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What is a GPA? (Grade Point Average)

GPA stands for Grade Point Average

What is a GPA?It is a way of measuring academic achievement and is used in many different countries, including the United States, India and some European countries.

The GPA evaluates a student’s success throughout school, their undergraduate degree and masters program. A student’s average GPA shows how well they have scored in their exams and classes throughout their course, and the score can fluctuate depending on their overall grades. 

In the US it is used on a scale of 0-4.0 in schools, colleges and universities. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the US GPA system. Although this information is applicable to the other countries that use this grading system, their grade scale may differ from that of the US, for example India uses a 10-point GPA system.

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How is GPA score calculated? 

Students receive a grade for each exam, assignment and project they complete and each grade corresponds to a quality point on the GPA scale – for example, an A is equal to 4.0, B is equal to 3.0, C is equal to 2.0 on the GPA scale and so on. 

The GPA score is calculated by combining the total number of points earned by the student, and then dividing this by the total number of credits for all courses.  

Here is an example of how a student’s GPA score is calculated:

A student takes English, Maths and History and each course is worth 2 credits. 

They score an A in English (4.0 on the GPA scale), a B in Maths (3.0 on the GPA scale) and a C in History (2.0 on the GPA scale).

To calculate their overall GPA score, multiply the grades by the number of credits for each course, eg:

  • 2 x 4 = 8 for English
  • 2 x 3 = 6 for Maths
  • 2 x 2 = 4 for History


Totalling 18 grade points.

Divide this by the total number of grade points for each course (2+2+2 =6) 

GPA = 3. 

How do GPA scores translate to grades and percentages?

This table shows how GPA scores translate into grades and percentages.

              GPA score

Letter grade

Percentage

4.0

A+

97–100%

4.0

A

93–96%

3.7

A-

90–92%

3.3

B+

87–89%

3.0

B

83–86%

2.7

B-

80–82%

2.3

C+

77–79%

2.0

C

73–76%

1.7

C-

70–72%

1.3

D+

67–69%

1.0

D

65–66%

0.0

E/F

Below 65%

 

Source

What is a weighted GPA? 

In some institutions, GPAs are awarded based on a weighted scale. This gives consideration to the difficulty of coursework rather than simply evaluating the final grade.

Weighted GPAs use a scale of 0-5.0, so if a student takes a more difficult course and scores an A in that subject, that will translate to a 5.0 on the GPA scale. 

Unlike an unweighted GPA, which calculates the overall average grade out of 4.0 without taking into account the difficulty of the coursework, a weighted GPA reflects both grades and course levels, scoring them out of 5.0.

How do weighted GPA scores translate to grades and percentages?

This table shows how weighted GPA scores translate into grades and percentages.

Weighted
GPA score

Letter grade

Percentage

5.0

A+

97–100%

5.0

A

93–96%

4.7

A-

90–92%

4.3

B+

87–89%

4.0

B

83–86%

3.7

B-

80–82%

3.3

C+

77–79%

3.0

C

73–76%

2.7

C-

70–72%

2.3

D+

67–69%

2.0

D

65–66%

0.0

E/F

Below 65%


Source

Why is a weighted GPA important? 

Your GPA will have an impact on the college application process. When university admissions teams are evaluating a high school student’s academic performance, they may look at weighted and unweighted GPAs differently.

They do not necessarily prefer weighted GPAs, and for the most part each student will be considered on their individual merits, including their class rank and school reports.

You don’t need to have achieved a weighted GPA to get admitted into the top US universities, for example, according to Yale University: “The admissions committee does not prefer weighted or unweighted GPAs, instead they prefer to see that students have challenged themselves with the strongest curriculum possible at their high school.”

However, a student who earns a lower grade in a more difficult class may be looked upon more favourably than a student with a higher grade-point average but in an easier subject, so if you are able to study a weighted GPA it may work to your advantage when it comes to university applications. 

Cumulative GPA vs overall GPA 

An overall GPA refers to the average grades obtained by a student throughout their academic experience. This means that the overall GPA score includes grades from all the student’s semesters or terms.

A cumulative GPA is the average grade achieved by a student over a shorter time period, such as a semester or a term – this is a good way to assess how your studies are progressing throughout the duration of the course. 

What is a good GPA score? 

The average GPA is 3.0, equivalent to a B. Although a 3.5 or higher is preferable and what you should ideally aim to achieve.

To be accepted into college or university, some institutions may demand a 3.5, although some may accept students with a GPA as low as 2.0 

Institutions will also look at weighted GPA scores and may prefer students with lower GPAs who took more advanced classes than a student with a higher GPA who took easier classes, as this demonstrates that the student is willing to push themselves and study at a higher and more challenging level. 

Several factors will be considered when determining your eligibility for a degree course, including your GPA, any relevant experience you’ve had in high school, your school report, class ranking and test scores.

What is a good GPA score at university?

GPA scores of 3.3 and above will be considered to be good scores during a university course, although anything above 2.3 should earn you the equivalent of a UK second class degree.

It’s important to achieve a high GPA score at university as this often determines access to scholarships and financial aid. Different institutions will consider different GPA scores as being suitable to continue with your studies and to receive financial support, however if you fall below the minimum GPA (usually 2.0) you will be in danger of losing your financial support.

Plus, sometimes US institutions won’t allow students to enrol into certain extra-curricular activities if their GPA score is too low.

A good GPA score is also essential if you want to continue onto studying for a masters degree or PhD study – and required grades could be anything from 2.75 to 3.5, depending on the institution.

How do GPA scores convert to UK degree classifications?

If you are studying a degree in the US, your academic achievements will be graded by the GPA score – but what does this mean in UK grading terms? The content of this table was created by the Fulbright Commission, and although it can’t be used for official purposes, it provides a rough illustration of how GPA scores of US degrees convert to UK degree grades.

 

GPA score

UK module marks

UK degree classification

4

70+

First class honours (1st)

3.7

65–69

Upper second class honours (2.1)

3.3

60–64

Upper second class honours (2.1)

3

55–59

Lower second class honours (2.2)

2.7

50–54

Lower second class honours (2.2)

2.3

45–49

Third class honours (3rd)

2

40–44

Third class honours (3rd)

1

35–39

Ordinary / Unclassified

0

Below 45

Ordinary / Unclassified

 

Ways to improve your GPA

There are several ways you can improve your GPA score – let’s take a look.

Ask for help – if you are struggling with a subject and think your GPA score is slipping, ask your teachers for help before it’s too late.

Get organised – make sure you’re using your time as efficiently as possible by organising a study schedule and sticking to it. This way you can make sure all your subjects are given enough attention.

Challenge yourself – if you have the academic ability, it’s a good idea to take more challenging classes. Demonstrating your willingness to push yourself will impress the university admissions panels for degree, masters and PhD courses, so even if your GPA score isn’t improved, your chances of admissions success might be.

Regular attendance – to ensure you keep up with the subject matter and to give yourself the best chance of GPA success, it’s important to attend your classes regularly. If you miss any lessons due to illness or another unavoidable reason, make sure you catch up with the content as soon as you can, and if you are unsure about anything ask your teacher for help.

Retake old classes – some colleges and universities allow you to retake old classes, giving you a chance to improve your grades. So, if one of your subjects is letting your GPA score down, find out if this is an option.

How important is your GPA? 

If you’re a student in the US, your GPA is the principal way that your performance is measured during your education, which means it is very important for your academic and career progression. Although your average GPA is not an absolute measure of your worth, as a low GPA might mean you took a harder class.

Although a GPA is a good way to keep track of your overall grades and scores and an important factor in college admissions, other achievements will also be taken into consideration, such as volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation and personal essays. 

There may be times when your average GPA is required during your bachelors or masters degree program – this includes joining a club or organisation, extracurricular activities, and applying for a masters or PHD

Plus, a good GPA may impress prospective employers, although more employers are starting to prioritise skills, training and experience over academic achievement.

Whether you are applying to a college, university or for a job, you will have the opportunity to submit resumes, CVs, recommendations, essays and test scores to outline your abilities and achievement alongside your GPA.

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Further reading 

Further Information About Studying In America

USA University Lowdown

5 Steps To Getting Ready for Postgrad Study in the USA

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