What is a GPA and Why Is It So Important?

When you’re enrolled in a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme, your GPA is easily one of the most important numbers to keep an eye on. 

Your GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a number that indicates how well or how high you scored in your courses on average. It’s meant to score you (usually on a GPA scale between 1.0 and 4.0) during your studies and shows whether your grades have been high or low overall in your classes. This number is then used to assess whether you meet the standards and expectations set by the degree programme or university.

How does a GPA work?

In the same way that your professors and instructors give you a grade to evaluate your progress or success in their course, your Grade Point Average is similarly a score used to evaluate your success during the entirety of your degree programme.

Your average GPA is a number that shows what you typically scored in your classes throughout the semester, term, and year. Your GPA scores can go up and down throughout your time at the university and will change according to how much you improve your overall grades (or, in some cases, how much you fell behind).

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Here are just a few universities where you can apply right now for a Master's degree with a medium-to-good GPA:

Grading systems and GPA scores

Since grading systems differ in other parts of the world, we’ll first have to work through some of the ways that different countries and universities use their grading system to devise a student’s GPA.

There are a few common ways that grades are marked throughout the world:

  • A - F (in the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, etc.)
  • 1 - 10 (Netherlands, Colombia, Latvia, Macedonia, Israel, etc.)
  • 1 - 5 (Germany, Austria, Russia, Slovakia, Paraguay, etc.)
  • Percentage (Kuwait, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, etc.)

There are other common methods that universities use in order to evaluate and score students. Yet, in order to make these grades translatable – that is, readable to other countries and universities – they will often use an averaging score system.

How to calculate a GPA?

Each grade that you receive, whether it’s in the numbering system, letter-grade system, or percentage system, corresponds to a quality point. A quality point is almost always on a 4.0 scale between 0 and 4, or is a multiple of 4. The highest grade that you can get (A, 10, 5, 100%, and so on) will equal the highest number on that scale.

For example, in the U.S. an A is the highest grade you can receive in your classes. Depending on which school you attend in the U.S., A is either equal to 4, or it is equal to a multiple of 4 (e.g. 8 or 16). After you take a few classes, these points are added up and divided by the total amount of credits of all the courses you took. The number that you get is your Grade Point Average. 

Let’s use an example to make things clear. We’ll suppose you took 3 courses: Biology (2 credits), Mathematics (2 credits) and English (3 credits). Your grades for these courses are:

  • Biology - C (C is 2.0 on the GPA scale)
  • Mathematics - B (B is 3.0 on the GPA scale)
  • English - A (A is 4.0 on the GPA scale)

If we multiply the grades you took by the number of credits for each course, we see you have 4 grade points for Biology, 6 for Mathematics, and 12 for English. In total, 22 grade points. To calculate your average GPA, we divide this number of grade points by the total number of credits of the courses you took (2+2+3=7). This is how we find out your GPA is 3.14.

Unweighted vs weighted GPA

How to calculate an unweighted GPA? See the example above. GPAs are normally calculated on an unweighted scale, from 0 to 4.0. This means that the difficulty of your courses will not be considered. Whether you take an A in an easy class or a more challenging one, it will always be a 4.0.

Weighted GPAs are a more accurate evaluation of your academic efforts. They also use a different scale, from 0 to 5.0. If you want to know how to calculate weighted GPAs, you must know that they take into account the difficulty of your courses. For example, an A in an easier class will be graded as a 4.0, while an A in a more demanding course will be marked as a 5.0.

Cumulative GPA vs overall GPA

To understand the differences between cumulative GPA and overall GPA, you must first know that they both refer to the average grades of a student. The difference is that the cumulative GPA covers shorter periods, like a term or a semester.

The overall GPA refers to the average grades obtained by a student throughout his entire academic experience. This means it includes grades from all terms and semesters.

How do I keep a high GPA?

Maintaining a high GPA isn’t always easy; and if you start with a low GPA at the beginning of your study programme, it is much harder to raise your GPA later on (thanks, mathematics). But, on the other hand, if you continue to exceed in your courses, and you happen to slip in your 3rd year with a less-than-average grade, your GPA will not be severely damaged. So, we will often recommend - especially for first-time college students – take entry-level, easier classes at the beginning of your degree programme, during your first year, so that you have a better chance of starting with a higher GPA.

Your GPA will change and vary throughout the years; but having in mind what your GPA is every semester will give you a good indication of how well you are doing in your courses overall (and, perhaps, whether you need to improve).

Why is the GPA so important?

Throughout your university education, your GPA is really the only metric or calculation showing how good of a student you are, and whether you’ve been doing well during the degree programme. Though you will obviously know yourself whether you’ve passed and excelled in your courses, your GPA gives a broader indication of your overall grades and scores.

During your Bachelor’s or Master’s degree programme, you will be asked to provide your GPA in certain situations. Here are a few examples: 

  • applying for a scholarship 
  • joining an organization or club 
  • doing any extra-curricular activities
  • applying for a graduate or post-graduate programme

So, in many ways, your GPA is the key used to unlock other exciting things during your study. When organizations want to know what kind of student you are – whether you’re a hard-working, ambitious student, or a slacker who is not excelling in his or her coursework – they rely on your GPA. Organizations, scholarship committees, clubs, and universities want high-achieving, hard-working students; and so they want someone with a high GPA.

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Full disclosure: your GPA is important, but it isn’t everything

It may seem unfair that, during your time at university, they appear to only care about one number, rather than other achievements that you may have during your academic career. Several students feel that, while their grades may be less-than-perfect, they still feel they are hard-working, ambitious students.

Just because you have a low GPA does not mean that you are unintelligent, or that you are not a hard-working student. A low GPA can mean that you took harder classes to begin with; or that during some semesters you were too distracted to complete your assignments in the best way you could; or that you were figuring out how to be a university student, and now you’ve finally figured out how to study. Whatever the case is, your GPA is not an indication of your worth as a student or whether you are smart enough for college.

Good online Masters that fit your GPA 

You can find a lot of good universities offering online Masters that accept a wide range of GPAs. Find the right programme from this list of universities:

Your GPA is merely a number

Employers and universities know this fact. So, when you’re applying for a school or searching for a job, you will not only be required to submit your GPA. You will also submit resumes, CVs, recommendations, writing samples, and test scores – other ways of showing and outlining your achievements and abilities as a student.

You have other chances to prove how ambitious, smart, disciplined, hard-working, and creative you are, and they don’t all come down to a small number. So, if your GPA is low, do not despair. Yes, it will be used a lot during your time at university, and it is important. But, it isn’t everything.

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