What is a GPA?
Learn how to calculate your grade point average (GPA) and why it can make or break your college application.Edited By Christa Fletcher
Colleges use this number to measure your overall performance in school and compare you to other prospective students.
A grade point average (GPA) is a calculated average of the letter grades you earn in school following a 0 to 4.0 or 5.0 scale. Every semester, you’ll receive a GPA based on the grades you earned in all of your classes during that semester. Throughout high school, you’ll also maintain a cumulative GPA, which is an ongoing average of all your semester one and two grades beginning with freshman year.
When you apply to colleges, they’ll receive a copy of your transcript (What is a transcript?) featuring your current cumulative GPA. Colleges use this number to measure your overall performance in school and compare you to other prospective students.
Your GPA is important for your future because:
- Even before college, your GPA can determine whether or not you’re eligible to take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses during your junior and senior years of high school.
- For admission, prospective colleges consider both your GPA and your class rank (What is class rank?), which is determined by your GPA. So the higher your GPA, the better your chances are of getting into the college of your choice.
- Your GPA is a major consideration for both academic and athletic college scholarships as well as financial aid.
Find out how your high school calculates your GPA.
High schools can calculate GPAs based on your letter grades in different ways. Following a standard 4.0 scale for example, an A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. However, some high schools count pluses and minuses differently. For example, a B+=3.3, B=3.0, B-=2.7. Each class grade is multiplied by the credit for each class and added together to determine an unweighted GPA. Alternatively, some schools will calculate weighted GPAs, which give more importance to honors, accelerated, AP and IB classes. In this scenario, a 5.0 would be a perfect score instead of a 4.0. For example: AP biology A=5,B=4,C=3,D=2,F=0
Understand how colleges may recalculate your GPA.
Many colleges want to evaluate your GPA using their own methods. Often, they’ll disregard “easy A’s” you earned in gym or art class and focus on the fundamentals of your education, calculating your GPA from the grades you earned in science, English, social studies and math. So even if you’re acing several classes, it’s most important to do well in the core academic classes. Some colleges also look at both your unweighted and weighted GPA’s, which means you can’t rely on your AP, IB and honors courses to raise your GPA.
Start improving your GPA now.
You can’t wait until your junior or senior year to start worrying about your cumulative GPA. Every single class you take during the four years gets averaged in, so your freshman and sophomore year grades are just as important. If you bomb every class in the first year or two, it’ll be impossible to graduate with an above average GPA. For example, if you receive all D’s or 1.0’s in 9th and 10th grade and all A’s or 4.0’s in 11th and 12th grade, your cumulative average GPA will be 2.5, which doesn’t meet the minimum many schools require for admission.
But a little planning and hard work during your freshman year can go a long way toward a better cumulative GPA and make all the difference when you send in your college applications. In fact, the GPA on your college application may only reflect the first 3 or 3 ½ years of high school anyway since you’ll need to apply before your first semester grades of senior year are calculated.
GPA Tips & Tactics
- Work hard in your freshman and sophomore years to increase your chance of admission into AP, IB, honors and accelerated course—they’re your ticket to a higher GPA since they’re often given more weight on the GPA scale.
- While a low GPA won’t keep you from getting into college, some four-year colleges do require a 3.0 or higher for admission
- Don’t slack off once you receive your acceptance letter. Your future college will continue to monitor your grades through the end of your senior year and expect a final transcript.