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How to Calculate Your Grade Point Average (GPA) and Why it Is Important

Chris has worked in a business leadership role for the past 15+ years. He likes to share his experiences with others to help them learn.

how-to-calculate-your-grade-point-average-gpa-and-why-it-is-important

Many colleges and schools use the grade point average as a way to for you to quickly understand how well you have done with the courses you have taken. The GPA is a measure of your academic success and is useful for many things. It represents a weighted average of all of your grades which takes into account the credit hours of each course as well the actual grade that you earned. This means that courses that require more time and effort will usually be worth more when it comes to calculating your composite GPA. Fortunately, calculating your grade point average is fairly simple.

A Few Words about Grading Scales

Calculating a GPA is not the difficult, however, you will need to know how your particular school reports grades. Some schools use a 4.0 grading scale whereas others use a 5.0 scale. Some schools even use both scales; a 4.0 scale for “regular” classes and a 5.0 scale for advanced placement (AP) or Honors classes (WD Communications, 2022).

Furthermore, some schools differentiate between the value of an A+ versus an A- whereas others ignore this and give the same value to all any grade that is considered an A. However, not to confuse you further, some schools that utilize the plus/minus grading scale don’t give any special value to an A+ (Lynch, 2019) whereas others do. Also, when using this modified scale, most schools don’t differentiate between a D+ or a D- either and anything below a certain level is just given an F.

Every school is different so it is important to check with yours to determine how scores are actually assigned.

With that said the table below shows the most common grading scales used in colleges today.

DescriptionTraditional 4.0 Grading ScaleCommon* 4.0 Grading Scale with +/-5.0 Grading Scale5.0 Grading Scale with +/-

A+

4

4.0*

5

5

A

4

4

5

5

A-

4

3.67

5

4.67

B+

3

3.33

4

4.33

B

3

3

4

4

B-

3

2.67

4

3.67

C+

2

2.33

3

3.33

C

2

2

3

3

C-

2

1.67

3

2.67

D+

1

1.33*

2

2.33

D

1

1

2

2

D-

1

0.67*

2

1.67

F

0

0

0

0

*Some schools use 4.33 for an A+, however, most schools just use 4.0. Some school also have different scores for D+ and D-, however most school just use 1.0.

Calculating your GPA requires a little bit of high school level math.

Calculating your GPA requires a little bit of high school level math.

How to Calculate Your GPA

Once you know what grading scale you are working with, you also need to know the number of credits that each class is worth. A typical college class might be worth 3 credits whereas shorter/easier classes may be worth 2 credits. Some classes with labs or field work may be worth 4 or 5 credits. Either way, it’s important to check your course catalog to see how many credits each class is worth (GPACalculator.net, 2022).

Now that you have this information, you can calculate your GPA using the following formula (Virginia Tech, 2019):

how-to-calculate-your-grade-point-average-gpa-and-why-it-is-important

Although the above formula looks intimidating, it is actually quite simple.

As the formula shows, take the number of credits earned for a course and multiply it by the points for the grade that you earned in that course based on the appropriate grading scale. Do this for each course that you have taken and then add all of these numbers together.

Now take this total number and divide it by the total number of credits for all courses taken. The resulting number is your GPA.

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Example Calculation of a GPA

Tom is attending the South Florida College of Feline Pesematological Studies and wants to calculate his GPA. He completed 4 courses of study and his school uses the Common 4.0 grading scale with plus/minus scoring. Below are Tom’s grades for each course:

  • Plummeting Rates of New World Feline Species (3 credits) – Grade B+
  • Terminal Velocities and Index Quotients for Kittens (2 credits) – Grade A-
  • Feline Hydro-Dynamics and Fear of Ferro-Fluids (3 credits) – Grade B-
  • Schrodinger’s Cat: The After-Math (5 credits) – Grade C+
  • Collective Codes of Cattywampus Cougar Coefficients (2 credits) – Grade A

From there, using the formula:

how-to-calculate-your-grade-point-average-gpa-and-why-it-is-important

Which reduces to:

how-to-calculate-your-grade-point-average-gpa-and-why-it-is-important

Therefore, Tom’s GPA is 3.0.

The Importance of the Grade Point Average (GPA)

Whether you like it or not, your GPA is a very important number. Typically your high achool GPA will come in to play when applying to get into college. It will also have a big impact on your potential scholarship opportunities. If you’ve been in college for a while, you will likely know that your GPA will impact your ability to be accepted into an advanced degree program or when looking to join certain clubs and communities on campus. Obviously, your GPA also impacts whether you make the Dean’s List and if you will be eligible for any other awards or recognition (Phillips, 2022).

Some employers also consider GPA when hiring new people, especially when the job is an entry level position. This is because as a college student you will likely not have much job experience. The GPA is a way that companies can help to assess the work ethic of a potential employee (Indeed, 2021). Most people understand that succeeding in college is more about hard work and dedication than it is about intelligence or natural talent. As such, the GPA is an indicator of your future potential.

Of course, employers should also consider the degree program that the student completed as well. The importance of the GPA also depends on the type of job being sought. For instance, a GPA might matter more to become a teacher while it might not matter much for people wanting to work as an actor or film producer.

how-to-calculate-your-grade-point-average-gpa-and-why-it-is-important

How to Improve your Grade Point Average (GPA)

There are many ways to improve your GPA. However, it should be noted that mathematically speaking the more classes that you have already taken, the more difficult it will become to increase your grade point average. This is because, as stated previously, the GPA is a weighted average. With each new class being added to your transcript, the total influence that each class has on your score is reduced. This is why someone in their last semester of college with a GPA of 2.94 will have a tough time breaking the 3.0 threshold.

With that said, one of the easiest ways to improve your GPA is to try and take additional classes (Lindsay, 2020). Most colleges will allow you to take more classes if you can fit it into your schedule. Some colleges require the dean’s approval to go above a certain number of credit hours or to take classes outside of your degree program. When I was in college I got permission to take 2 extra classes for a few semesters simply because I was interested in those topics.

However, you have to be careful with this tactic as sometimes those extra classes won’t count towards your “program GPA” or “Core GPA” even though they would count towards your overall GPA. Some colleges only count “core” or “required” classes in your GPA and may ignore any other classes taken for fun or extracurricular study. This is an important distinction that you should clarify with your college before attempting to raise your GPA with this method. However, potential future employers may not make this distinction when looking to hire new employees.

Another way to improve your GPA is to join a campus club that gives credits for participating. In most cases, as long as you show for club meetings, participate, and otherwise fulfill your obligations, you should receive an A as well as some college credit. When I was in doing my undergraduate degree I join an engineering club. Not only was it interesting (and fun), I learned a lot and ended up getting a “free A” for participating that semester.

As a last resort perhaps, a third way to improve your GPA is to petition the dean of your college as well as the professor of any classes that you did particularly badly in. You may be given the opportunity to either go back re-take an old class to get an improved score or you may be able to have the class removed from your record and replaced with another class (Patterson, 2019). I have had friends who were able to do the latter after they switched degree programs within the same college. It may or may not work for you, however, it couldn’t hurt to try.

References and Additional Resources

GPACalculator.net. “How to Calculate Your GPA.” Accessed February, 2022. <https://gpacalculator.io/how-to-calculate-gpa/>

Indeed. “How to Calculate Your GPA: Step-by-Step Guide.” Indeed, August 25, 2021. <https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-calculate-gpa>

Lynch, Matthew. “How to Calculate Your High School GPA, College GPA, and Cumulative GPA.”The Edvocate. February 21, 2019. <https://www.theedadvocate.org/how-to-calculate-your-high-school-gpa-college-gpa-and-cumulative-gpa/>

Lindsay, Samantha. “4 Strategies to Raise Your GPA in High School Fast.” PrepScholar. January 7th, 2020. <https://blog.prepscholar.com/strategies-to-raise-gpa-in-high-school-fast>

Patterson, Ransom. “Here’s Exactly How to Raise Your GPA This Semester.” College InfoGeek. August 27, 2019. <https://collegeinfogeek.com/how-to-raise-your-gpa/>

Phillips, Hedy. “This is How to Calculate High School and College GPAs (With Minimal Brain Pain).” Scary Mommy. February 1st, 2022. <https://www.scarymommy.com/gpa-calculator/>

Virginia Tech. “Calculating GPA.” July 23rd, 2019. <https://neuroscience.vt.edu/content/dam/neuroscience_vt_edu/docs-forms/calculating-GPA.pdf>

WD Communications. “GPA Calculator.” Accessed February, 2022. <http://www.back2college.com/gpa.htm>

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Christopher Wanamaker

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