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    High School and College GPA Guide

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: June 18th, 2024
    High School and College GPA Guide

    Students face a lot of pressure to maintain their GPA. This number, typically between 0.0 and 4.0, represents an average of the grades that you’ve earned throughout your education. Colleges and employers are always looking for students with a high GPA. But what exactly is a “good GPA?” The answer can vary based on the student and the opportunities they are looking into. 

    In this article, we’ll start off by explaining what a GPA is. We’ll explain who looks at it, why it matters, and how some schools may calculate it differently. Then, we’ll discuss why it can vary widely based on factors such as your school and your major. Finally, we’ll give you some tips to help you raise your grades. Let’s get into it!

    Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

    What is a GPA?

    A GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a number value that schools calculate by averaging your grades from each course you’ve taken. High schools and colleges around the nation commonly use this system of measurement, both to make admissions decisions and to evaluate their current students. You can think of your GPA as an at-a-glance measure of your success so far at school. Although a number can never tell the full story, it’s an important metric to show how you’ve performed across your classes as a whole.

    Also see: What to include on a college application

    Who looks at your GPA?

    A wide variety of people and institutions look at your GPA. Selective high schools, colleges, scholarships, internships, fellowships, academic awards, and employers all look at your GPA. After you’ve been out of school for a few years, employers typically stop asking to see your GPA, but when you’re looking for your first job out of college, it will probably be an important factor.

    GPA carries the most importance in admissions decisions. So, your high school GPA will be extremely important when it comes time to apply to college, and your college GPA will be extremely important when it comes time to apply to graduate school. Although it is possible to get into a selective school with a low GPA, it is far less likely. On the other hand, employers tend to weigh grades less heavily, and often prioritize previous work experience.

    How do schools calculate your GPA?

    To calculate your GPA, your school will take all of your grades, assign them a number value, and take the average of each of these numbers. The conversion between letter grade and number can vary by school, but here is a typical conversion chart:

    Letter Grade Number Value
    A+ 4.00
    A 4.00
    A- 3.67
    B+ 3.33
    B 3.00
    B- 2.67
    C+ 2.33
    C 2.00
    C- 1.67
    D+ 1.33
    D 1.00
    D- 0.67
    F 0.00

    So, to calculate your GPA, your school takes each of your grades, converts it to a number value, adds all of them up, and divides that number by the total number of courses that you’ve completed. This produces a number between 0.00 and 4.00.

    It’s worth remembering that each school, and sometimes each teacher, sets the rules for converting grades from percentage points into letters. Some teachers consider 90 and above to be an A, while others consider 93 and above to be an A and 90-93 to be an A-. Make sure to check each course syllabus or your school’s grading policy to learn what grades you are earning.

    Related: Do colleges look at freshman year?

    Major GPA

    Sometimes, a school or program may ask specifically for your “major GPA.” Schools calculate this the same way as your regular GPA, except that they only use grades from classes in your major. So, if you are a biology major, your world history classes will not count towards your major GPA. Grad school programs typically lend the most importance to the major GPA.

    Weighted Vs. Unweighted GPA

    Most high school students have an unweighted and a weighted GPA. Schools calculate your unweighted GPA strictly by looking at your grades and taking the average. However, weighted GPAs can be a little more complicated. In a weighted GPA, the number you receive for completing a class is higher if you take an Honors or AP Course. Here’s a revised GPA conversion chart for weighted GPA:

    Letter Grade Unweighted Number Value Weighted Honors Course Weighted AP Course
    A+ 4.00 4.50 5.00
    A 4.00 4.50 5.00
    A- 3.67 4.17 4.67
    B+ 3.33 3.83 4.33
    B 3.00 3.50 4.00
    B- 2.67 3.17 3.67
    C+ 2.33 2.83 3.33
    C 2.00 2.50 3.00
    C- 1.67 2.17 2.67
    D+ 1.33 1.83 2.33
    D 1.00 1.50 2.00
    D- 0.67 1.17 1.67
    F 0.00 0.50 1.00

     

    Typically, colleges will consider both your weighted and unweighted GPA. If you completed many honors and AP courses, colleges will recognize that and see your application as more impressive. However, bear in mind that your unweighted GPA is still usually a factor. It’s also true that some high schools may use a different scale, so make sure to check your transcript to see what your GPA is.

    Related: Do colleges use weighted or unweighted GPA?

    External factors that can change your GPA

    You may still be wondering, “What is a good GPA?” Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question. Some might think that they need to achieve a 4.00 to be successful. But the truth is, a good GPA is one that afford you the opportunities you want to pursue. In order to decide what a good GPA is for you, look into the programs you are trying to get into or the company that you want to work for. See who they are admitting and make that your target GPA. And remember, this number can vary widely based on a number of factors. Here are a few possible factors:

    Major

    In college, your major can be a big determining factor in your GPA. For example, science departments tend to be harsher graders than humanities or social science departments. If you are in a rigorous STEM program and currently hold a lower GPA than you’d like, that isn’t necessarily a reason to fret. Try talking to professors and recent graduates and contextualize your GPA among those of your peers.

    Also see: Guide to college majors

    School

    If you attend a rigorous school, it’ll be harder to earn good grades. Your academics will be more challenging, and your tests and projects will be more difficult. This is not necessarily a bad thing; future employers and other programs who look at your GPA will take this into account. 

    If you are attending a prestigious high school or college but your GPA isn’t where you want it to be, don’t worry too much. Even if you graduate with a lower GPA, you’ll probably be afforded better opportunities than students who earned higher grades from a less prestigious school.

    College vs. high school

    Although many students get used to earning straight A’s in high school, they might find that they are unable to achieve the same results in college. College is a different academic environment and often produces different grading. Teachers may be less willing to give out A’s and make each student work especially hard for one.

    How to raise your GPA

    If your GPA isn’t where you want it to be right now, there’s still time for improvement. Here are a few tips for high school and college students to raise their grades:

    Consider pass/fail

    If you are a college student enrolled in a class that you know is going to be challenging, consider taking it pass/fail. If your school and professor allow you to do so, the class won’t impact your GPA as long as you pass. But take note – if you fail, the failing score will impact your GPA. Most schools also don’t let students enroll pass/fail in courses in their major. However, if you are an English student having difficulty fulfilling your science requirement, pass/fail is a great option.

    Cut back on extracurriculars

    If your GPA is dropping, you might want to cut back on extracurricular activities. This could be a sports team, a hobby, or something like student government. However, you should remember to keep a balance between the two. Extracurriculars and GPA are both very important when it comes time to apply to college.

    Get extra tutoring

    Most high schools and colleges offer some form of free tutoring, especially in STEM fields. For high school students, this may take the form of an after-school session in a science class, or for university students, it could be graduate students who hold tutoring hours in the evenings. If you can afford it, you can also try hiring a tutor if need be. Sometimes, even getting help from a friend in the class can be just the ticket.

    Go to office hours

    Professors at most colleges offer some sort of office hours for students to ask questions and discuss class. They can help you work out problems with the material, come up with ideas for a paper, or check the progress of the project you’re working on. Who better to help you raise your grade than your own professor! Typically, professors also take note of the effort that students put in during office hours and might be more likely to raise your grade at the end of the semester if you are sitting between two letter grades.

    Don’t miss: How to get involved on campus

    Always attend class

    At some universities, class attendance is optional. And especially with the increased prevalence of online teaching, many students are able to log into class and spend the time focusing on other things. This may seem harmless, but if you are not attending or paying attention in class, you are hurting your GPA! Remember to show up every day and pay your full attention. When it comes time to take your final exam, you’ll be happy you did.

    Keep an organized calendar

    We all know the feeling of walking into class and suddenly realizing that there was homework due. It’s a tough situation to be in, but an easy one to avoid! Keep an organized calendar of due dates and test dates to help you plan your studying and work. Write down these dates as soon as teachers assign them to ensure you don’t forget anything. It’s also worth noting that many studies have shown that paper calendars are more effective than digital ones.

    Take notes by hand

    Note-taking has two great advantages. The first and most obvious is that you are creating a study resource for yourself that is written in terms that you understand. You can go back and use your notes to remember exactly what you focused on during class.

    The second and less obvious advantage of notes is that you are learning the material in the very act of taking notes. While any form of note-taking is helpful, several studies have shown that taking notes by hand is more advantageous. By slowing down your writing process and linking the material to the movement of your hand, you are retaining the information better. This means that you won’t have to study as much later on. So, instead of breaking out a laptop for your next class, try taking a notebook and pen! You might find it to work much better for you.

    Related: Getting into graduate school with a low GPA

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question “What is a good GPA?”
    • Students can find out if their current GPA will allow them to achieve their goals
    • Look at the average admitted GPA for the colleges and/or programs you are considering and see how you fit in
    • If you are not earning a high enough GPA at the moment, there are ways to improve
    • Learn better study habits and reach out to professors and teachers for help!

    Also see: Top scholarships based on GPA

    Frequently asked questions about GPAs

    Is it ok to round up my GPA?

      Usually, it is ok to  round up your GPA to the nearest tenth, but not to a whole number. Say you have a 3.78 GPA. In that case, you can round up to a 3.8, but not a 4.0.

    How do I convert my GPA to a 4.0 scale?

    We will make this easy for you! Check out our article, “How to Convert Your GPA to a 4.0 Scale,” and learn everything you need to know!

    Can I Get Into College With a Low GPA?

    Most people can get into college with lower GPAs, depending on the school. Check out our list of top colleges for B students as a starting point. 

    Community colleges do not take GPAs into consideration, and are a great place for students to start out before transferring to a four-year university

    In addition, sometimes a GPA is not reflective of a student’s true abilities. In that case, they could emphasize other achievements such as SAT or ACT scores, writing or artistic samples, letters of recommendation from teachers/mentors, as well as any extracurricular achievements.

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