Preparing for College

Unweighted Ranks and Academic Index

Question: My daughter has a 3.91 unweighted GPA and is a full IB diploma candidate. She also took advanced/honors classes in her freshman & sophomore years. There are only 6 IB diploma candidates in her graduating class of over 300. Her class rank (top 5%) would probably be higher if the school used weighted GPAs to calculate them. Will colleges make some adjustment for the tougher course load in assessing class rank? How would this work in the Academic Index formula that the Ivy League colleges use?

In A is for Admission, author and former Dartmouth admission official Michele Hernandez explains the way the AI is calculated in detail. She points out that weighted ranks and GPAs are used when available, but the unweighted versions will be inserted into the formula when they are not. (Rank is the first thing considered. GPA is only used if there is no rank—or percentile—provided.)


Hernandez claims that the upshot of this system is that too often apples are compared with oranges, creating inequities that indeed could work against students like your daughter who have elected a demanding course load that is not reflected in the way her grades or rank are computed.

On the other hand, Hernandez also notes that admission officials are keenly aware of the inconsistencies in the AI system and have the power to hand-adjust the AI accordingly.

Often, admission officers at colleges that use the AI (or other similar systems) insist that they are very tuned into the disadvantages that a rigid numerical evaluation can engender for those students whose ranks or grades are unweighted. Thus, many ratings are flexible and governed by a strong subjective component that enables them to take such anomalies into account.

Of course, in order for your daughter to gain this benefit of the doubt at her target colleges, it is imperative that her applications clearly present the information you sent to us. Did her counselor explain that she is one of only a handful of students in a large class who has tackled the full IB curriculum? Is the unweighted GPA and rank prominently noted? If so, colleges will pay attention to these factors and put her AI in the proper perspective.