When youre enrolled in a Bachelors or Masters programme, your GPA is easily one of the most important numbers to keep an eye on. Your GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a number that indicates how well or how high you scored in your courses on average. Its meant to score you (usually on a scale between 1 and 4) during your studies, and shows whether your grades have been high or low overall in your classes. This number is then used to assess whether you meet the standards and expectations set by the degree programme or university.
How does a GPA work?
In the same way that your professors and instructors give you a grade to evaluate your progress or success in their course, your Grade Point Average is similarly a score used to evaluate your success during the entirety of your degree programme. Its an average number that shows what you typically scored in your classes throughout the semester, term, and year. Your GPA can go up and down throughout your time at the university, and will change according to how much you improve your overall grades (or, in some cases, how much you fell behind).
Since grading systems differ in other parts of the world, well first have to work through some of the ways that different countries and universities use their grading system to devise a students GPA.
There are a few common ways that grades are marked throughout the world:
- A-F (in the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, etc.)
- 1-10 (Netherlands, Colombia, Latvia, Macedonia, Isreal, etc.)
- 1-5 (Germany, Austria, Russia, Slovakia, Paraguay, etc.)
- Percentage (Kuwait, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, etc.)
There are other common methods that universities use in order to evaluate and score students. Yet, in order to make these grades translatable that is, readable to other countries and universities they will often use an averaging score system.
How do you calculate a Grade Point Average?
Each grade that you receive, whether its in the numbering system, letter-grade system, or percentage system, corresponds to a quality point. A quality point is almost always on a scale between 0 and 4, or is a multiple of 4. The highest grade that you can get (A, 10, 5, 100%, and so on) will equal the highest number on that scale.
For example, in the U.S. an A is the highest grade you can receive in your classes. Depending on which school you attend in the U.S., A is either equal to 4, or it is equal to a multiple of 4 (e.g. 8 or 16). After you take a few classes, these points are added up and divided by the number of courses you took. The number that you get is your Grade Point Average. If youve mostly received Bs throughout your university education, then your GPA is likely to be around 3.0 3.2 (give or take), and this is roughly what a B average looks like.
Maintaining a high GPA isnt always easy; and if you start with a low GPA at the beginning of your study programme, it is much harder to raise later on (thanks, mathematics). But, on the other hand, if you continue to exceed in your courses, and you happen to slip in your 3rd year with a less-than-average grade, your GPA will not be severely damaged. So, we will often recommend - especially for first time college students take entry-level, easier classes at the beginning of your degree programme, during your first year, so that you have a better chance of starting with a higher GPA.
Your GPA will change and vary throughout the years; but having in mind what your GPA is every semester will give you a good indication in how well you are doing in your courses overall (and, perhaps, whether you need to improve).
Why is the GPA so important?
Throughout your university education, your GPA is really the only metric or calculation showing how good of a student you are, and whether youve been doing well during the degree programme. Though you will obviously know yourself whether youve passed and excelled in your courses (or whether you havent fared well during your time at university), your GPA gives a broader indication of your overall grades and scores.
In many situations during your Bachelors or Masters degree programme, you will be asked to provide your GPA. If youre applying for a scholarship, if youre joining an organization or club, if youre doing any extra-curricular activities, or if youre applying for a graduate or post-graduate programme, you will be asked to supply your GPA.
So, in many ways, your GPA is the key used to unlock other exciting things during your study. When organizations want to know what kind of student you are whether youre a hard-working, ambitious student, or a slacker who is not excelling in his or her coursework they rely on your GPA as a number that shows them how well you succeeded during your curriculum. Organizations, scholarship committees, clubs, and universities want high-achieving, hard-working students; and so in order to show that you are a good candidate, they want someone with a high GPA.
Full disclosure: your GPA is important; but it isnt everything
It may seem unfair that, during your time at university, they appear to only care about one number, rather than other achievements that you may have during your academic career. Several students feel that, while their grades may be less-than-perfect, or lower-than-average, they still feel they are hard-working, ambitious students.
These students are correct. Just because you have a low GPA does not mean that you are unintelligent, or that you are not a hard-working student. A low GPA can mean that you took harder classes to begin with; or that during some semesters you were too distracted to complete your assignments in the best way you could; or that you were figuring out how to be a university student, and now youve finally figured out how to study. Whatever the case is, your GPA is not an indication of your worth as a student or whether you are smart enough for college. Your GPA is merely a number.
Employers and universities know this fact. So, when youre applying for a school or searching for a job, you will not only be required to submit your GPA. You will also submit resumes, CVs, recommendations, writing samples, and test scores other ways of showing and outlining your achievements and abilities as a student. You have other chances to prove how ambitious, smart, disciplined, hard-working, and creative you are, and they dont all come down to a small number. So, if your GPA is low, do not despair. Yes, it will be used a lot during your time at university, and it is important. But, it isnt everything.