“So, what’s your GPA?”

If you’ve applied for a graduate program lately or been around a college campus or two, you might have heard this question asked, and for good reason: a good GPA can be indicative of responsibility, work ethic, and ambition. Because of that, you want to make sure you protect that average throughout your college career.

What Is a GPA?

GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a number used by universities to gauge how well the student is doing in their academic career. While high schools use a percentage point system, universities employ a scale of 0-4. Because of AP classes, a high school student’s average may rise above a 100% scale, but it’s less common for universities to do so. Instead of a percentage or scale-based system, you may also see a letter system instead, starting with the letter “A” at the top and going to letter “F” at the bottom.

Note: Until the mid-20th century, it wasn’t uncommon for schools to use the letter “E” instead of the letter “F” to denote a passing grade. Why the switch? Some experts believe that schools were concerned that students would see an “E” and think it meant “Excellent,” so they switched it to “F” to imply the word “Fail.” Some schools have brought it back over the years, but to this day, E is still skipped in the vast majority of grading systems.

The letter variables typically represent the mid-point in the number scale, with a “+” or “-” bringing the points up or down from there. Below is a list of the typical hard letter scores with their associated variables.

A = 95 or 4.0
B = 85 or 3.0
C = 75 or 2.0
D = 65 or 1.0
F = 64 (or less) or 0.0

There are a few points on either side that still technically qualify for the letter grade – a “C” can be anywhere from 74-76 – but that can change from institution to institution. As mentioned above, a “+” or “-” can add to or take away points, respectively. A “B+”, for instance, would be anywhere from an 87-89, while a “C-” is usually somewhere between a 73-70. The scale goes up likewise: 2.9 is around an 84 numerical average and a 1.1 is about a 66. Depending on which scale your school uses, you might need to consult a chart to see what your exact grade is.

Average College GPA

The average GPA at four-year colleges and universities has risen from 2.52 in the 1950s to 3.11 in 2006. And according to Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor and founder of GradeInflation.com, GPAs only keep rising. At some colleges, Rojstaczer says, over 50% of the grades given are A’s.

Why is My GPA Important?

Your GPA is more than just a simple number; in a lot of cases, it can determine your eligibility for various programs. While future employers may not necessarily ask you what your GPA in college was, they will be able to determine how well you did by the things listed on your resume. Below are a few areas specifically where your eligibility is impacted significantly by your college GPA.

College Sports: If you’re one of the 460,000 people planning on playing sports at the NCAA level every year, you’ll need to pay special attention to your GPA. A low college GPA – usually one that falls below 2.0 – will result in academic probation. If a student-athlete stays on academic probation for too long, it could result in them being academically ineligible and unable to participate in sports.

Certain Majors: Admittedly, some degree programs care more about a GPA than others, such as those in the science or technological fields (usually business and English-related courses don’t pay as much attention). In some fields, you must maintain a 2.0 at least in order to stay in the program, while in others, it could be even higher, such as a 3.0 or even 3.5. Pre-law and pre-med students are usually the ones with the most severe academic requirements.

Honors Societies: Graduating Cum Laude or making the President’s list are high honors for any student and looks impressive on a resume for potential employers and graduate school applications. However, if your GPA slips below the mark for those, you’ll be left off the list entirely. If your future depends on you maintaining a certain set of honors, make sure you guard your GPA fiercely.

Graduate Schools: Most graduate programs will require you to maintain at least a 3.0 in your chosen field, if not even higher. If your goal is to get into a particularly competitive program, it may be even higher, such as a 3.5 or 4.0. The more competitive the program, the higher your GPA should be to improve your chances of getting in.

How Do I Maintain a Good GPA?

The phrase “good GPA” is relative to your chosen field. For some, a GPA of 2.5 is satisfactory, while in others, anything less than a 3.0 is a tragedy. It all depends on what your major is and what your career goals are to determine if your GPA is good enough.

Still, there are steps everyone can take to make sure that their GPA is as good as could be. For starters, starting off your college career strong is a great first step to securing your GPA. The score is cumulative, which means it starts with your very first step and is averaged out with each successive class. In order to ensure you have the strongest average you can, start out your freshman year with a strong first step and it’ll give your college career a good boost.

In addition, try to pick your courses selectively. Not all professors teach and grade according to the same standards, even if they’re in the same department at the same school. As such, use a tool like RateMyProfessors.com to evaluate various teachers and pick the ones that you’ll either like the best, grade the easiest, or both. By picking your classes according to what will give you the best chance to succeed, you’ll be better able to keep your GPA up.

Try also to pick classes according to your strengths. Most degree programs have a specific path that you’re supposed to follow, such as three English classes or two social sciences. Within each of those genres, however, is leeway to be able to pick different classes that you’re stronger in. For instance, if you need an English class and you can choose either Composition or Shakespearean Literature, pick the one that you believe you’re better at.

Also, try as much as you can to keep every semester balanced. There are going to be some times in your college career where your courseload can feel overwhelming and others float by like a breeze. Try to balance out your degree program so that you have a good mix of easy and tough classes at any one point in time so you never make it too hard or too easy on yourself.

Finally, don’t be afraid to put in the work. While maintaining a good GPA in college is not a cakewalk, it’s also not completely impossible either. Anyone is able to get their grades where they want by putting forth enough effort and being disciplined enough to focus on what’s important. Several professors encourage you to spend an hour of study time outside of class for every hour you spend in class, so if you are taking a fifteen hour week, spend fifteen hours outside of class studying as well. It might be hard with jobs and extracurricular activities, but if you manage it the right way and stay focused, you shouldn’t have any problem keeping your GPA where it needs to be.

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Source: GPA Calculator