends on what the colleges you’re applying to look for in applicants).
  • Weighted GPA & Ranking System – for this combination, as mentioned above, it’s important to take a fair number of challenging courses as it suits your purpose of college applications. However, it can be tricky to choose the right balance of courses that will give you the highest rank, because in this system, a GPA of 4.672 vs 4.671 could very well be the difference in the top ten percentile of a high school’s graduating class. This is a significant problem because many universities and scholarships across the nation offer automatic admission or other benefits to students with specific percentile cutoffs, even though the GPAs right below the cutoff have very little difference. For this reason, it’s important that you talk to teachers, counselors, and any older students at your high school to really understand which classes have what types of workload
    • Some students utilize a strategy where they will take an “easier” AP class to boost their GPA and rank. For example, one student may choose to take AP Environmental Science instead of AP Chemistry, because AP Environmental Science would still provide the GPA and rank benefits of being labeled as an AP class, but it’s not known to be as challenging as AP Chemistry. It’s hard to say how colleges will see these choices (if they analyze them), but it can certainly make a difference in a student’s rank. Remember though, that you should also consider the use of a particular class – in the above example, even if AP Chemistry is harder it might be better to expose yourself to college level chemistry if you plan to be a STEM major. 

To Summarize: 

  • Balance challenging courses – you want a high GPA, but a high GPA of easy classes doesn’t say much to colleges. You want to take a few challenging classes to highlight your academic skills. 
  • Every high school is different, so it is crucial to talk to staff and students at your particular school to get a better picture of classes. 
  • Remember to cater to your strengths and consider your long-term goals when choosing which versions of classes to take – try to take challenging classes in subjects you excel in or careerrelated subjects. 

Dual Credit and Completer Programs

  • An important alternative to consider is the idea of dual credit programs. Your high school may have a partnership with the local community college that allows students to take a class at the community college over the summer (or even during the year). The advantage of taking such a class is that it allows you to have a professor or timing that contributes to a better grade to be counted into your high school GPA. For example, a student may take an art class through the dual enrollment program over the summer so they can work harder and earn a better grade to boost their GPA.  
  • Another concept to consider is whether your high school offers courses in completer programs, which are essentially sequences of specialized electives that may relate to a particular career field. Sometimes, taking a class in these sequences instead of an Honors/AP class may still be beneficial because it would look good on applications and also give you a safer grade for your GPA.  

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