What is a High School GPA?
As you move through high school, especially in your Junior and Senior year, you hear more and more about your “GPA,” and how important it is to keep it as high as possible. But, what is a GPA, and why is it so important?
Let’s take a closer look at this important tool, as you plan your life beyond high school, into college and beyond.
First the basics. What the heck does “GPA” mean anyway?
The letters, “GPA” stand for Grade Point Average. It’s a way turn your letter grade into a number format, and then to figure out your average grade between all of your courses in a semester, a school year, and for your entire high school career. Another way of looking at it is that it’s a way to see how your grades add up, literally!
PSSST! In college? Then check out our college GPA calculator.
Most of the time, your letter grade is assigned a number from 0-4, 0-4.5 or 0-5, depending on the school you are attending, or the type of classes you are taking. This is called, “Grade” or GPA Conversion, when a letter grade is converted into a number. The most common grade conversion, or GPA scale is the 4-point scale.
4-point grade conversion
In a 4-point GPA scale, the highest point available is a “4.” It looks like this:
A = 4.0 grade points
B = 3.0
C = 2.0
D = 1.0
F = 0
These numbers are then used to calculate your GPA (we’ll show how that is done in the next section). However, some high schools have what’s called a “weighted” grade point scale when converting letters to numbers. Let’s take a look at that, now.
Weighted grade point conversion
Most high schools offers AP (Advanced Placement) or Honors classes. These are scored on a different GPA grade scale than regular classes. This is to reflect that these classes are more difficult than regular classes, so students get more grade points for this type of advanced coursework.
Weighted grade point conversions are usually on a 4.5-point or 5-point system. A 5-point scale looks like this:
A = 5.0 grade points
B = 4.0
C = 3.0
D = 2.0
F = 1.0
See the difference? In a regular class, the highest point score you can receive is a “4” for an “A.” In advanced courses, the highest point score you can earn is a “5.” That can mean a lot when you are figuring out your GPA, or Grade Point Average.
How to Calculate Your High School GPA
We’ve already discussed regular grade point scales versus weighted grades. Let’s take a look at a few examples on how your GPA is calculated, depending on what types of high school classes you take. If you haven't already, you can easily calculate your class grades using our grade calculator.
Calculating a “regular” high school GPA
As a reminder, the highest grade point you can receive from a regular class is a 4. In the same way, 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.
First, let’s take a look at how a GPA for regular courses looks; calculated on the 4-point scale.
We’ve already talked about the “grade point” part of GPA. Now, let’s look at the “average” part of the GPA. We are going to use averaging to figure out our GPA. Let’s take a look at our first example.
Glenn just finished his first semester as a junior in high school. Here are his grades, with the grade point conversion also shown:
|Class||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
To calculate his GPA we add up all the points for his classes, which gives us 17 total points. Assuming all his classes have equal weight, we divide that total by the number of classes Glenn took, which is 5.
17 ÷ 5 = 3.4
Glenn’s GPA is 3.4. Since you now know that a 4.0 GPA is a perfect “A” GPA, how did Glenn do? Well, we know that a “B” is equal to a 3 on the 4-point grade scale, and an “A” is a 4. So, Glenn got higher than a straight “B” average, but lower than a straight “A” average, giving him an overall B+ GPA.
In general, a “B” average is considered pretty good. Especially since the only way to get a straight “A” average is to get an “A” in every single class. So, a 3.4 GPA is respectable. Is there room for improvement? Sure! We’ll talk about that a little bit later, and give Glenn some advice on how to increase his GPA.
Now, Glenn took only “regular” high school coursework, so let’s take a look at how a student’s GPA changes when he or she takes advanced high school coursework and receives a “weighted” GPA.
Calculating a “weighted” high school GPA (for AP and Honors classes)
Like we mentioned earlier, most high schools offer advanced coursework. In that case, schools “weight” the grade point scale to factor in that those courses are more difficult, so worth more points. In honors or AP courses, an “A” is worth 5 points, a “B” worth 4, and so on.
Julie is taking several classes that are AP and Honors Classes. For those courses, they are on the 5-point scale. Her regular classes are on the normal 4-point scale.
Let’s see how Julie did this semester, and figure out her “weighted” GPA:
|Class||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
|Honors English 5||B||4.0 (An honors class, so a “B” is 4 points)|
|Honors Algebra II||A||5.0 (An honors class, so the “A” is 5 points)|
|Physical Education||B||3.0 (Not an honors class, so the “B” is 3 points)|
|Ecology I||B||3.0 (Not an honors class, so the “B” is 3 points)|
|Social Sciences I||A||4.0 (Not an honors class, so the “A” is 4 points)|
Tallying up Julie's grade points gives her 21 total points. Averaging that over her total classes reveals her semester GPA:
21 ÷ 5 = 4.2
Julie’s GPA, which is “weighted” to show her honors coursework, is a 4.2 out of 4.0 if looking at the “regular” GPA 4-point scale, and a 4.2 out of 5.0 when looking at her GPA on a 5-point scale. More specifically, for her regular courses, she has a 3.33 GPA (3+3+4 = 10, divided by 3). For her honors classes, her GPA is a 4.5 out of 5.0 (4+5 = 9, divided by 2).
For calculating your own weighted class grades, use our weighted grade calculator.
Calculating cumulative high school GPA
We’ve now covered “regular” and “weighted” semester GPAs. Well, there’s also a cumulative GPA that shows how you did for a specific year, or for your entire high school career.
For example, let’s say these are your semester GPAs, as you head into your senior year.
To calculate your cumulative GPA, or what your GPA is so far in high school, it’s as simple as averaging all your semester GPAs together. First we add them all up, which gives us 18.7. We then divide that by the number of semesters, which is 6. So, here’s the formula:
18.7 ÷ 6 = 3.12 (rounded to two decimal places)
To get your GPA up a little higher, you would have to increase your grades substantially for your senior year. Let’s say you have a GPA of 3.8 for both of your last semesters. That brings your GPA total to 26.3 (18.7 + 3.8 + 3.8 = 26.3). We divide that new number by 8 semesters:
26.3 ÷ 8 = 3.29
You can immediately see how important it is to pay attention to your GPA earlier than later! But, no matter what, just do the absolute best you can to get your GPA where you need it to be. Use our cumulative GPA calculator to calculate your own cumulative high school GPA; you can enter your current GPA and classes along with your semester classes and grades.
Why It’s Important to Keep Your GPA Up
Your GPA can be used to help you, your parents, counselors and teachers as you navigate your post-graduation plans. Do you want to attend a trade school? A college or university? Will you be needing financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships? Or, maybe you are planning on going straight into the workforce? No matter your plans, maintaining a high GPA is important, mostly because you need to make a good impression, no matter what path you choose.
Jobs and careers
Having a high GPA is seen as a very good thing by future employers. Think about it. If an employer has two candidates, and one has maintained high grades, and the other is barely passing their coursework, which student will look better to that potential employer? So, it makes sense that many employers look for GPAs that reflect a student’s hard work, effort, and taking their studies seriously. Having and maintaining a high GPA means you are committed to doing your best. These are all traits that any future employer would appreciate, of which you should be proud.
Advanced education and scholarships
Just like future employers, trade schools, colleges and universities that you may be looking at will also be looking at you, and your GPA. Some colleges only accept GPAs that reflect “B” or higher coursework, for example. Trade schools look for at least a “C” average, but sometimes more if the trade you are pursuing is in the medical or technical fields.
Most of us don’t have enough cash in the bank to pay for college or university courses ourselves. Sure, there are loans available, but they come at a very high cost, and if you can secure free schooling, wouldn’t you?
Scholarships and grants pay for some or all of your education past high school, and to qualify for a substantial academic scholarship, you need the grades to back it up. The committee of people who will be reviewing your scholarship application will want to know if you take your studies seriously, and that you are likely to succeed in your advanced school work. To put it frankly, they want to make sure they’re spending their money wisely on you.
One way that you can demonstrate that you are worth the risk of them giving you money is by showing that you already take school seriously, and that you will do a good job outside of high school. Having a 3.5 GPA or above sends a better message and helps pave the way for more financial support.
Limitations of GPA
There are, as you might suspect, limitations to what a GPA says about you. It might seem unfair that you are judged by only your GPA, since it doesn’t, and can’t measure other things about you that are equally, if not more important.
For example, your GPA doesn’t reflect how hard you studied for that “C” in Algebra, or that you had a really tough time at home your second semester of Sophomore year.
Remember, your GPA is not you! It can’t always pick up on your great attitude, positive work ethic, sense of humor, and other personality traits that any employer or college would value.
But, there’s good news. Most places, employers or colleges, don’t just look at your GPA. They try to factor in the whole person. For example, is your attendance good? How are your test scores? Do you participate in extracurricular activities? Do you already hold a job? Do you volunteer in the community?
All of these things say a lot about you, and can help you on your way to life success after high school, college and beyond.
How to Raise Your GPA
If your GPA is a little lower than you would like it to be, don’t worry - you can change that! Here are some quick tips to get your grades up, and your GPA as high as it can go!
Ask for extra help in any class that you are having a hard time getting an “A” or “B”
Take every class seriously, every day
Study for exams
Learn good note-taking skills, and review your notes regularly
Start or join a study group
Ask for tutoring or assistance outside of school
Attend classes every day, and stay on top of your homework
Take advantage of every extra-credit opportunity
Figure out what you need to do in each of your classes to raise your grade
Speak with your high school counselor to see if they have ideas or tips
Achieving and maintaining a high GPA is important, no matter your post-high school plans. Whether or not you plan on starting your job or career right away, or attending trade school, college or university, your GPA is a reflection on how you take your studies, and life seriously.
Fortunately, you’re not alone. There are tools available to help you track your GPA, and figure out how to get the best grade you can.
Your GPA tells the world a little bit about you - basically, how well you’ve done in school. Even though it has its limits, keeping your GPA high can open many doors for you, and give you more options that you might otherwise have.