Understand High School GPA – Grade Point Average

What is a GPA & Why Is it Important When Applying for Colleges?

Most people aspiring to apply to college in the US will be familiar with the acronym GPA but in this article, I’m going to dig deeper, to understand the different types of GPA, how they are calculated and its significance in the college application process.

 What is a GPA?

GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average. In the USA it is used as a measurement of academic achievement, calculated from the grades you received during your high school education. Your GPA is not the only measurement of success in high school, however it does provide an indication of your engagement in your studies.

Your GPA will be on a scale from 0.0 at the lowest, and 4.0 at the highest. How this corresponds to your individual grades will depend on the marking system of the curriculum you study, however as an example:

Letter Percentage GPA

A. 90 – 100% 4.0

B 80 – 89% 3.0

C 70 – 79% 2.0

D 60 – 69% 1.0

 This is a simplified version of how GPA is marked and there are many variations, some curriculums have intermediate grades such as A* or B- which will have a GPA as a point between the whole numbers so a B- would be 2.7 but an A* would still be 4.0 as that is the maximum GPA.

Weighted and Unweighted GPA

Not all curriculums are created equal, some are considered to be more rigorous than others. If we accept that statement, then it becomes important to recognise the achievement of somebody who receives an A in a more challenging course over another person who receives the same grade in a less challenging course. This is done by having weighted and unweighted GPA’s

An unweighted GPA uses the 4.0 scale shown above and does not give any one course more weight than any other.

weighted GPA recognises the additional difficulty of individual courses. An IB HL, honours, or AP course would fall into this category and would be calculated on a 5.0 scale (where 5.0 is awarded for a 7 or A grade) while regular courses are still measured on the 4.0 GPA scale.

Typically, a weighted course will receive one point above the GPA that they would receive for the same grade in a regular course. When averaged out, the result is a higher overall GPA and is a better overall picture of your academic achievements as it takes into account the greater rigor of those more challenging courses.

How to calculate GPA

Calculating your GPA is simply taking the average of your grades to provide an overall score, remembering to give one additional point to each weighted course you have completed.

As an example, let’s take the case of student J who received the following grades.

Subject Grade

English B

Maths A

Physics A

History C

Economics B

Spanish C

This would translate into an unweighted GPA of 3.0, as seen below.

Subject Grade. GPA

English B 3.0

Maths A 4.0

Physics A. 4.0

History C 2.0

Economics B 3.0

Spanish C 2.0

Total 18

 GPA (18 divided by 6 courses) 3.0

 Now let’s imagine student J was doing a number of more rigorous AP courses, then the difficulty of these courses would be taken into account to provide a weighted GPA, as seen below.

Subject Grade. GPA

English B 3.0

AP Maths A 5.0

AP Physics A. 5.0

History C 2.0

AP Economics B 4.0

Spanish C 2.0

Total 21

 GPA (21 divided by 6 courses) 3.5

Why is GPA important?

For colleges, your GPA provides a baseline of how prepared you are, academically, for starting college. GPA is also often used as one of the filters used when deciding who should be invited to join a college honours programme or receive a scholarship award.

 As such your GPA, together with other factors such as your extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation and other testing, will be a key element in the holistic application review, undertaken by most competitive colleges.

 Knowing your GPA can help you decide on which colleges to apply to. Many colleges and universities will publish the GPA of students they accept each year, so if you know which college you want to apply to it makes sense to look at the GPA of accepted students. With this information, you will know if that college is a target, reach or super reach college for you.

 What’s a good GPA?

It will come as no surprise to know that more selective schools will have higher expectations and that plays out in the GPA’s of the students they accept. Below are the average GPA scores at colleges often applied to by Ivy Central students.

 College GPA (provided by PrepScholar.com)

Columbia. 4.12

Cornell 4.07

Harvard 4.18

Yale 4.14

U Penn 3.90

Stanford 4.00

Santa Clara 3.96

UC Berkeley 3.86

UIUC    3.83

Georgia Tech 4.07

 While GPA is just one of the factors used by admissions panels when deciding who to admit, given its significance in the application process it’s important that every student seeks to improve their GPA to the best of their abilities. In the next article, I will give suggestions on how to improve it.

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