What Is a Good GPA in College?

What Is a Good GPA in College?

By Chinh Ngo

Published on August 4, 2020

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Used by high schools, colleges, and graduate schools alike, a grade point average (GPA) is a single cumulative number that represents your entire academic performance. Schools calculate GPA by translating letter grades onto a numerical scale that typically ranges from 0.0-4.0.

This guide takes an in-depth look at the importance of GPA for getting into college, winning scholarships, and even finding a job after graduation. You'll also learn what a good GPA is according to higher education institutions.

A professor leafs through a sheaf of graded tests held within a manila folder as she stands at the front of a classroom.

What Is GPA and How Is It Calculated?

Yale University was the first U.S. school to apply grading methods that resemble the system currently in place. The university kept track of student progress in a "book of averages" that set procedures for examinations and mentions a 4-point scale. Today, the GPA system is widely used by K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions throughout the U.S.

Most educational institutions calculate GPA on a 0.0-4.0 scale. Each of your letter grades (or percentage grades, depending on your school) receives a numeric equivalent. The average of those equivalencies becomes your cumulative GPA.

The following chart shows how letter and percentage grades correspond to a 4.0 GPA scale:

Letter Grade Percentage Grade GPA (4.0 Scale)
A+ 97-100 4.0
A 93-96 4.0
A- 90-92 3.7
B+ 87-89 3.3
B 83-86 3.0
B- 80-82 2.7
C+ 77-79 2.3
C 73-76 2.0
C- 70-72 1.7
D+ 67-69 1.3
D 65-66 1.0
F Below 65 0.0

Source: College Board

How Does GPA Affect College Admissions?

Despite the growing popularity of holistic admissions — a method of evaluating potential students based on an array of factors, such as educational history, personal background, and extracurricular accomplishments — GPA still plays a critical role in your chances of getting into college.

This is because your high school GPA is one of the few data-supported measurements of your academic abilities, lending objective evidence to a highly subjective admissions process.

For colleges, GPA is a marker of a student's potential for success; this affects retention rates, which, in turn, impact enrollment. Schools with high retention rates are usually praised for their dedication to meeting diverse student needs, and these accolades help universities attract future students.

What Is a Good GPA?

Although designed to offer a clear indication of academic skill, GPA applications vary based on the school and situation. What's considered a good GPA in high school might translate to lackluster performance in college. Even within a university, GPA expectations can differ by major or department.

Most people associate GPA with the college admissions process. The average high school GPA is around 3.0, which also happens to be the minimum requirement for many scholarship programs.

When it comes to determining a good (i.e., above-average) GPA, here is a useful trick: Ask yourself what GPA you would want on your transcript to gain admission to a competitive school, or what GPA you would you be willing to report on your resume after college graduation. Unless you're in a notoriously difficult discipline, like engineering, anything below a 3.5 is less likely to be regarded positively by admissions officers and potential employers.

Of course, your GPA in college is much different from your GPA to gain college admission. As you research prospective universities, search for freshman class data so you can find the average GPA of admitted applicants. You should aim to meet or exceed the school's average.

Unless you’re in a notoriously difficult discipline, like engineering, a GPA below 3.5 is less likely to be regarded positively by admissions officers and potential employers.

When evaluating potential students, a college admissions committee considers candidates' high school GPA scale and the classes they took. The traditional 4.0 scale reflects unweighted averages and ignores course difficulty, whereas a scale of 5.0 or higher offers scores that weigh advanced classes more heavily than normal coursework.

In other words, on a weighted scale, an A in AP biology would equal a 5.0, but an A in regular biology would correspond to a 4.0.

Whether a GPA is considered good also depends on your professional goals. Many colleges ask applicants to declare a major so the admissions team can better evaluate their grades and extracurricular activities.

For example, a student who plans to major in engineering but only earned a 2.3 GPA in math and science classes could be rejected outright or receive personal guidance from an academic advisor on more suitable degree options.

Finally, a good GPA in college can be defined in terms of honors designations, which vary somewhat by institution. Most commonly, students graduate cum laude (Latin for "with praise") when they earn a 3.5-3.7 GPA, magna cum laude ("with great praise") when they earn a 3.7-3.9 GPA, and summa cum laude ("with highest praise") when they earn a 3.9+ GPA.

Does GPA Really Matter?

GPA matters, but only to the extent determined by the admissions committee. Earning a 4.0 in high school would likely gain you admittance to most state universities. But for Ivy League institutions and other highly prestigious schools, a perfect GPA represents the minimum requirement all applicants must satisfy to warrant consideration.

GPA can also be important depending on your professional objectives. If you want to apply for an entry-level job, include your GPA on your resume only if you think it'll help your chances of securing that position. For example, an art history major may want to divulge their GPA when applying for a museum curator position if they achieved a particularly high GPA (3.5+).

College GPA tends to matter more if you're applying to graduate school. Master's programs normally require candidates to have at least a 3.0, while doctoral programs often set minimums at about 3.5.

Many master’s and doctoral degree programs require at least a 3.0-3.5 college GPA for admission.

You should also learn how to calculate college GPA based on field of study, as the popularity of majors like business and psychology means more competitive graduate admissions criteria.

Ultimately, GPA is just one part of your application. Graduate schools also pay attention to achievements like relevant work experience, published research and academic essays, and recommendations from mentors and employers.

Some graduate programs even allow candidates to submit letters explaining why they performed poorly in a certain class and how they intend to make up for that shortcoming.

Still, many universities — particularly those that offer online master's and Ph.D. programs — disregard GPA and standardized testing altogether.

Employers, too, are paying less attention to candidates' educational history. Companies like Google and Netflix prioritize skills over academic credentials and accept a variety of applicants — some with a college degree, some who possess equivalent practical experience, and some who've completed in-house training programs.

A woman wearing a tawny velvet blazer with the sleeves rolled up sits hunched over a conference table in an academic library, studying various materials.

8 Essential Tips for Raising Your GPA in College

Steady class attendance helps you better understand readings and assignments and gives you more one-on-one interaction with instructors. It also allows you to become aware of last-minute announcements and build stronger relationships with your peers and professors.

Keep track of upcoming assignments and projects using either a paper planner or mobile app, such as TickTick or Any.do. Be sure to chart long-term deadlines across the semester, including midterm essays and final exams.

Rearrange your schedule so that you're prioritizing particularly challenging courses. You may need to scale back extracurricular activities and alter work commitments to make time for your studies.

Don't be afraid to ask your instructor for help understanding tricky course materials and completing assignments. These meetings can help you build a rapport with your professor, who now knows your willingness to put in the work to earn a better grade.

You can usually find one for free through your college's student success center. Academic tutors can assist you with writing effective essays and studying for subject-based tests.

One method of doing this is to attend campus workshops throughout the year. If you haven't already, learn how to use popular study tools, such as flashcards, practice tests, and productivity apps, to help you stay focused when you prepare for classes and exams.

If you're struggling with a course, changing your grading metric from a letter grade to the binary Pass/Fail system allows you to receive credit without damaging your GPA. Consider dropping a difficult course entirely if it's impairing your performance in other classes.

If required major courses feel too challenging, that field of study may simply not be a good fit for you. Consult your academic advisor before deciding whether changing majors is the right move to make.

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