College student in classroom with laptop checking his gpa on his phone
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What Is a GPA? Its Importance in College

02.27.2023 • 6 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

Learn what a GPA is, why universities require it, how it’s calculated, and some top tips to increase and maintain a high GPA.

In This Article

  1. What Does GPA Stand For?

  2. How Is GPA Calculated?

  3. What Is a Good GPA?

  4. Cumulative vs. Overall GPA

  5. 6 Tips To Maintain a High GPA

Your GPA matters.

This 3-letter abbreviation can make or break your chances of getting into the college you want or landing a dream internship.

GPA is a huge factor in getting money from scholarships to help you pay for college as well. In fact, you will need a good GPA to get almost any merit-based scholarship out there.

It’s a big deal.

You may have questions…

What exactly is a GPA? How is it calculated? And how can you make sure yours is as high as possible?

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about GPAs.

What Does GPA Stand For?

GPA stands for grade point average. It’s a number that represents a student's average performance in all courses. Schools calculate GPA by converting letter grades to numerical equivalents, and then averaging those numbers.

The GPA scale typically ranges from 0.0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest possible GPA. Many universities require a good GPA on your college application, but what makes up a “good GPA” ‌depends on the school’s admissions process.

How Is GPA Calculated?

A GPA is a number representing the average of all your grades according to the 4-point grading scale (A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0).

To calculate your GPA, simply multiply the credit hours of each course by the letter grade you received according to the 4-point scale. Add up those numbers and divide by the total number of credit hours you’ve completed.

For example: You’ve completed 4 courses worth 3 credits each and earned an A (4.0), B (3.0), C (2.0), and D (1.0) in them.

That’s a total of 12 (3+3+3+3) credits for all of your courses.

Next, figure out your score in each course. Multiply the credits for one course by the grade you received:

Points x Credits
4.0 x 3
3.0 x 3
2.0 x 3
1.0 x 3

Now, add up the totals for each course, then divide that by your total credits.

12 + 9 + 6 + 3 = 30

30 ÷ 12 = 2.5

The total GPA in this example is a 2.5.

One note to add: not all schools use the same GPA scale. For example, some schools may consider an A- to be a 3.7 on a 4.0 scale, while others may only consider it a 3.5.

What Is a Good GPA?

“Good” is a ‌subjective term, but a good GPA falls between 3.5 and 4.0 on the 4.0 scale. Having a GPA in this range means achieving excellent grades throughout your academic careers.

The average GPA, on the other hand, is lower. The average high school GPA falls around 3.0, while the average college GPA is 3.1, according to College Board. These numbers are a B average and represent most students with a few B's or C's mixed in with their A's.

When you have a ‌high GPA, you are an outlier from other applicants. While many college admissions accept an array of GPAs, having a higher GPA will help you stand out in the application process and gain admission into more schools and programs. This gives you more choices.

What About Being in Good Standing?

Having a good college GPA is different than being in good academic standing. Typically, good academic standing refers to a college student being on track to graduate according to the number of credits they have in relation to where they are in the program.

Good standing also means you’re passing your courses with a minimum GPA and earning credits toward graduation. Good academic standing can preserve your eligibility to compete in college athletics or enroll in courses each semester.

Each school will have a different requirement for what they consider a passing grade to earn credit. Usually, this minimum grade to maintain good academic standing is a C. But some schools will go as low as a D for undergraduates or as high as a B for graduate school.

Cumulative vs. Overall GPA

Cumulative GPA refers to the GPA calculated during a specific term or semester. Overall GPA is the sum of all courses a student has taken during their academic career.

To put it simply, overall GPA covers a longer period, like the whole time you’re in college.

Both cumulative and overall GPAs can include weighted courses—where a student can earn higher than a 4.0. This typically happens in high school where students take Advanced Placement (AP), honors, or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

Due to the rigors of honors, AP, and IB courses, students can earn a weighted GPA up to a 5.0 for receiving an A in these courses. This means ‌both cumulative GPA and overall GPA can be higher than 4.0 if the student does well in their advanced courses.

Here’s an example to illustrate how this works:

Let’s say a student has earned the following grades in their first 3 years of high school:

  • Freshman year: A in English, B in Math, C in Science

  • Sophomore year: A in English, A in Math, B in Science

  • Junior year: A in AP English, A in Math, A in Science

If we calculate this student’s cumulative unweighted GPA junior year, it would be 4.0 (A=4.0, A=4.0, A=4.0).

However, if we calculate their cumulative weighted GPA—including a grade of an A in AP coursework from their junior year—it would be 4.3 (A=5.0, A=4.0, A=4.0).

Calculating the student’s overall weighted GPA would mean looking at all the years combined, which gives them a GPA of 3.67 (A=5 x 4.0, B=2 x 3.0, C=1 x 2.0, AP A=1 x 5.0).

In this case, the student’s lower grades in easier courses are offset by their higher grades in ‌more challenging courses.

When applying for college, getting into graduate school, or getting grants and scholarships, it’s your overall GPA that matters. However, showing growth in your GPA from year to year tells schools and financial aid programs ‌you are resilient and capable of meeting high standards.

6 Tips To Maintain a High GPA

Here are a few tips to help you maintain a high GPA:

1. Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities

Being involved in extracurricular activities is a great way to meet new people, learn new skills, and make friends. It can also help you relieve stress, which is critical for maintaining a high GPA. With the different kinds of extracurricular activities, there’s something fun for everyone.

2. Build Relationships With Professors

One of the best ways to succeed in college is to build positive relationships with your professors. They can be a valuable resource for advice and help with assignments.

3. Use a Planner

Using a planner can help you stay organized and on top of your assignments. When you know what is due and when, it’s easier to manage your time and get everything done without feeling overwhelmed. You can even keep track of deadlines for scholarship applications and other important dates.

4. Take Care of Your Mental Health

Maintaining a high GPA is not only about getting good grades in your courses. Don’t forget about your mental health. College can be stressful. Find ways to relax and de-stress. Some students use exercise, yoga, or meditation to help cope with stress. Others may prefer to relax by listening to music or spending time with friends or family.

5. Retake Courses

If you find yourself performing poorly in a course, consider retaking it. When you retake a course and get a higher grade, the school uses the higher grade when calculating your GPA. It’s also worth retaking a course so you fully understand the content before moving on to more advanced courses.

6. Bonus: Take Self-Paced Courses for Transferable Credit

Every course in your journey matters. You can set yourself up for college success early with an online program.

Golden Gate University’s Degrees+ powered by is a great option for students who want to maintain a high GPA. Degrees+ students have access to multiple services tailored to their individual needs, such as:

  • Flexible schedules: Courses are available to students 24/7. You can navigate the interactive course material at your pace, and access past lessons anytime you need a refresher.

  • 1-on-1 tutoring: All students have free support with 1-on-1 expert tutoring in their math and writing courses.

  • Course discussions: Online doesn’t mean alone. Students have access to discussion channels where they can pose questions, discuss the course content, and network.

  • Academic advising: You’re assigned a personal advisor who helps you stay on track throughout your educational journey.

Degrees+ gives students the chance to earn an associate degree through Outlier’s award-winning platform. Unlike other programs, students learn from lecturers from multiple top universities, including 7 Ivy League schools.

Students can choose between different degree paths and earn a degree in as little as 2 years at a fraction of the cost of traditional college.

All credits earned through Outlier are transferable to other institutions if you have plans for a bachelor's degree in the future. You can even take your general courses while considering what major to choose.

No matter what path you choose, be mindful of your GPA and do what it takes to preserve it.

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