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 overall grades have been high or low. 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 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).

Find Masters worldwide

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

There are many grading systems out there, using different scales, letters, numbers, and so on. Here are a few common ways grades are measured throughout the world:

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

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

In Europe, for example, universities can use the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) to help convert grades easily. This system makes education more transparent and allows students to have their academic grades recognised in different European countries.

People studying inside the Mid-Manhattan Library in New York

How to calculate a GPA?

Each grade you receive, whether it’s in the numerical 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 a multiple of 4). The highest grade you can get (A, 10, 5, 100%, and so on) will equal the highest number on that scale.

For example, in the US, an A is the highest grade you can receive in your classes. Depending on which school you attend, A is either equal to 4, or 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 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 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 the overall GPA includes grades from all terms and semesters.

What is a good GPA?

It depends on the level of education. For example, it might be easier to have a good GPA in high school that it is during college or university, so we should look at Grade Point Averages in context.

What is a good GPA in high school?

Whether your GPA is good enough depends on the university or college where you want to apply. Top academic institutions might require students to have GPAs of 3.5 or higher. Of course, there are also schools with less demanding admission requirements, where you can apply with a lower GPA (2.5 or sometimes even as low as 2.0).

Universities and colleges also look at the type of GPA. For example, if you’re at a high school that uses weighted GPAs, and one student has a 3.0 GPA but takes advanced classes and another students has a 3.5 GPA but takes easy classes, the university might choose the first student, because GPAs are analysed in context and all details are taken into consideration.

This is why you shouldn’t take only easy classes, thinking you won’t have to work hard to earn an A/10/5 (or any other maximum grade/mark depending on the type of grading system your school uses). You should challenge yourself and find a balance between advanced and less demanding classes.

What is a good GPA in college/university?

At many universities and colleges, your GPA determines your eligibility for financial aid programs, scholarships, and other support. If you fall below the minimum GPA (usually 2.0, but varies from one institution to another), you might lose the financial support.

GPAs are also used as requirements when you want to enrol in a certain club, association, or participate in extra-curricular activities. You can miss out on many opportunities if your academic efforts aren’t up to par.

Your GPA is also important if you want to continue your studies and apply for a Master’s or PhD degree. Once again, a good GPA will depend on the university and the type of programme you apply for. Some will accept students with a 2.75 GPA, others will demand minimum 3.0 or 3.5.

What is a good GPA - key takeaways

  • Whether a GPA is good or not depends on your personal and academic objectives and on the university and study programme you choose.
  • Usually, a GPA of 3.0 - 3.5 is considered good enough at many high schools, colleges, and universities.
  • Top academic institutions usually require GPAs higher than 3.5.
  • If you have a lower or below-average GPA, you can still enrol at certain universities, but you might not be eligible for financial aid or other support programs and services.

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.

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).

Student taking notes during class

Why is the GPA so important?

Throughout your university education, your GPA is really the only metric or calculation showing how good a student you are, and whether you’ve been doing well during the degree programme. Although you will obviously know 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 a club 
  • Doing any extra-curricular activities
  • Applying for a graduate or post-graduate programme (Master’s, PhD)

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; so, they want someone with a high GPA.

Your GPA is important, but it isn’t everything

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

Just because you have a low or below-average GPA, it does not mean you are not intelligent, or that you are not a hard-working student. A low GPA can mean you took harder classes to begin with.

It might also show that during some semesters, you were too distracted or overwhelmed 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 absolute 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. Here are a few academic institutions you can check out:

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.

Find Masters abroad

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 number. 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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