Lower-Division vs. Upper-Division Classes: How Do They Differ?
- GPA translates letter and percentage grades into a cumulative number on a 4.0 scale.
- A student’s GPA can affect their chances of getting into college and landing a job.
- The definition of a good GPA varies depending on the major and a school’s academic rigor.
- Students can improve their GPA by developing better study habits and following a schedule.
Used by high schools, colleges, and graduate schools alike, a grade point average (GPA) is a single cumulative number that represents your entire academic performance. Schools calculate GPA by translating letter grades onto a numerical scale that typically ranges from 0.0-4.0.
This guide takes an in-depth look at the importance of GPA for getting into college, winning scholarships, and even finding a job after graduation.
What Is GPA and How Is It Calculated?
Yale was the first U.S. school to apply grading methods that resemble the system currently in place. The university tracked student progress in a “book of averages” that set procedures for exams and mentions a 4-point scale. Today, the GPA system is widely used by middle schools, high schools, and colleges throughout the U.S.
Most schools calculate GPA on a 0.0-4.0 scale. Each of your letter grades (or percentage grades, depending on the school) receives a numeric equivalent. The average of those equivalencies becomes your cumulative GPA.
The following chart shows how letter and percentage grades correspond to a 4.0 GPA scale.
|Letter Grade||Percentage Grade||GPA (4.0 Scale)|
Source: College Board
What Is a Good GPA in High School?
The average high school GPA is around 3.0, or a B average. This also happens to be the minimum requirement for many college scholarships, though a 3.5 or higher is generally preferable.
GPA plays a key role in college admissions. This is because your high school GPA is one of the few data-supported measurements of your academic abilities, lending objective evidence to a highly subjective admissions process.
When researching colleges, look at first-year class data to find the average high school GPA of admitted applicants. This should help you figure out what GPA to aim for. For example, if the average first-year student had a 3.6 GPA, you should try to earn at least a 3.6 GPA as well.
Whether a GPA is considered good in high school also depends on your major. A student planning to major in engineering with only a 2.3 GPA in math and science classes could face immediate rejection from a college. In this case, you may want to consult your high school guidance counselor on more suitable degree paths.
What Is a Good GPA in College?
What’s considered a good GPA in high school might translate to lackluster performance in college. Even within a university, GPA expectations can vary by major and department.
When it comes to determining a good GPA, here’s a useful trick: Ask yourself what GPA you’d be willing to report on your resume after college graduation. Unless you’re in a notoriously difficult major, anything below a 3.5 is less likely to be regarded positively by potential employers.
A good GPA in college can also be defined more broadly in terms of honors designations. Most commonly, students graduate cum laude (Latin for “with praise”) when they earn a 3.5-3.7 GPA, magna cum laude (“with great praise”) when they earn a 3.7-3.9 GPA, and summa cum laude (“with highest praise”) when they earn a 3.9 GPA or higher.
Finally, those planning to apply to graduate school should focus on maintaining a good college GPA. Many grad programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0, while top-tier programs often prefer at least a 3.5 GPA.
Does GPA Really Matter?
GPA matters, but only to the extent determined by an admissions committee. Earning a 4.0 in high school would likely secure you admission to most state universities. But for the Ivy League and other highly selective schools, a perfect GPA represents the minimum requirement most applicants must satisfy to warrant consideration.
Remember, though, that GPA is just one part of your academic record. Both colleges and grad schools also look at achievements like relevant work or volunteer experience, personal essays, and letters of recommendation.
GPA can also be important depending on your professional goals. When applying for an entry-level job, include your GPA on your resume only if you think it’ll raise your chances of getting the role. For example, a recent art history grad applying for a museum curator position might choose to divulge their GPA if it’s particularly high (3.5 or higher).
That said, these days employers are paying less attention to candidates’ educational history. Companies like Google and Netflix prioritize skills over academic credentials and accept a variety of applicants — some with a college degree, some with equivalent practical experience, and some who’ve completed in-house training programs.
8 Tips for Raising Your GPA in College
Earning or maintaining a good GPA in college isn’t easy. Here are some essential tips to keep in mind throughout your college career.
1. Attend Classes Regularly
Steady class attendance helps you better understand readings and assignments in addition to giving you more face-to-face time with instructors. It also makes it easier to hear last-minute announcements and build strong relationships with your peers and professors.
2. Stay Organized
Keep track of upcoming assignments and projects using either a planner or mobile app, such as TickTick and Any.do. Be sure to chart long-term deadlines across the semester, including midterm essays and final exams.
3. Focus on Academics
Arrange your schedule so that you can prioritize challenging courses over less challenging ones. You may need to scale back extracurriculars and/or alter work commitments to make time for your studies.
4. Attend Office Hours
Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help understanding tricky course materials and completing assignments. Office hours meetings can help you build a rapport with your professor and emphasize your willingness to put in the work to earn a better grade.
5. Find a Tutor
You can usually find a tutor for free through your college’s student success center. Academic tutors can assist you with writing effective essays and studying for tests.
6. Improve the Way You Study
One method of improving your study habits is to attend campus workshops throughout the year. If you haven’t already, learn how to use popular study tools, such as flashcards, practice tests, and productivity apps, to help you stay focused when you prepare for classes and exams.
7. Change a Class to Pass/Fail
If you’re struggling with a course, changing from a letter grade to pass/fail lets you receive credit without damaging your GPA. Consider dropping a difficult course entirely if it’s impairing your performance in other classes.
8. Switch Majors
If required major courses feel too challenging, that field of study may simply not be a good fit for you. Talk with your academic advisor before deciding whether changing majors is the right move to make.
Feature Image: Neustockimages / E+ / Getty Images