What is GPA?
Your GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a way to put a number to your letter grade, and to average all of your grades, for all of your classes, in a simple numerical expression. In other words, it’s a way see how your grades add up, even though they are letters!
Most of the time, your letter grade is assigned a number from 0-4 or 0-5, depending on the school you are attending, or the type of classes you are taking. Most educational institutions calculate your GPA on a 4-point scale, meaning they use the numbers 0-4 to figure out your GPA. However, some schools use a 5-point scale to account for the difficulty level of some classes. For example, it’s much harder to get an “A” in Physics than it is to get an “A” in Video Game Practice. A weighted scale would factor that in.
How to Calculate GPA
GPAs are calculated differently for different circumstances. For example, high school GPAs can be “regular,” or “weighted.” Regular GPAs are a simple average of your grade points. Weighted GPAs factor in the difficulty of your course, like an AP or Honors class.
College is a different calculation altogether; GPAs are weighted based on credit hours.
We’ll go over each method below, so hang in there!
Calculating high school GPA
Regular high school coursework is usually figured out on a four-point scale, as shown below:
A = 4.0 grade points
B = 3.0
C = 2.0
D = 1.0
F = 0
The highest GPA you can attain in the 4.0 scale is a 4.0, meaning you have gotten an A in all of your classes.
High schools with AP (Advanced Placement) or Honors courses use a weighted scale from 0-5. This type of GPA scale has an A as a 4.0, just like a regular high school GPA, but for any advanced coursework, like AP or Honors, the scale goes up to 5 for an A.
We’ll take a closer look at this, in just a second.
But, first let’s look at how to calculate a regular GPA; that is, one calculated on the 4-point scale.
Since GPA stands for Grade Point Average, we are going to practice our averaging skills. Let’s take a look at our first example.
Jonathan had a pretty good 1st semester of his junior year in high school. Below are his grades, with the number or grade point shown, based on his letter grade:
|Course||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
First to average his grades, we add up all the points for his classes. In this case, that sum is 17.
Since he has grades for 5 classes, we divide 17 by 5. So, 17 ÷ 5 = 3.4
So, Jonathan’s GPA is 3.4
Knowing that a 4.0 GPA means that a student got all As in their classes, what does a 3.4 average tell you?
Since a “B” is equal to 3.0, and an “A” is equal to a 4.0, a GPA of 3.4 is somewhere in between a ”B” and an “A.” Higher than a straight “B” average (which would be 3.0), but not high enough to be considered an “A” average (or 4.0).
Just like your grades mean something, for example a “C” means, “Average,” and a “B” means “Above Average,” a GPA of 3.4 is “Above Average.” But, keep in mind, that the only way to get an “A” average is to get As in all your classes. Let’s look at the following example to see what we mean.
Julie is applying to college next year, and has been working hard to keep her grades up. Here’s her report card from last semester:
|Course||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
For Julie, if we add up all her grade points, we get 19. Now, let’s average those grade points to calculate her GPA:
19 ÷ 5 = 3.8 GPA
As you can see, even though Julie got an “A” in every class but World History, that one “B” brought her GPA below a full “A” or 4.0, to an A- GPA.
Remember, these examples are meant to demonstrate how to calculate a high school GPA, if you want to calculate your own try using our high school GPA calculator, it makes the calculation a breeze!
Calculating weighted high school GPA (for AP and Honors classes)
Both of the above examples are regular GPA calculations. Now, let’s look at weighted GPAs.
As we mentioned earlier, some high schools offer Honors and AP or Advanced Placement coursework. In that case, the schools usually weight the grade point scale to factor in these more advanced, and more difficult courses.
Ted is an Honors Student, and is taking several classes that are AP and Honors Classes. Their grade points are on a 0-5.0 scale, with an Honors or AP “A” being worth 5.0 grade points, instead of the usual 4.0.
Here’s how Ted did this semester:
|Course||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
|Honors English||B||4.0 (An honors class, so a “B” is “4.0”)|
|Honors Algebra||A||5.0 (An honors class, so an “A” is “5.0”)|
|Physical Education||A||4.0 (Not an honors class, so an “A” is “4.0”)|
|Chemistry I||B||3.0 (Not an honors class, so a “B” is “3.0”)|
|World History||A||4.0 (Not an honors class, so an “A” is “4.0”)|
Summing up Ted's grade points, we get 20, and dividing by number of classes yields his semester GPA:
20 ÷ 5 = 4.0 Weighted GPA
This is equivalent to a “B” average when using a weighted GPA, and you can see that in Ted’s grades. His weighted GPA is a 4.0, out of a possible 5.0.
If you're wondering how to get your letter grade for a particular class, check out our grade calculator, it lets you keep track of your homework, essays, exams and extra credit, and calculates your current class grade based on their scores.
Calculating college GPA
College is a little bit different than high school, in a lot of ways!
Since college classes have varying credit hours, college GPAs are calculated differently. For example, most classes are 3 credit hours. However, classes with extra work or labs, like a computer graphics class with classroom lecture, and time in the computer lab, might be 4 credit hours.
Here’s how it works—much like AP/Honors weighting of GPA in high school, college courses are weighted, depending on how many credit hours the class requires. Those credit hours are multiplied by the grade point value. Let’s consider a 4-credit hour science course.
In this case, let’s go with an “A”, which has a value of four grade points. To begin, we take the credit hours times the grade:
4.0 grade points x 4 credit hours = 16
So, the total point value for this class, factoring in the credit hours is 16. We’ll factor that into the GPA in just a second, but let’s look at another example. This time a Literature class that is 3 credit hours. The student receives an “A” in this class, too.
4.0 grade points x 3 credit hours = 12
You’ll notice that, even though the student received an “A” in both classes, the total points are higher for the higher credit-hour course. That’s because it is weighted to demonstrate that the science class, in this case, has extra work—a lab—in addition to the regular lecture portion of the class.
To bring it all home, let’s take a look at a college student’s grades for a full semester.
Eduardo just finished his first semester of college, and is calculating his cumulative GPA. Here are his grades, including how many credit hours each class holds:
|Course||Letter Grade||Credit Hours|
|Computer Science 101||B||4|
To get the total points for each course we take each grade point value, and multiply it by credit hours:
|Course||Letter Grade||Grade Points||Credit Hours||Total Points|
|Computer Science 101||B||3.0||4||12|
Finally, to get the average, we sum together the total points from each course, and divide that number (57) by the total number of college credits completed (17).
57 ÷ 17 = 3.35
So, Eduardo’s GPA is 3.35. Not too bad for a first semester! Again, these examples illustrate the logic behind GPA calculations, but if you're calculating your own college GPA we'd recommend using our college GPA calculator.
Why It’s Important to Keep Your GPA Up
Your GPA is a valuable tool to let you know how you’re doing in school. But, it is also important for making a good impression once you are done with school. Whether or not you’re looking to start your career, or to advance to higher education, your GPA will be a factor in what options you have available to you.
Many employers, especially those who hire recent college graduates, look for high GPAs. Anything above 3.5 out of 4.0 looks much better than a 2.0 GPA (or “C” average), for example. In order to achieve a high GPA, it means you’ve worked hard, have paid attention to your studies, and are committed to doing your best. These are all things that a future employer would value.
Higher education and scholarships
Same as employers, colleges and universities that you might be considering, will also look at your GPA. Some colleges only accept students with GPAs higher than 3.0 (a “B” average), for example. This also applies to college and university programs with advanced degrees (Master’s or Doctorate studies).
If you need help paying for college or university, and most of us do, scholarship committees also look very carefully at a student’s GPA. Typically, they want to see that a student values the hard work and perseverance it takes to receive an “A” in class, so they are looking for a very high GPA, usually 3.8 and above. If you have a GPA in that range, you are showing the outside world that you are a serious student.
Limitations of GPA
It might seem unfair, sometimes, to be judged only by your GPA. There are a lot of things that a GPA doesn’t say about you.
For example, a GPA doesn’t reflect how hard you had to work for that “B” in Chemistry, even though you’ve struggled with math for a long time. Or, your GPA may not reflect that you had very difficult life circumstances that semester when the highest grade you got was a “B.”
Your GPA is not you! It doesn’t reflect your unique personality, your sense of humor, your intelligence, or your positive attitude. All traits that any employer and college admissions team would look for.
But, the good news is, most places don’t just consider your GPA when considering you for their school or workplace. They often look at a variety of things; test scores, attendance rankings, outside activities, volunteer work, etc. But, you can see, though, how maintaining a high GPA can make your life a little bit easier when it comes time to apply for advanced education, or that job you want.
The Final Word on GPA
Your GPA is an important tool as you plan your future. Fortunately, there are tools out there to help you keep track of your GPA, so that you can maintain the highest GPA possible. Since GPAs are weighted more heavily for difficult or advanced courses, it’s important to consider enrolling in challenging programs, like AP, Honors, higher credit hours courses, etc.
The GPA tells the world one thing about you—how well you’ve done in school. Yes, it has its limits, but keeping your GPA high can open doors for you, and give you more options for higher education and your career.