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What is GPA? 

Considering studying abroad in the US? You will read a lot about GPA, so here is how to calculate your GPA and when you might need to use it for applications.

    Grace McCabe's avatar

    Grace McCabe

    Content Writer, THE Student
    June 7 2023
    Grade results


    What is GPA? 

    GPA is a system used in high schools and universities, mainly in the US, to measure a student’s performance and academic achievement. GPA is calculated by converting grades or percentages you receive for an assignment (A, B, C etc) to a corresponding point on the GPA scale (more information on this below). 

    There are some ways to calculate your GPA – if you have been studying at a school in the UK for example – for your university application to the US, by using a GPA calculator. 

    What does GPA stand for?

    GPA stands for “grade point average” and is usually calculated using a scale of 0 to 4. Four is usually the highest GPA you can receive and corresponds to an A grade, and 0 corresponds to an F grade.

    How to calculate GPA? 

    Students receive a grade or a percentage for each assignment, project and exam. Those grades are then converted to the corresponding GPA points which are added together and divided by the number of units or credits in each class to calculate the average score for the semester. This provides the average GPA.

    Some institutions award GPAs higher than 4 using a weighted scale, taking difficulty of coursework and assignments into account rather than just considering the final grade. More information on a weighted vs unweighted GPA can be found below. 

    What is a weighted GPA?

    A weighted GPA is the grade point average that takes into account the difficulty of the course alongside the student’s grades. As more and more students are taking advanced programmes, the weighted GPA aims to reflect a student’s work in these courses. 

    While the unweighted GPA scale can only go up to a 4, the weighted GPA scale is between 0 and 5. So students that take more difficult and advanced courses might find that they score a higher GPA than the perfect 4. 

    Having a weighted GPA can show employers and universities that you are willing to take on more challenging courses. 

    How do you calculate a weighted GPA? One of the easier ways to calculate a weighted GPA is to calculate your average unweighted GPA and then divide that by the number of classes you took. Then add 0.5 for each mid-level class and 1 for each advanced class (you can check with your teachers if you aren’t sure). Then divide that result by the number of classes you took. 

    There are also GPA calculators that can help you calculate your weighted and unweighted GPAs. 

    What is the highest GPA?

    GPA is calculated on a scale between 0 and 4, so 4 is the highest GPA you can achieve in most classes.. However, if you take some advanced level classes you may be able to achieve a GPA of 5. 

    How can you convert your UK school grades to a GPA?

    This table helps you convert your grades and percentages to the closest GPA point for each individual class or assignment. 

    US GPA 


    Grade percentages 

    UK degree classification 



    First-class honours 




    Upper second-class honours 




    Upper second-class honours 



    Lower second-class honours 




    Lower second-class honours 




    Third class honours 



    Third-class honours 



    Ordinary degree (no honours) 



    Ordinary degree (no honours) 

    What is a good GPA?

    This will very much depend on where you are applying too and which classes you have taken. 

    Different universities and different schools will have varying levels of what constitutes a good GPA, but it's generally advisable to keep your GPA around 3 or more. 

    What is a good GPA for high school? 

    GPA is often one of the entry requirements for US universities. A high GPA along with a strong GRE or SAT score, can help a student’s chances of being considered for the top universities in the country. It is also important because it’s a measure of a candidate’s academic skill, unlike the SAT, ACT and GRE exams, which test aptitude.

    Top universities may have a minimum GPA requirement of 3 for admission to undergraduate programmes. This may be higher for postgraduate studies. However, there will be many universities that do accept students with GPAs lower than 3. 

    If you find your standardised test score is lower than you hoped, a higher GPA can help raise your overall impression and make you stand out more during university applications. 

    Generally, the higher your GPA, the more choice you will have in which universities you can apply to. 

    Ivy League universities such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Yale University and Princeton University do not have a minimum GPA, however the average GPA of many of the applicants are above 3.5. 

    While it is always advisable to put time and effort into getting the best grades you can, do remember that universities will also look at your extracurricular activities, work experience and overall academic performance when considering your application.

    What is a good GPA for university?

    Your GPA at university will depend a lot on which university you attend and which major you are studying. 

    The average GPA for a course that is considered fairly challenging is usually 2.75 upwards.

    When applying for jobs after university, employers may or may not ask for your GPA, but having a higher GPA will show your future employers that you are hard-working and motivated. 

    It is also worth remembering that some scholarship programmes and some university courses require you to keep your GPA up in order to continue to receive financial aid. So be sure to check if there are any GPA requirements that you need to adhere to throughout your time at university. 

    Your GPA for your undergraduate degree will also be looked at if you choose to apply for a master’s or PhD programme. Some postgraduate programmes may look for a GPA of 3 or above, but again this will vary based on the course and the university you are applying to. 

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    What is cumulative GPA?

    A cumulative GPA is the average of all the GPAs you have achieved while at high school or university. In other words, it combines all the GPAs you have received for each semester to create one representative GPA of your time at high school or university. 

    The higher your semester GPAs are, the higher your cumulative GPA will be. 

    Prospective universities will often ask for your high school cumulative GPA as part of the application process. Prospective employers may also ask for your cumulative university GPA, as it is a good measure of a student’s academic grades. 

    Cumulative GPA is also sometimes known as the overall GPA or average GPA. 

    Are there ways to improve your GPA? 

    A student’s GPA is calculated using all the grades they receive throughout their time at high school or university. If you are concerned about your GPA, you can do a few things to improve: 

    – Ask for help: your teachers might be able to assist you by explaining a topic in another way to help you gain better marks in a course.

    – Changing your study habits: altering your focus can help you retain more information and do better in assessments.

    – Taking on more of a challenge: a lower score in a top-tier class has a stronger weighting than a high score in a lower-tier class.

    – Extra credit: some teachers will assign additional tests or assignments to give students a chance to improve. But remember that overall grades are still divided by the number of units of work you complete.

    How important is a good GPA?

    A good GPA can show employers and universities that you are hard-working and motivated to do well in your studies. It is a good measure of how you perform academically, but it is not the only factor that universities will look at in your application. 

    Universities will also look at your personal statement and the commitment that you show to your chosen course or any extracurriculars or work experience you carried out. Everything that you do at school paints a picture of the kind of student you will be, so it’s important to ensure that you take all the opportunities that come your way while at school and university. 

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