Learn more about how colleges calculate your grade point average (GPA), why it's important, and what you can do to improve yours.
In college, you receive a grade every time you complete a class. The sum total of those grades makes up your grade point average (GPA), which reflects your overall academic performance. A good GPA on a standard 4.0 scale can fall between 3.0 and 4.0 or between a B and an A+.
However, “good” often depends on context. College can be a more challenging academic undertaking than high school, which could result in lower GPAs . This is common given the advanced subject matter. What constitutes a good GPA can also vary by major. Some majors, such as computer science, can be more challenging than others, so a good GPA may not be as high as another major.
There are many different scenarios to consider when it comes to good GPAs. In this article, we’ll go over the various situations where GPA plays an important part and ways to raise your GPA.
Defining a “good” GPA typically requires some context. For instance, a good GPA may be the minimum number you need to gain acceptance to your top college or qualify for financial aid. On the other hand, a good GPA may be the kind of number you can list on your resume to show potential employers your academic abilities and subject comprehension.
Because many colleges, universities, and financial aid offices set different standards around GPAs, it’s important to review those requirements as you apply for, enroll in, and attend college.
Your school likely measures your GPA using two parameters: cumulative and major. The two numbers will typically differ.
Cumulative is your total GPA from all your college courses.
Major is your total GPA from all the courses you took as part of your major.
Many institutions use a 4.0 scale, like the one below. The letter or number grade you receive in a class correlates to a percentage. When those percentages are calculated together, they form your GPA.
|Letter grade||Percentage grade||Grade point average|
There are many handy GPA calculators available online, which can help you figure out your GPA. Your school will also provide that information when they release your grades at the end of every semester.
To use a GPA calculator, you'll need to know the number of courses you've taken each semester, the grades you earned, and how many credits each course was worth. You'll input this data for every semester you've attended college so far.
You may want to earn a high GPA for various reasons: to qualify for more scholarships, list your GPA on your resume as you begin applying for jobs, or achieve a strong standing for graduate school applications. Whatever the reason, there are many contexts in which to think about your GPA.
The Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA) requires you to maintain a 2.0 GPA to remain eligible for financial assistance, whether that’s grants or student loans. If you have scholarships through your department or an independent organization, you also may have a separate GPA requirement to maintain.
Colleges and universities expect students to earn a minimum GPA to maintain enrollment. While this differs by institution, many require a 2.0—or C average. Falling below a 2.0 often means that you will be placed on academic probation until you can raise your GPA. If you’re unable to do so, your institution may dismiss you.
Graduating from college requires completing a set number of courses and earning a minimum GPA. The exact number will depend on the school but may require a 2.0. You can find out your school’s GPA requirements by searching for your school’s name and “graduation requirements.”
Although each institution differs, many graduate schools require at least a 3.0 GPA for undergraduate coursework when applying. Given how competitive graduate school can be, certain institutions may expect you to have a higher GPA than 3.0—or show your academic abilities in other ways, such as achieving a high score on an entrance exam, like the GRE, or providing a strong writing sample.
When you’re a recent graduate, it’s generally recommended to list your GPA on your resume when it’s 3.5 or higher. When you’ve graduated with any honors, such as magna cum laude, you’ll also want to note that distinction.
If your major GPA is significantly higher than your cumulative GPA, you can list that number instead, especially if you’re applying to jobs in that same field because it can show potential employers your specific subject knowledge.
There are many different techniques and tools you can explore if you’re interested in raising your GPA. There are also many GPA calculators available online, which can help you see what you’d need to earn to achieve the GPA you’d like to graduate with. You may also want to meet with an advisor to review your GPA and structure a plan to help you improve it.
It may not always be possible, but try to balance your class schedule each semester by spreading out the number of demanding courses you take. Most institutions require bachelor's degree students to complete a minimum of 120 credit hours to graduate, which end up being a mix of liberal arts courses, major courses, and electives. If you plan on taking a “full load” or five classes, try to select three challenging courses alongside two courses that fulfill your graduation requirement but may not be as intense.
Your time is a precious resource, and managing it is an important part of college. Some classes may require more time than others, whether because the material is more challenging or there’s more work involved. Whatever the case may be, think about the amount of time you have to distribute to each of your classes. If there are classes that require less of your time, reallocate it to the classes that need more.
Most faculty members offer office hours so that they can meet with students in a more personalized manner. Take advantage of this resource. Schedule time during office hours, or drop in if your instructor encourages it. Not only can attending office hours help clarify any topics you’re learning, but it can be a powerful way to network with your faculty and build support.
Studying with a group can be beneficial, helping reduce procrastination and even supplementing your notes. See if other students in your classes are interested in working together to prepare for assignments or tests, and arrange a schedule to meet and help one another.
Study groups don’t need to be limited to in-person gatherings. You can take advantage of Facebook groups, Slack channels, and other digital resources to set up an online study group.
Learn more: 11 Good Study Habits to Develop
When a course is challenging, it may be a good idea to find a tutor to help you review concepts, arrange a study schedule, and prepare for tests. Many students work as tutors to help pay for college, and you may find relevant help that way, or you can check with your school’s student resource center or department to solicit the names of other professionals to work with.
This last option isn’t about raising your GPA so much as protecting it. If you’re worried about your grade and don’t see a viable way to improve it before the end of the semester, you may want to speak with your instructor about taking the course as a pass/fail option. Each school has different parameters regarding pass/fail, so it’s worthwhile to find out at the start of the semester if there are any deadlines you should be aware of.
You won’t receive a letter grade when you elect to take a course pass/fail, which means your GPA won’t be affected. Instead, you will either pass (usually if you earn a C or higher) or fail it (usually if you earn a D or lower), but if you’re worried about earning a lower grade, taking the course as pass/fail can help you work toward graduation without impacting your GPA.
Learn more: How to Be Successful in College: 9 Tips
Often, how you learn can have a significant impact. An online education tends to be more flexible, allowing you to study at your own pace. Advance your education with a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a world-class university on Coursera.
Or supplement your degree and GPA by gaining career-ready skills through a professional certificate from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM. When you finish a program and earn your certificate, you can list it on your resume, showing potential employers the extra steps you took to strengthen your knowledge and experience.
1. ACT Research & Policy. "Comparing High School Grade Point Average (GPA) to First Year College GPA, https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/5840-Data-Byte-2016-10-Comparing-High-School-GPA-to-First-Year-College-GPA.pdf.” Accessed July 20, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.