What Makes a Good GPA?

What Makes a Good GPA?

A great GPA is a college student’s foremost means of showing their value to potential schools.

Unlike test scores, which highlight an achievement on just one assessment, a GPA defines the work they’ve done over the course of their entire high school career.

With many schools going test-optional and other senior year activities on hold due to COVID-19, having a great GPA is more important than ever. 

 

Comparing Your School, Local, and National GPAs

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

Every high school has a different GPA scale. 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.

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.  

This is why when your child sends their grades to a particular college, it is usually accompanied by a profile that 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.

With all things being “equal,” one can at least attempt to calculate their GPA.

Here’s how:

 

How to Calculate Your GPA

A GPA (Grade Point Average) is a standardized way of measuring academic achievement in U.S. schools.

It is the average of course grades that considers the credits obtained by each course, and it is calculated by using a GPA calculator.

A GPA calendar inputs different grade formats, including percentage, points or letters, and group courses into semesters. 

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

Regardless of how you choose to input grades, the calculator will automatically translate them into points as follows: 

A+ = 4.3 grade points
A = 4 grade points
A- = 3.7 grade points
B+ = 3.3 grade points
B = 3 grade points
B- = 2.7 grade points
C+ = 2.3 grade points
C = 2 grade points
C- = 1.7 grade points
D+ = 1.3 grade points
D = 1 grade point
D- = 0.7 grade points
F = 0 grade points
P (pass), NP (not pass), I (incomplete), 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:

Course

Credit

Score

Grade Points 

Math

4

A+

4 x 4.3 = 17.2

Physics

2

B

2 x 3 = 6

English

3

A

3 x 4 = 12

Total

9

NA

35.2

GPA

35.2 / 9 = 3.91

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

 

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA

It is important to note the difference between weighted vs. unweighted GPA.

An unweighted GPA is traditionally what is used in schools. It has a GPA scale of 0 – 4.0 and does not take into account the level of difficulty or type of class, such as Advanced Placement. 

A weighted GPA takes into consideration the rigor of a student’s coursework and not just the isolated grade. It typically has a scale that goes beyond 4.0 and up to 5.0, because it takes into account course difficulty.   

 

 

How Is a “Good” GPA Defined?

Typically, a good GPA is viewed as 3.0 and higher, but to truly determine if your GPA is good or not, it needs to be looked at in context.  

Start by looking into the grading system used at your child’s 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 do not consider freshman year grades or only look at grades till 11th grade.  

 

How to Have a Competitive GPA

For specific entry requirements, be sure to look into each school’s entry statistics, as this varies from school to school.  

If you are concerned with your child being eligible for scholarships, you need to look at specific eligibility criteria for each scholarship.  Some are needs-based, some reward strong GPAs, and others look at leadership and community involvement.

Consider using the College Insights tool to look at the scholarships statistics of an individual school and how generous they might be with their scholarship money based on your student’s stats.

Generally speaking, colleges look at how a student performs in high school as an indicator of how they will perform in college, but the GPA number alone is not as important as the rigor of coursework.

Whether or not your child has challenged themself by taking more difficult courses or by increasing the difficulty of their coursework over time will stand out on their application.

 

The GPAs Needed to Get Into Top Schools

Top schools require a strong GPA, but the number in of itself doesn’t guarantee anything, as they will consider factors like class rank, test scores, and a well-rounded list of experiences.

Some top schools do not even mention a specific GPA or a number of AP courses they require students to take in high school.  

It is helpful to do research on any GPA requirements that a school requires, and how your child’s GPA compares to the school’s averages.

Use College Insights tool to look up the average high school GPA of a school’s student population.

Similar to all other colleges, top tier schools are looking at the level of rigor of classes as well as other factors such as extra-curricular activities and letters of reference that reflect the extent to which your child has challenged themself.

Striving for a good GPA is important, but stressing over that number in isolation is unnecessary.

The key is to aim for a good GPA while choosing challenging courses. Encourage your child to focus on forming strong relationships with professors and engaging in extracurricular activities that will manifest into leadership and team-building skills.

 

College vs. High School GPA

In contrast to the murky area of defining a good high school GPA, defining a good college GPA is more straightforward.

While they won’t be as ruthlessly competitive as high school GPAs, college GPAs can determine your child’s eligibility for financial aid, scholarships, and even enrollment.  

Typically, students need to maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher (on a 4.0 scale) or risk being placed on academic probation or not graduating. Make sure that you and your child review any policies on their loans or scholarships that are dependent on maintaining a certain GPA.

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

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Maria Tzavidis

Maria Tzavidis

Maria Tzavidis comes from an extensive history of higher education administration both in admissions and advising. She believes the college admissions can seem daunting but doesn't have to be, and so she really enjoys being on the Road2College platform where she can share clear insight into many important college-related topics. Her other passions include writing, hiking, yoga, and cooking plant-based foods. You can connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn.
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