College GPA: Definition, Average & Good GPA, Effects 

GPA in college refers to your grade point average on a scale up to 4.0. Schools that assign letter grades convert those grades to a number to determine the GPA for the semester or the cumulative GPA for the student’s entire college career at that school.

Your college GPA is an important factor for acceptance into a major, the ability to transfer to another school or, following graduation, admittance into graduate school. Financial aid and scholarship continuation is also based on earning an acceptable GPA. Most employers consider GPA when reviewing job applications.

The average college GPA is 3.1 while a good college grade point average is one of 3.5 or higher. A bad college GPA is one below 2.0 which will lead to academic probation and potential dismissal from the school. College grade point averages are lower than high school GPAs by an average of .66 points.

The most effective ways to improve a grade point average are to take good notes and record lectures, get help from instructors and tutors, attend all classes and complete all assignments on time, avoid dual majors and reduce outside activities to focus more completely on your schoolwork. 

The least amount of grade points required to get credit for a course in college is 1.0. If the class is in your major, a 2.0 grade point might be required. 

What Is GPA in College?

GPA in college is your grade point average. The college GPA scale is 0 to 4, and the highest GPA you can get in college is a 4.0.

To determine your GPA, letter grades are first converted to numbers and multiplied by the number of credit hours for each class. For example, receiving a 3.0, which is a B grade, in a 3 credit course is worth 9 points when determining GPA. Then, the numbers for all classes are added up and divided by the number of credit hours you have taken. The result is your grade point average, or GPA.

Students receive a GPA for each semester and an overall GPA for all classes taken during their college career.

Cumulative GPA is the total GPA earned from all college classes and credits being used to complete a degree. The terms cumulative GPA and overall GPA are interchangeable. Both terms refer to a student’s grade point average for final grades from all college classes or classes taken at a specific school that count toward their degree.

Each letter grade is assigned a numerical value and a percentage. The chart shows how to convert a letter score and percentage to grade points. This will allow students to calculate GPA.

Letter GradePercentageGrade Points (GP)
A or A+93-100%4
E or FBelow 60%0
college letter to gpa number chart

How to Calculate GPA

The formula to calculate GPA is: 

formula to calculate GPA

It can also be written as total points earned divided by total credits attempted equals grade point average. 

The steps to calculating GPA from letter grades follow:

  • Convert each letter grade to a numerical grade point using the scale in the table above.
  • Multiply the grade point by the number of credits the class is worth. For example, an A grade is a 4.0 grade point. If the class is a 3 credit class, the total points for the class are 12.
  • Determine the total points for each class.
  • Add up the total points, and divide by the number of credit hours for all classes to determine the GPA.

This equation shows how to calculate GPA for 2 classes, but it can be used for any number of classes. 

formula to calculate GPA sample

For example, consider a student taking 5 classes that are each 3 credits, for a total of 15 credits. If the grade point total is 42, then the GPA is 2.8 because 42 points divided by 15 credits is 2.8.

What is the Importance of College GPA?

Your college GPA is important because it can impact graduation eligibility and honors, receiving or renewing scholarships, internship opportunities, the ability to transfer to a different school, admission to graduate school, and your future job opportunities.

Effects of of College GPA for students

College GPA Effects on Degree Requirement: Many programs have a minimum GPA requirement to be accepted into the program, and students have to maintain that GPA to stay in the program and graduate with a degree.

College GPA Effects on Scholarship Renewal: Many scholarships require maintaining a good GPA in order for the scholarship to be renewed each semester or year.

College GPA Effects on Graduate Admission: Graduate schools in all fields have minimum GPA requirements among the factors considered for admission into the school.

College GPA Effects on Future Jobs: The college grade point average of applicants for a job is considered in candidate selection by 37% of employers, according to the National Association of Colleges & Employers. Some companies have a minimum GPA requirement for job applicants. Having a good college GPA reflects many good qualities that are in high demand in the workplace including hard work, time management, analytical thinking and intelligence.

College GPA Effects on College Transfer: Most schools only consider transfer students who meet a minimum GPA requirement. For example, the University of California requires in-state transfer students to have a 2.0 or C average to transfer, and nonresident students must have a 2.8 GPA. Michigan State University requires any transfer student to have a minimum GPA of 2.5 in 24 or more transferable credits. For most schools, the minimum GPA required to transfer is between 2.0 and 2.8.

What Is the Average College GPA?

According to the College Board, the average GPA in college is 3.1 for all students and all majors. Based on Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study from NCES, the average college GPA is slightly lower, which is 2.9.

Average first year college GPA varies across demographics, according to a High School Longitudinal Study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics:  

  • First Year GPA: 2.6, though 38.7% of first-year students earned a 3.0 GPA or higher.
  • First Year GPA for Males: 2.4, and 32.3% earned a first-year GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • First Year GPA for Females: 2.7, and 44.6% earned a GPA of at least 3.0. 

The average college GPA by major for popular majors, according to the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, is shown in the chart below:

  • Computer and Information Sciences: 3.1 
  • Engineering and Engineering Technology: 3.0 
  • Bio & Phys Science, Sci Tech, Math, Agriculture: 2.8 
  • General Studies and Other: 3.1 
  • Social Sciences: 2.7 
  • Humanities: 2.8 
  • Health Care Fields: 2.8 
  • Business: 3.0 
  • Education: 2.7
average GPA for popular majors

What is a Good College GPA?

A good college GPA is 3.0 or higher. But what is meant by a good college GPA varies based on the context.

A good GPA to remain in good academic standing and be eligible to receive a degree is 2.0 to 3.0. Each school sets its own GPA requirements for graduation. At most schools, 2.0 is the minimum overall GPA required to graduate with an undergraduate degree. Some schools require a higher cumulative GPA to apply for graduation. Boston University’s academic progress and graduation requirements are a cumulative grade point average of 3.0. And the Berklee College of Music requires a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0 and a 2.7 GPA in classes related to the student’s major.

Each institution or organization granting scholarships sets its own GPA requirements for scholarship renewal. However, the GPA range for scholarship renewal is typically 2.5 to 3.6 depending on the university and the specific scholarship. For example, Coastal Carolina requires a 3.0 GPA for scholarship renewal, the University of Kansas has a 3.25 GPA minimum, and the University of Utah requires a 3.6 GPA. Most schools also require the GPA to be for a minimum of 24 to 27 credit hours for the year. Scholarships based on academic merit have higher GPA requirements than other scholarship types.

A good GPA for graduate school ranges from 3.0 to 3.8 depending on the school and the specific program the student is applying to get into. Each institution sets its own GPA requirements for grad school admission. Prestigious universities like Stanford and Ivy League schools often have higher GPA admission standards or an average GPA of students accepted to their graduate schools of higher than 3.8. The average undergraduate GPA of those accepted to medical schools is 3.64 for science fields and 3.71 overall.

What Are the GPA Ranges for Different Academic Honors in College?

Most universities award academic honors to students that graduate with a high GPA or near the top of their class. The three honors are cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. Each school sets its own GPA range for each of these levels of distinction.  

Cum Laude: The minimum GPA to graduate with cum laude academic honors is 3.5 at most colleges. Some schools have a different GPA requirement for this award ranging from 3.4 to 3.6.

Magna Cum Laude: The minimum GPA requirement magna cum laude is 3.6 to 3.75 depending on the school. This distinction is also referred to as high honors at many schools.

Summa Cum Laude: The minimum required GPA to graduate summa cum laude, or highest honors, ranges from 3.75 to 3.9 at most colleges and universities.

Rather than use specific GPA parameters, some schools award levels of distinction for students graduating in the top 15 to 30%.

There are benefits to graduating with honors. Employers favorably consider applicants who were awarded academic honors. And earning honors means you have a high GPA, something that is considered in graduate school applications.

Most schools note academic honors on each student’s official transcript and on their diploma.

What is a Bad College GPA?

A bad college GPA is one less than 2.0 or from 0 to 1.99.

There are consequences to having a bad college GPA. The most common is being placed on academic probation until you raise your cumulative GPA to at least 2.0 and have good academic standing once again.

If you do not raise your GPA to 2.0 or higher, and you remain on probation, additional potential consequences will result. They include having financial aid canceled and being dismissed from the school.

To continue to receive federal financial aid, “you need to make satisfactory academic progress,” according to the Federal Student Aid office of the US Department of Education. Each school sets its own Satisfactory Academic Progress policy and defines what a good GPA and a bad GPA are. Most schools set a GPA of 2.0 as the standard for satisfactory academic progress, or SAP. 

The procedure for dismissal due to a bad college GPA varies by school. The University of Michigan states that “dismissal can happen after two semesters with a cumulative GPA below 2.0. Dismissal or suspension can occur as early as one semester on academic probation at many schools when the student has not earned a minimum number of credits, typically 60.

Each school has clear guidelines for students on academic probation and what they must do to get off of probation rather than being dismissed from school. 

What Are Ways to Raise a GPA in College?

You can raise your GPA in college with hard work, improved skills, making good choices about classes you take and getting help from instructors and other sources. Here are 14 ways to raise your college GPA.

Take easy electives in subjects you like: Focus on one major and take elective classes that appeal to you. You will enjoy the material and projects, which will result in better grades.

Attend all classes: In many college classes, attendance is part of the grade. Also, being in class improves your understanding of the course material.

Ask questions in class and immediately after class: If you don’t understand something that is taught, ask the instructor for further explanation.

Complete all work on time: Stick to the class schedule for turning in homework, papers and other projects.

Record lectures: This allows you to listen to the information again for clarification.

Improve note taking skills: Learn effective note taking to ensure you record the most important information given in class.

Meet with instructors and apply feedback: Your professors, TA’s and other instructors will help you understand the information better. Applying what they share will improve your performance on quizzes, tests and assignments.

Get tutoring: Tutoring is available including peer-to-peer tutoring and private tutoring. Using a tutor is proven to improve student grades.

Join a study group: Meeting with other students in your class, especially high-GPA students, allows you to learn from one another and improve your grades.

Improve your time management skills: Making better use of your schedule gives you more time to read, study and complete coursework.

Stop extracurricular activities: Reducing your outside commitments gives you more time for schoolwork.

Use past tests to study: Tests from previous years are available for most classes. Use the tests to learn what questions will likely be asked on upcoming tests.

Avoid pursuing a double degree: Double degrees generally require earning additional credits, and taking extra classes uses time that could be spent on courses for a single degree. Avoiding a double degree can increase GPA when the time is spent on required courses for your single degree.

Avoid a double major: Double majors require a higher percentage of difficult classes, and that often lowers cumulative GPA. And the total number of classes and credits required in a dual major is sometimes higher, but not always. 

Do AP Scores Affect College GPA?

No, grades from high school AP classes do not count toward your college GPA.

Getting good grades in advanced placement classes in high school will improve your acceptance rate to top universities, but the grades you received have no impact on your university grade point average.

Do Dual Enrollment Classes Affect College GPA?

Yes, dual enrollment classes are college classes and therefore affect your college GPA. A college transcript is generated when you take dual enrollment courses, and your grade point average for those classes is recorded.

Does Dropping Out of a Class Affect Your GPA?

No, dropping a college class before the deadline to drop classes does not negatively impact your college GPA. Dropping out of a class after the deadline will result in a poor grade and will affect your college grade point average.

Does your GPA Transfer from Community College to University?

No, the GPA you earn at a community college will not transfer to a university. Your university GPA will be calculated only based on grades you achieve in classes taken at the university. Your GPA from the 2-year school will be considered by the admissions office of the 4-year school, but it will not carry over. It is reset once you begin classes at the university.

However, your official transcript will continue to show the classes you took and the grades you received at the community college.

How Many Grade Points Is Required for a College Course to Get Credits? 

You must get a 1.0 in a college course to receive credit for the course according to the rules at most schools. A 1.0 GPA for a course is equivalent to the letter grade D.

Many schools have additional rules for granting credit for low grade points. Some give credit for any passing grade including a 0.7 for a D- while others require a 2.0 for credit. And many schools require a 2.0 or higher GPA in courses related to the student’s major or to certain important prerequisites for a major.

If taking the course pass/fail, also called credit/no credit, most schools require at least a 2.0 GPA to pass or to receive the course credits.

Check the school’s course catalog for the policy stating what GPA is required to receive credit.

While many schools grant credit for a 1.0 GPA, beware that those credits won’t transfer if you transfer to a different college or university.

What Are Other College Grading Systems Besides Grade Points?

There are multiple other grading systems used in colleges and universities in the United States besides grade points. The most common are:

  • Letter Grading: from A or A+ as the best to E or F being the worst.
  • Grading on a percentage basis: Each assignment is worth 100% for a perfect score, and students are given a percentage based on their performance on the quiz, test, paper or other class project.
  • Ungrading: The ungrading system purposefully minimizes or eliminates the use of letter or percentage grades. Instead, students create self-assessments, experience peer assessments or co-create assessments with instructors.

What Are the Differences Between College GPA and High School GPA?

College grade point averages are lower than high school GPAs because college courses are harder than high school classes. According to the ACT organization, college GPA ranges from .31 lower for high-achieving students to .84 lower for students with lower high school GPA. The average difference between college and high school GPA is .66 points: 3.36 for high school vs 2.70 for college.

A second key difference between high school and college GPA is that some high schools use a weighted 5 point GPA scale in which AP class scores are weighted higher than standard class scores. By contrast, all college GPAs are based on a 4 point scale.

What Do Statistics Show About the Relationship Between College GPA and High School GPA?

Statistics are clear that students with a high GPA in high school perform better in college. They attempt and earn more credits in their first year of college and they earn higher grade point averages. For example:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Students with a 3.50 or higher GPA in high school attempted 24.3 credits in the first year of college and earned 23.4 credits on average. The average first year college GPA for these students was 3.4.

On the other hand, students with a high school GPA of 2.5 to 2.99 attempted fewer credits at 20.9 and earned fewer credits too at 16.8. And the average college GPA for these students in the first year was 1.9.

What is the Difference Between Unweighted GPA and Weighted GPA?

Unweighted GPA in high school uses the standard 4.0 scale for grade point and does not factor the difficulty of the courses. Weighted GPA uses a scale with a higher top end, usually 5.0 because classes such as AP classes and honors classes are more difficult and given more weight when determining grade point average. Getting a 5.0 in a class will raise the cumulative GPA more than receiving a 4.0 in the class.

Colleges do not have weighted GPAs for college courses. Only some high schools in the U.S. use weighted GPAs. However, some colleges do look at weighted high school GPAs when considering students for admission. Others recalculate weighted GPA to produce an unweighted grade point average.

Leave a Comment