What Is a Good GPA? See How You Stack Up

Published May 18, 2023 | Last Updated March 27th, 2024 at 01:18 pm

Colleges and even employers use a student’s GPA to help determine aptitude. But defining a “good GPA” depends on different calculations – and how various colleges and employers view grade point averages. This guide explains how to calculate a GPA, how colleges use them for admissions and aid, and how to improve a GPA.

What Is GPA?

A GPA, or grade-point average, measures a student’s overall achievement. The GPA converts letter grades or percentages into numbers, such as 4 points for an A. Then it may weight them by course credit before averaging them. The GPA represents the student’s achievement level in high school or college.

How GPA Is Calculated

The fastest way to calculate a GPA is to use a GPA calculator, which lets you enter the letter grades for each course. The calculator converts from various grade formats, including percentages, points, or letters, to number format, then adds and averages the numbers to get a single GPA number.

Courses for which there are more credits will have a higher weight on the GPA. For example, a 4-credit course will bear more weight than a 3-credit course.

Regardless of how you choose to input grades, the calculator will automatically translate them into points, with the following as an example of how each letter grade may be scored based on just one model. Keep in mind that different schools often use different models.

P (pass), NP (not pass), I (incomplete), and W (withdrawal) will be ignored

Grade points are obtained by multiplying the number of credits for a course by the score. To calculate a GPA average, the calculator takes the total number of grade points and divides this number by the total number of credits taken.

Example:

Math4A+4 x 4.3 = 17.2
Physics2B2 x 3 = 6
English3A3 x 4 = 12
TOTAL9NA35.2
GPA 35.2/9 = 3.91

To calculate the cumulative GPA, simply add all of the GPAs from each grading period/semester and divide by the number of grading periods or semesters.

Comparing Local, School, and National GPAs

Figuring out a GPA would be rather simple if all schools (including colleges) calculated them in the same manner.

High schools often use different GPA scales. Some use weighted and some unweighted; some count only AP courses as “high level” for a weighted GPA, while others count honors classes as well. Dual-enrollment courses, such as those taken at a local community college while still in high school, may be weighted higher by the school than standard high school courses.

Some high schools take electives (like art or music) into account for a GPA, while others do not.

Because of this, it is almost impossible to compare GPAs across high schools in the country or even in your local area.

So, when a student sends a grade report to a particular college, a school profile usually accompanies it. It provides information such as the number of students, demographic, the breakdown of the high school’s grading system, whether they take electives into account, and what advanced classes are offered.

The college is well-versed in figuring out the actual value of a GPA based on individual high school, region, and state so that it can compare it to GPAs from other students across the country.

What Is a Good GPA?

A good GPA is typically viewed as anything higher than a 3.0 since 3.0 is the average GPA. However, most scholarship programs award at 3.5 and higher, making this a target to hit for the best outcome.

To truly determine if a GPA is good or not, consider it in context.

Start by looking into the grading system used at your high school, beginning with whether or not they use an unweighted or weighted GPA system. For example, if it’s a weighted system, a B in an AP class will carry more weight (5.0) than an A in a regular class (4.0).

On top of this, colleges have their own way of viewing applicant transcripts. Some recalculate GPAs to adhere to their own equivalencies; others do not even consider non-academic or elective courses. Others don’t consider freshman-year grades or only look at grades through the 11th grade.

Since GPA is viewed differently by each school, it may be difficult to know if a GPA is good without doing some additional research on each school’s approach to grades.

College vs. High School GPA

College and high school GPAs often have different uses. A high school GPA is used to help with college admissions and scholarship allotment; college GPAs determine if a student can continue in a specific program, maintain a scholarship, or even stay enrolled.

What Is a Good GPA in High School?

A good GPA in high school is typically 3.0. However, a perfect score can be 4.0 or higher due to weighting based on course level. Therefore, various colleges may view GPAs differently. They may recalculate them and require better GPAs for particular programs.

Why Does High School GPA Matter?

The GPA earned in high school determines what colleges a student may be able to get into, as well as the types of scholarships a student will be eligible for.

Will a Good High School GPA Help Earn a Merit Scholarship?

Many colleges offer merit aid or free scholarship money that doesn’t have to be paid back based on GPA, standardized test scores, or a combination of both. The better GPA a student has in high school, the more likely they are to qualify for those higher merit aid amounts.

Check each college’s website (or Road2College’s R2C Insights) to see what scholarships they make available based on GPA. Colleges often clearly state the GPA cutoff for each merit aid level, such as giving out \$20,000 per year for a GPA of 3.8 or higher.

What Is a Good GPA in College?

A good GPA in college is typically 3.0 or higher. Some programs require a higher GPA in the core coursework for that program, such as a nursing program or music program. The college may expect a student to get a 3.0 or even a 3.5 in this coursework to continue taking classes needed to complete a major.

Why Does College GPA Matter?

Typically, college students need to maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher (on a 4.0 scale) or risk probation or academic dismissal. Make sure that you review any policies on their loans or scholarships that are dependent on maintaining a certain GPA.

When considering life after college, however, the outcome of a strong GPA is not as significant in the job market unless one wants to enter graduate school.

GPAs Needed for Top Schools

The more selective a school is, the higher GPA a student will need to stand out. For example, Harvard is extremely selective, with 76% of enrolled freshmen having a 4.0 high school GPA and 95% of enrolled freshmen have a 3.75 GPA or higher. It’s essential to get as close as possible to 4.0 unweighted GPA.

What Is an Average GPA?

The average GPA is 3.0, making anything higher than that above average. Students with a 3.0 average GPA get mainly unweighted Bs but possibly a few As and Cs, as well.

Weighted and Unweighted GPA

The issue of weighted vs. unweighted GPA makes comparisons harder. Traditionally, schools used unweighted GPAs on a 0-4 scale. They didn’t account for class difficulty, such as Advanced Placement. So, some schools introduced weighted GPAs for students taking difficult courses.

Weighted GPAs typically add an additional credit for AP classes, honors classes and other high-level programs. The scale then goes up to 4.5 or 5.0 instead of 4.0.

What Is a Good Weighted GPA?

A good weighted GPA may need to be as high as 3.5 or 4.0, compared with a good unweighted GPA of 3.0. That’s because a weighted GPA gives more points for difficult courses. Generally, the GPA scale for an honors course is 4.5, and 5.0 for AP courses.

However, not all high schools calculate weighted GPAs the same way. While the 5.0 scale is common, some schools use a 4.5 scale, a 6.0 scale, or another points system.

Because there isn’t a standardized points system for weighted GPA, there isn’t an objective threshold for a “good” weighted GPA.

The closer a GPA is to the maximum possible score, the better. Remember, most colleges recalculate weighted GPA so they can compare candidates on an even scale.

What Is a Good Unweighted GPA?

An unweighted GPA over 3.0 is above average, but a higher GPA (between 3.5 and 4.0) is usually necessary to qualify for merit-based academic scholarships.

Students who are applying to selective colleges or submitting an Early Decision or Early Action application usually need a GPA close to 4.0.

Different Methods High Schools Use to Calculate GPA

High schools generally choose between a weighted and unweighted method of calculating GPA, with some using a straight A, B, or C scale and others giving partial points for letter grades with a + or – (A+ or B-.) Schools may treat IB, AP, dual enrollment (DE), and honors courses differently as well, giving a partial or full point extra for these more rigorous courses.

 Method Credit for + or – Credit for “Pre” IB, AP, Honors Credit for IB, AP, Honors Weighted version 1 no +0.5 +1.0 Weighted version 2 no no +1.0 Weighted version 3 yes +0.5 +1.0 Unweighted no no no

Different Methods Colleges Use to Recalculate High School GPA

How colleges calculate GPA after they receive it from high school may seem mysterious, but you can always call to ask what method they use. Generally, they will follow a variation of one of these three methods, with some giving extra points for pre-honors or IB work and others ignoring the “weighted” classes completely.

 Method Credit for + or – Credit for “Pre” IB, AP, Honors Credit for IB, AP, Honors Weighted version 1 no +0.5 +1.0 Weighted version 2 no no +1.0 Weighted version 3 yes +0.5 +1.0 Unweighted no no no

Case Study: How the Same Grades Might Look Using Different Methods

Here’s an example of how grades can look under different scoring methods. It comes from Rebecca Chabrow, Director of College Counseling at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Philadelphia.

How to Calculate a GPA in High School

The easiest way to figure out a GPA is to use a GPA calculator. Most schools consider how many credits a course is worth when calculating GPA. For example, a math class may be worth 4 credits, while P.E. is only worth 2 credits.

To calculate GPA without a GPA calculator:

• For each class, multiply the number of course credits by the grade points. For a student with a B+ in a 4-credit math course, it would be 4 x 3.3 = 13.2 grade points.
• Divide by the total number of course credits to get the GPA.
Math4A+4 x 4.3 = 17.2
Physics2B2 x 3 = 6
English3A3 x 4 = 12
TOTAL9NA35.2
GPA 35.2/9 = 3.91

Using IB Grades to Calculate GPA

Classes that are part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program are widely counted in the same way as AP courses or one grade point higher than standard classes. An A in an IB class would count as 5 points, or a 5.0 instead of the 4.0 that an A would earn in a standard high school class.

There are exceptions, however, so consult each school directly to see how they handle the academic rigor and grading system for each IB course.

3 Factors That Affect GPA

What determines a GPA? It’s more than just an A, B, or C grade. Here are the things that may influence a student’s final GPA at any school:

• Class difficulty: The more rigorous a course, the more it may count for a higher point level on a weighted scale
• Honors, IB, dual-enrollment, or AP courses: These courses are almost always considered to be a higher grade point than standard classes
• The school a student attends: Each school treats grades differently, with some choosing to weigh courses (give more points for more rigorous coursework) and some choosing to grade all courses the same

How Do Colleges Use High School GPAs?

GPAs play an important role in measuring college academic achievement, and a low GPA may even have negative consequences for students. GPAs are typically used for:

• Determining ongoing admission to special pre-professional programs, such as engineering or nursing
• Maintaining scholarships
• Qualifying students for Resident Advisor or Teaching Assistant opportunities

Colleges also use GPA to determine ongoing admission to the college itself. A satisfactory GPA is usually required to stay in school, and dropping below a certain GPA may result in a student being placed on academic probation or even being dismissed from the school. While most colleges will do everything in their power to give the student a chance to improve grades before this happens, they won’t let a student continue taking classes with too low of a GPA.

3 Ways to Raise High School GPA

Students have options to improve their GPA before applying to college. Here are the best ways to raise a GPA over time:

1. Add a class or two. Check whether the school factors electives into GPA. If so, take a couple of easy electives to help balance out a lower grade in a core class. Electives aren’t usually worth as many credits, but they can still help increase GPA.
2. Reduce course difficulty. Weighted AP or honors classes are a double-edged sword. A good grade in an AP class can significantly bump up a GPA, but a poor grade can have the same effect in a negative direction. Any student struggling in honors English could switch to regular English.
3. Drop or change difficult classes earlier than later. Not all classes are a good fit, and this may be obvious right away after starting a course. If there’s time to drop a course, a student should speak to their advisor and consider another option.

Ways to Raise College GPA

A college GPA is important to keep scholarships and continue in the program of choice. To boost GPA, consider these tactics:

1. Manage time well. Most college students take a little time to figure out how to adjust to the college way of life, and this includes the rigorous schedule and learning  to study on their own. Knowing how much time each course will take, both inside and outside of the classroom, is key to planning enough time to get it all done. Any time saved from “easier” classes should be reallocated to those courses that need more attention, including those with labs.
2.  Spread out hours. Full-time status is usually anything over 12 credit hours per semester, but it’s possible to take more or less. Students can space classes out to avoid overloading their schedule. Taking too many at once puts a student at risk of doing poorly and lowering that GPA.
3. Consider tutoring and resources. Most colleges have free options for struggling students, including writing centers, math tutors, and special help for those with learning difficulties. These can be peer-led and taught by students who aced the courses previously, or may be taught by full-time tutors hired by the school. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting help.
4. Attend office hours. Professors and faculty usually leave an hour or more open each week for students to pop in and ask questions about a course. Students can schedule these as needed, whether they are struggling or just want help. Getting that one-on-one facetime with faculty may be just what’s needed to grasp difficult concepts or communicate better.
5. Study with others. If there’s a group that’s truly studying (and not wasting time just being social), a student should join up as soon as possible. Whether it’s going over drills for tests and offering peer feedback on a paper, having other students around can be just what’s needed to stay on track. If an in-person group isn’t available, a student might consider Slack channels or virtual study sessions.
6. Ask for pass/fail courses. Not every instructor will be open to this idea, but it’s worth asking about. By getting a course moved from a letter grade to a pass/fail option, students increase the chances of passing and not having a lower letter grade hurt the GPA.

Will Your GPA Matter Years From Now?

Whether students need to worry about their GPA 10, 20, or even 40 years down the road depends greatly on what they choose to do in the future. For those thinking of entering grad school, a college GPA absolutely affects the outcome. Some jobs, such as those in finance or government, students may also request their college GPA and transcript each time they apply.

For the rest of us, however, GPA isn’t that big of a deal once we’ve graduated from college and entered the real world. With the exception of select job fields, it’s something we leave behind with our transcripts and classroom memories.

Students and their families should consider their GPA as they choose which colleges to apply to.  By using the R2C Insights tool to compare schools, they can find out more about their eligibility requirements and the average high school GPA of their student populations.

Make a strategic plan to apply to schools where individual talents and skills are valued. By understanding how schools calculate and view GPAs, you’ll be more informed when it comes time for college applications.

GPA FAQ

What GPA Do You Need to Get Into Harvard?

Harvard, and highly selective schools like it, don’t advertise what GPA they require of accepted students. Since they are so competitive (with an acceptance rate of 4% or less in some instances), it’s assumed a student will need a top GPA of 4.0 or higher to stand out among the other students applying.

Still, students aren’t out of the running if they don’t have a 4.0. Top schools also look at essays, standardized tests, letters of recommendation, and even interviews to get the full picture of how a student compares to their peers.

Is a 3.5 GPA Good?

A GPA of 3.0 or higher is considered an average GPA, making a 3.5 GPA a good score that may be looked upon favorably by colleges.

What’s the Best GPA?

The best GPA on an unweighted scale is 4.0. If schools use a weighted model, however, GPAs can reach 5.0, 6.0, or even higher!

Is a 3.0 GPA Good?

A GPA of 3.0 is generally considered a good score, but an even higher score will be viewed more favorably by colleges and universities. Admissions teams also weigh the score in context with the rest of a high school career.

Is a GPA of 2.0 Good?

Most schools consider a 3.0 GPA average or higher to be a good score. Since 2.0 falls below that, it may not be recognized as satisfactory for some awards or programs.

Anything below a 3.0 may be considered lower than average and possibly even worse. It also depends on how the GPA is considered by schools and scholarship boards. Some schools may accept scores as low as 2.0, while others even grant merit scholarships to these students. A bad GPA is any GPA that limits students’ opportunities, causes them to lose funding, or even keeps them from finishing school.

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