Learn what constitutes a good GPA in college, why it's important, and how you can improve yours.
In college, you receive a grade every time you complete a class. Each grade is weighted to a specific number of points so that the sum total makes up your grade point average (GPA), which in turn reflects your overall academic performance. A good college 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. Given the advanced subject matter, college can be a more challenging academic undertaking than high school, and tends to result in lower GPAs . What constitutes a good GPA can also vary by college major. During the 2021-2022 academic year, University of California, Berkley students who majored in environmental science earned an average 3.3 GPA, while public health majors earned an average 3.6 GPA .
There are many different scenarios to consider when it comes to college GPAs. In this article, we’ll go over what constitutes a good college GPA and ways to raise yours.
A good college GPA can often depend on the school you attend. In that context, "good" means staying competitive with your fellow classmates. For example, the average GPA for US undergraduate students was 3.15, but the average reported GPA at Harvard was 3.65 [3, 4].
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.
Once you're in college, many institutions expect you to maintain at least a 2.0 to remain enrolled. However, programs and scholarships tend to require a higher minimum GPA, usually around 3.0. As you get ready to graduate, a particularly high GPA (3.75 or higher) may mean that you graduate with distinction.
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.
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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.
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.
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. 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, either 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.
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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 January 18, 2023.
Berkeley.edu. "Average GPA by Major, https://calviz.berkeley.edu/t/OPAP/views/AverageGPAbyMajorandDivision/Story1?iframeSizedToWindow=true&:embed=y&:display_spinner=no&:showAppBanner=false&:toolbar=yes&:embed_code_version=3&:loadOrderID=0&:deepLinkingDisabled=y&:tabs=no." Accessed January 18, 2023.
GradeInflation.com. "Recent GPA Trends Nationwide, https://www.gradeinflation.com/." Accessed January 18, 2023.
The Harvard Crimson. "Graduating Class of 2016 By the Numbers, https://features.thecrimson.com/2016/senior-survey/academics-narrative/." Accessed January 18, 2023.
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.