Class choices can impact efforts to earn a high GPA

Photo by: Abby Lybrook

Photo by: Abby Lybrook

To take a study hall or not to take study hall … that is the question. At least that’s one of the big questions if you’re trying to earn the highest grade-point average – something over a 4.0 – that you can in high school.

And study hall isn’t the only scheduling question for those looking to impress colleges or earn the title of valedictorian or salutatorian. What GPA students can earn is determined not only by the grades they earn, but also the classes they earn them in.

 However, many Fairmont students aren’t well-informed about the difference among classes and the way those classes can affect grade-point averages. A regular class affects a student’s GPA differently than an honors class, which affects a student’s GPA differently than an AP or IB class.

Two types of GPAs

The first step, though, in figuring out the labyrinth of GPA policy is realizing that there are different types of grade-point average. “It is very important for students to understand that there are actually two different kinds of GPA and that each student has both of those kinds,” said Fairmont Counseling Department Chair David Elliott.

 According to Elliott, the first type of GPA is called an unweighted GPA. “This unweighted type of GPA is calculated on a 4.0 scale with As counting as 4 quality points, Bs as 3, Cs as 2, Ds as 1 and Fs as zero,” said Elliott. “We total your quality points and divide that number by the number of credits attempted, and the result is a number between zero and 4.0 that is your unweighted GPA.”

Elliott said the unweighted GPA is the number most colleges recognize as the grade-point average. “So, if you have a 3.2 GPA, that means your average grades are Bs,” he said.

Unweighted GPA isn’t affected by how many classes a student takes or the difficulty of those classes. Regardless of whether the class is a college prep, Honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, an A and the other letter grade values still hold the same value. Taking a study hall also won’t impact a student’s unweighted GPA since no credits were attempted.

 The second type of GPA is called weighted GPA. “The weighted GPA is tougher to understand for several reasons,” said Elliott. “First, we use a 4.5 scale for honors classes and a 5.0 scale for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.” 

That makes the honors grade scale look like this:

A = 4.5, B = 3.5, C = 2.5, D = 1.5 and F = zero

In AP or IB classes, the grade scale is this:

A = 5.0, B = 4.0, C = 3.0, D = 2.0 and F = 1.0 

In essence, a weighted GPA depends on the number of classes and the type of classes that a student takes each year. For example, if a student was to take a study hall freshman year and an unassigned period senior year, her weighted GPA can be lower than someone who has taken seven classes every year of high school.

Much like with unweighted GPA, counselors still use quality points to determine GPA, but when calculating weighted GPA, there is an additional twist.

“In addition to using quality points, counselors also divide the quality point sum by at least 27.5 credits – because that’s the number of credits you can earn if you take a full seven-period schedule for all four years in high school,” said Elliott. “Some students earn more than 27.5 credits, so their divisor may be even higher than 27.5. Our advice is to encourage students to take a full schedule of classes throughout their high school years if they want to contend for valedictorian and salutatorian.”

Some Fairmont students, however, don’t take advanced classes because they feel they’re too advanced or not worth all the work that comes along with them. Other students tackle the advanced classes head-on because they aspire to both challenge themselves and achieve a higher weighted GPA.Fairmont senior Jeffrey Kremer is one of those students.

“It’s really not that bad taking some of these more difficult classes,” said Kremer. “Having friends in all my advanced classes really helps me do the work and be involved with the classes. Even though Mr. Butchko made us read the textbook, memorize flashcards and write in- class essays every Friday in AP U.S. History, it was still worth the work, and my friends motivated me to do the work.”

Fairmont senior Corinn Herrick agrees with Kremer. “I take classes that I’m interested in so that I’ll enjoy doing my work,” she said.

Study halls & student assists

Ironically, the students taking the most difficult course loads might be the ones that need a study hall the most. But those concerned about earning a high weighted GPA should think twice before putting one on their schedule.

“Study halls and student assist periods earn no credits, so they have no impact on your 4.0 scale rank and GPA,” said Elliott. “However, they do have an impact on your weighted rank and GPA because the system we use counts those periods as a class even though you are not taking one, and that lowers your weighted rank and GPA.”

Herrick says she’s never taken a study hall, although she’s considered it. “I would rather take another college credit while it’s relatively cheap,” she said. “My homework interferes with my out-of-school activities all the time, but it’s all about finding a balance. My AP teachers typically give assignments a while before they’re due, so if I know I won’t have time one night to do the assignment, I’ll finish it ahead of time,” she said.

 Other students with intense schedules also may think longingly about having a study hall, but they resist. “I’ve felt like I needed a study hall plenty of times, but I’ve never taken one,” said Fairmont senior IB diploma candidate Marie Johnson. “My counselors always advise me that it’s never good to leave unweighted space in your schedule.”

But while it may affect their weighted GPA, many students feel with work and extracurricular activities they have no choice but to take a study hall. “Between working and school work and a social life, I need a study hall with the classes I have,” said Fairmont senior John Wolodkiewcz. “I don’t care about how it’s going to affect my GPA.”

 The burden of seven classes, a job, friends and even a school activity may make some students go crazy, but for others the balancing is just something that comes naturally. “I feel overwhelmed with classes occasionally, especially this year with college applications and scholarships and but mainly during marching band or swimming season,” said Kremer. “But whenever I do get overwhelmed with material, I just go to my teachers in the mornings and ask for help. This also helps my teachers see I’m dedicated and want to do well.”

Kremer appears to be enjoying his education and is keeping an eye on life after high school.  “All I want is to just have fun, learn as much as I can, and earn college credit,” he said.