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Grade point average, or GPA, is a single number that represents the average of every letter grade you earn in college. GPA is calculated by converting letter grades to a standard grade-point scale, which ranges from 0 to 4.0.
Every university treats GPA a little differently. What is considered a high GPA at one college might be considered average at another.
How IsGPA Calculated in College?
Unlike most high school grading scales, college grades are not weighted according to the difficulty level of individual courses. Rather, colleges and universities use a standard conversion chart to convert letter grades to grade-point numbers, then add “weight” based on the credit hours associated with each course. The followingchart represents a typical letter grade/GPA conversion system:
To calculate your GPA for one semester, first convert each of your letter grades from that semester to the corresponding grade-point values (between 0 and 4.0), then add them up. Next, add up the number of credits you earned in each course that semester. Finally, divide the total number of grade points by thetotal number ofcourse credits.
This calculation results in a single number—your GPA—that represents your academic standing in a given semester. To find your GPA over a longer period, just add more grades and course credits into the mix.
Keep in mind that the letter grade/grade-point conversionvaries slightly across institutions. For example, some schools round grade-point numbers to a single decimal place. Others distinguish between the grade-point value of an A+ and an A, such as Columbia, where an A+ is worth 4.3 grade points. Check your university’s grading policies for specific details about calculating your GPA, then try crunching the numbers yourself using an online GPA calculator.
Average College GPA by Major
Wondering how your GPA stacks up against other students in your major? The most comprehensive study on average GPA by major comes from Kevin Rask, a professor at Wake Forest University, who examined GPA at an unnamed liberal arts college in the northeast.
While Rask’s findings reflect only the academic performance of students at a single university, his research provides a granular GPA breakdown not often shared by individual institutions.
5 Majors with the Lowest Grade Point Averages
5 Majors with the Highest Grade Point Averages
These numbers are influenced by a host of university-specific factors. After all, every college and university has its own most- and least-challenging courses and departments.
However, Rask’s findings align with a common refrain on many U.S. college campuses: STEM majors, on average, tend to maintain lower GPAs than humanities and social science majors.
One potential explanation for this trend isthe grading process itself. STEM courses employ formulaic grading policies based on test and quiz scores. Answers are either right or wrong. In humanities and social science courses, on the other hand, grades are based primarily on essays and other writing projects. These open-ended assignments, graded subjectively, are generally kinder to students’ GPAs.
Average College GPA by School Type
While many schools do not publish GPA-related statistics, research by Dr. Stuart Rojstaczer provides insight into average GPAs from a sampling of universities across the United States.The following data, gathered by Rojstaczer in his studies on grade inflation, reflectaverage GPAs across a variety of institutions over the last decade.
Ivy League Universities
|University of Pennsylvania||3.44|
Liberal Arts Colleges
|Columbia College Chicago||3.22|
|St. Olaf College||3.42|
Large Public Universities
|University of Florida||3.35|
|Ohio State University||3.17|
|University of Michigan||3.37|
|University of California – Berkeley||3.29|
|Pennsylvania State University||3.12|
|University of Alaska – Anchorage||2.93|
|University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill||3.23|
|University of Virginia||3.32|
Over the last 30 years, the average college GPA has risen at every type of college.However, private schools have seen a greater increase than public schools, which Rojstaczer suggests is the result of rising tuition costs and high-achieving students pressuring professors to give high grades.
Individual university grading policies can dramatically affect students’ GPAs. For example, until 2014, Princeton University had a policy of “grade deflation,”which mandated that, in a given class, a maximum of only 35% of students could receive A grades. At other universities, such as Harvard, an A is the mostcommonly awarded gradeon campus, resulting in higher average undergraduate GPAs and a reputation for gradeinflation.
Additional factors, such as student preparedness for college-level work and the influence of graduate teaching assistants in the grading process, also influence each university’s average GPA.
Why Is GPA Important?
As an underclassman, you may encounter academic programs or majors that accept only students who meet a minimum GPA requirement. Merit scholarships often have similar GPA cut-offs. Once you’ve gained entry into a selective academic program or earned a merit scholarship, you will likely have to maintain a certain GPAto remain in good standing.
A high GPA comes with additional benefits. Academic honor societies such asPhi Beta Kappadistribute invitations based on GPA, and on graduation day, Latin honors are awarded to seniors with the highest overall GPAs. On the other hand, a low GPA puts you at risk ofacademic probation, which can potentially lead to expulsion.
Your college GPA is a long-lasting measure of your academic performance in college. Manygraduate programshavestringent GPA requirements, and employers often consider GPA when evaluating potential hires. Your GPA will remain significant even after graduation day, so it’s important to start keeping track of the number early in your college career.
What Is a 'Good GPA'?
The minimum GPA required for admission to most graduate programs is between 3.0 and 3.5, so many students aim for a GPA of 3.0 or above. When assessing the strength of your GPA, you should consider the influence of grade inflation or deflation at your school as well as the rigor of your chosen major.
Ultimately, yourGPA represents your personal academic experience. Thebest and most valuable way to determine how well you’re doing is to check your course grades regularly and meet with professors to discuss your performance. Commit to improving your grades every semester and you’ll soon send your GPA on an upward trajectory.
Valdes, Olivia. "What Is the Average College GPA?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2021, thoughtco.com/average-college-gpa-4163565.Valdes, Olivia. (2021, February 17). What Is the Average College GPA? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/average-college-gpa-4163565Valdes, Olivia. "What Is the Average College GPA?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/average-college-gpa-4163565 (accessed March 18, 2023).
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